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Recap: 'The Voice' Monday - The Battles Continue
It takes a while, but Monday's episode features some standouts
After one week of Battle Rounds, “The Voice” now has slightly over a quarter of the forty contestants that will participate in the next phase in the competition. So we have about three weeks left of people scream-singing at each other or working together to produce something greater than the sum of its parts. So far, the judges haven’t exactly grasped the concept of this season’s twist, with both CeeLo Green and Adam Levine leaving themselves wide open to having one of their strongest team members swiped by a competing coach via The Steal. Let’s see if the superstars get any smarter about their pairings as the Battle Rounds continue. And let’s see who will be the first contestant indignant about his or her partner.
It’s another 2-hour installment tonight, so we should see quite a few pairings before the night is through. Let’s see what Green, Levine, Christina Aguilera, and Blake Shelton have up their sleeves tonight. Spoiler alert: I’m guessing the final battle of the night will be the most dramatic. I just…have…a hunch. As always, I’ll be jotting down my thoughts in real time.
8:00 p.m. Our first battle of the night comes from Team Blake, in the form of Julio Cesar Castillo versus Terisa Griffin. They meet with Shelton and mentor Michael Bublé and learn their song will be Gloria Estefan’s “Conga”. Both singers are intimidated by the speed of the vocal phrasing. “No one in the history of the world ever knew the words [to this song],” quips Bublé. Michael Bublé is awesome. Why can’t he be a coach in a future cycle?
8:03 p.m. Griffin sits down with the two, and questions the pairing, claiming she thinks they did so in order to get rid of her. (Well, it didn’t take long for my early prediction to come true, did it?) Both coach and mentor seem shocked, but seem to soothe her fears before she leaves the room. At the final rehearsal, neither artist seems comfortable with the vocal pattern, with Shelton using the phrase “train wreck” at one point. Well, he’s not wrong! Shelton has a track record of picking Battle Round songs with intensely tricky vocal runs, although “Sin Wagon” ended up yielded a strong on-stage performance last week. Let’s see what happens this time around.
8:07 p.m. Battle Time! They make it through the first chorus, albeit barely. Griffin has vocal power to spare, but Castillo is truer to the original Estefan vocal. The pair lock eyes with every chorus, almost relying on the other in order to make it through. Castillo goes big during the second verse, seemingly trying to match Griffin note for note. Not the best way to stand out, Julio. This wasn’t a technically strong performance from either, but there was energy to spare, and all four coaches seemed to love it.
8:09 p.m. Aguilera claims to be “speechless” after that performance. Green heaps all his praise on Griffin, whereas Levine seems both bemused and horrified at what just transpired. OK, I stand corrected: The coaches didn’t love the performance so much as found it slightly awkward, with their wide smiles at the end hiding their “WTF?” attitude underneath. Shelton seems genuinely impressed, however, and wrings his hands over his choice, which we will get…after the commercials. Not sure this warrants the wait, but Blake Shelton gotta eat.
8:15 p.m. “Even as I talk right now, I don’t know who won,” says Shelton. So he goes back to the auditions, where Castillo struggled the most. That seems to indicate that Griffin will win, but once again I misread the situation, as the winner of this battle is Julio Cesar Castillo. The crowd chants “Steal!” after Shelton exhorts his fellow coaches to snatch her up. And Green, who was the only other coach to enjoy that battle, presses his button for her. Awww. With that, Teresa Griffin is the newest member of Team CeeLo. That’s the last available steal for Green, who successfully landed Caitlin Michele last week from Team Adam. “She’s gonna want to shove that in my face as much as possible,” Shelton notes to the camera. I would concur! I appreciate how genial “The Voice” is compared to another singing competitions, but a little bad blood wouldn’t go unappreciated, especially if it motivates the saved contestants to do better in the Knockout Rounds.
