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Recap: 'The Voice' Monday - The Battles Premiere
How would the Steal impact the revamped Battle Round?
With blind auditions finally over, it’s time to move onto the next phase of “The Voice”: the Battle Rounds. This phase of the time will see this season’s big twist in the form of “The Steal.” (No, I don’t know if the show will have some anonymous woman croon “This is The Steal!” after each commercial break.) Each coach will get two steals, which should theoretically alter how each coach will pair up his or her team members during this phase of the game. I say “theoretically” because it’s just as likely that Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, CeeLo Green, and Adam Levine will inadvertently screw themselves over during this part of “The Voice” as help themselves. Another new feature, “Knockout Rounds”, will eventually shrink this current field of 64