8:18 p.m. Moving right along, we get our first Team Christina battle of the night: Dez Duron versus Paulina. They are singing Bruno Mars’ “Just The Way You Are”, although Aguilera had to explain that before I recognized it. (The slowed-down arrangement threw me off, coupled with Paulina’s love of singing every note but the correct one.) Duron worries that the song is far too high for his register. Mentor Billie Joe Armstrong suggests that he use his fear to help him push through the song. Paulina tries to throw in some vocal acrobats, and gets swatted down by both coach and mentor. Aguilera and Armstrong are correct: Less is more for her when it comes to this track. But Duron worries that she’ll find a unique vocal line and win this battle.
8:22 p.m. It’s Final Rehearsal Time, which can mean only one thing: Aguilera’s Bandana is back! Ah, I’ve missed it. Paulina is still trying to do vocal runs seemingly inspired by her coach’s albums, and it’s still a pretty terrible idea. Aguilera calls Duron a “rehearsed vocalist”, which seems like a bit of a slam. So, we’ve got The Great Experimenter versus The Great Perspirator. This might get ugly.
8:28 p.m. We’re nearly 30 minutes into the show, and have only seen one battle. Is this a reality show or a filibuster?
8:29 p.m. Onstage, Paulina’s approach to the song initially seems less out-of-left-field and more like a conscious choice to move away from Duron’s more straightforward interpretation. But soon, she’s making vocal runs as if she’s trying to be the singing equivalent of Usain Bolt. The way the two blend at the end makes me slightly angry that she didn’t keep things simple throughout the song. By the same token, she demonstrated vocal control when it counted, as that last harmony with Duron will stick in the coaches’ minds come steal time in a few moments.
8:31 p.m. Green selects his “main man Dez” as the winner. Levine felt both performers were flawed, but ultimately gives the nod to Duron. Shelton says that between the two of them, Paulina would jump out on the radio more. With that said, Shelton feels Duron’s growth over the past year makes him the winner here. Aguilera is proud of both, but there’s little drama here in this decision, as the winner of this battle is Dez Duron. No steals for Paulina, but Shelton’s words about Duron potentially gave her the motivation she’ll need to continue in her career.
8:38 p.m. Let’s head over to Team Adam, where he has pitted Benji versus Sam James. The pair meet Levine and mentor Mary J. Blige to practice their battle song. It’s Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name,” a song Levine feels is out of their comfort zones. Blige offers up advice for James for hitting high notes with emotion over technical precision. She doesn’t offer up the technique that helps me sing better: “Beer”.
8:41 p.m. In the final rehearsal, Levine implores Benji to sing the song, not scream it. James has the opposite problem, having difficulty reaching the vocal ceiling that Benji perpetually inhabits. While the song is meant to challenge them both, it’s still a fairly safe song choice, performed in its original arrangement. This might turn into Karaoke Night quickly unless one or both can step it up in front of the crowd.
8:48 p.m. They are soooo angry, you guys! The band is so loud during this performance that it’s really hard to hear the vocalists, unfortunately. It doesn’t help that the editing for this performance seems coddled from several takes of the song. (I’m not saying it is. It just feels that way thanks to some sloppy editing.) James stays strong in the verses, but strains a bit in the chorus. Benji picks his spots for the screams, and they certainly earn points with the crowd. It seems like the cheering gives Benji confident, and the screams start exponentially increasing as the song progresses. Did he outshine James, or did he go to the vocal well once too often? My initial instinct is that Benji will win this round, but James would be the stronger contestant going forth. We’ll see what the coaches think.
8:50 p.m. Shelton gives the round to Benji, praising his ability to go out of the box while performing. Aguilera points out that James has some Levine-esque qualities in his voice, but ultimately was won over by Benji’s banshee-esque wails. Green felt Benji had a “clear” lead in this battle. Levine loves Benji’s screaming, but feels his mid-range has a lack of control. Adam praises James for being himself during the song, even if he didn’t hit every note cleanly. Ultimate, the winner of this battle is Sam James. Wow. I’m shocked. Not because I think Levine choose poorly, but every indication pointed towards Benji taking that one. Oh, reality TV, how you toy with my emotions and expectations.
8:52 p.m. With all that praise, will anyone steal Benji? Nope. In the end, his screams impressed the coaches in the moment, but couldn’t sustain their interest over the long run. That both heartens me (I’d rather have the stronger, not the flashier, singer win), but that also makes the coaches’ previous praise look like a bunch of hot air. In between battles, Levine tells the other coaches that once back in his comfort zone, James will really excel. Once again: I concur! I’m agreeing a lot with the coaches tonight. I’m not sure if this is a good thing for them.
8:59 p.m. It’s Team CeeLo battle time, y’all! It’s Nicholas David versus Todd Kessler. David is delighted by the pairing, and I’m delighted by the song: Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone”. That seems like a great choice for the duo. “What is up, Bill Withers?” says mentor Rob Thomas to David after his first pass at the song. Kessler is intimidated almost immediately by David’s performance. Green and Thomas impress upon Kessler to forget about his battle partner and focus on making his performance transport the listener.
9:01 p.m. David sits with Green and Thomas for a one-on-one, and he reiterates his growing friendship with Kessler standing in the way of his instinct to compete. I’d be surprised if Nicholas David has ever hated anyone in his entire life. He seems so darn NICE. “This is a war!” says Green, slightly upset with David’s lack of motivation. Why do you hate nice people, CeeLo? The only thing I hate is how much Nicholas David makes me feel bad for being such an awful person by comparison.
9:08 p.m. No final rehearsals for this one, as we go right to the performance itself. And it’s white soul heaven from the first bars. David has a deeper register, but that only makes Kessler’s cleaner tone stand out all the more when he takes over. The back and forth is stellar, the harmonies are stellar…everything about this is tremendous. As fantastic as “Vision Of Love” was one week ago, this might be my new favorite performance in the Battle Rounds thus far. We have a steal on the horizon. Mark my words.
9:11 p.m. Levine calls David’s voice “profoundly different” from anyone else he’s heard before. “There’s nobody else in the world like you,” Shelton adds. “You move me in a very special way,” Green notes, while also taking great pains to praise Kessler as well. Still, as great as Kessler is, it’s no surprise to learn that the winner of this battle is Nicholas David. And just like I just said, Todd Kessler doesn’t get stolen by anyone. Wait, what? Damnit. That doesn’t make sense. Still, all praise to Nicholas David, who could go a long, long way in this competition.
9:19 p.m. Let’s keep on battlin’. We’re back to Team Blake, where Shelton has pitted Lelia Broussard versus Suzanna Choffel. He calls it the “most obvious pairing” that he’s ever put together. The two will be singing Florence + The Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over”. Broussard’s falsetto impresses both coach and mentor, while Choffel’s self-doubt over some vocal techniques holds her back. In her one-on-one with Shelton and Bublé, she expresses her fears about being too “teacherly” in her performance. “Screw that,” says Shelton, with Bublé assuring her that no one has to know about her lack of stage experience. Except, you know, the millions of people watching this at home right now.
9:24 p.m. In the final rehearsal, Broussard’s pitch goes “haywire”, according to Shelton. Choffel has a multitude of voices that come out during her performance, and Blake tries to identify one that might help her win this battle. Still, this feels like Broussard’s round to lose.
9:31 p.m. Man, this is one tough vocal, but both give it their all onstage in front of the crowd. Choffel certainly doesn’t seem worried about technique, throwing herself into the performance. She inhabits the song more than Broussard, but Lelia’s vocal feels more effortless on the whole. All in all, it’s a lot more evenly matched than the rehearsals would have suggested.
9:33 p.m. Aguilera thought the two went “toe to toe”. Green wished that Broussard had actually gone further with her performance. Levine beats himself up for not fighting harder for Choffel during the blinds, and gives the round to her. Shelton praises both, noting Lelia “becomes” whatever song she sings while Choffel’s chameleon-like vocal nature also adapts to any musical environment. In the end, the winner of this battle is Suzanne Choffel. Well, my prognostication abilities are terrible tonight. I’ll just stop predicting things for the rest of the week. Levine tells the camera that he’s hoarding his final steal, even though he admires Broussard as a vocalist. It’s a fair point, especially as steals will get ever rarer the longer these Battle Rounds last.
9:41 p.m. Our final battle of the night comes from Team Christina, where she pairs Joseyln Rivera versus Sylvia Yacoub. Aguilera gives them Beyonce’s “Best Thing I Never Had” as their battle song. Yacoub’s power is impressive, but Armstrong advises her to “stay mature” within the song and not simply dominate from start to finish. (He even pulls off a Spider-Man reference to the camera to prove his point.) Rivera’s high tone pleases Aguilera, but Joselyn is unsure how to use her softer voice to stand out onstage.
9:44 p.m. In the final rehearsal, Yacoub is clearly displeased with Rivera’s overpowering (bordering on overbearing) vocal runs. She even gives Rivera a straight up “McKayla Maroney is not impressed” look at one point.I like both competitors, but that look amused me to no end. This has all the makings of a Yacoub win, especially given the bombast in Aguilera’s own voice. But we’ve already seen Benji’s pyrotechnics backfire tonight, so let’s see what goes down.
9:46 p.m. Yacoub’s angular, muscular performance blends quite nicely onstage with Rivera’s softer, supple approach. Rather than one fighting the other, the pair compliment each other to the crowd’s delight. And while Rivera never truly matches Yacoub’s pure power, she still manages to rise to a dynamic level that makes the pair feel much more evenly matched than anything we saw during their rehearsals. This was a solid, polished pop vocal performance, and one that will offer a coach a nice chance to steal someone when the smoke clears.
9:48 p.m. Levine calls them both “gnarly good singers”, even if he felt there were too many notes for his personal taste. He and Shelton take a shine to Rivera, with Yacoub’s strength impressing Green tremendously. Aguilera regrets pairing the two together. Well, every coach has to have at least one pairing backfire this season, I suppose.
9:54 p.m. After the commercial break, we learn that the winner of this battle is Sylvia Yacoub. Looking at Aguilera’s own body of work, that makes total sense. Giving into the peer pressure from the crowd and Xtina herself, Shelton and Levine both press their buttons to steal Rivera. Shelton notes that Levine didn’t actually turn around during the blind auditions. Oooh, burn. Rivera asks what she did tonight that impressed them. Neither actually answer the question posed. It was a simple question, guys. What, is this suddenly a Presidential debate or something? In the end, Joseyln Rivera becomes the newest member of Team Adam. Huh. I would have bet solid money on her going to Team Blake here.
9:57 p.m. If anyone out there wants to make a lot of money in the near future, be sure to get my picks on this weekend’s NFL games, and then JUST PICK THE OPPOSITE.
9:58 p.m. Only three steals out of eight still in play, with 21 out of 40 Knockout Round participants locked down. Shelton has one steal left, and Aguilera still has both of hers. (If memory serves, she only has tried to steal one artist, Amanda Brown, thus far.) We’re due for at least two or three “I wish I had a steal left so I could save you” moments in the weeks to come.
Updated knockout round rosters, with steals in italics:
Team Blake: Terry McDermott, Collin McLoughlin, Gracia Harrison, Julio Cesar Castillo, Suzanne Choffel
Team Adam: Bryan Keith, Amanda Brown, Melanie Martinez, Sam James, Joselyn Rivera
Team Christina: De’Borah, Aquile, Celica Westbrooke, Dez Duron, Sylvia Yacoub
Team CeeLo: Diego Val, Trevin Hunte, Cody Belew, Caitlin Michele, Teresa Griffin, Nicholas David
What did you think about the third night of Battle Rounds? Is Aguilera poised to have the strongest team, given that both of her steals are now available? Have the other coaches used their steals wisely? Which team is shaping up to be the strongest heading into the Knockout Rounds? Sound off below!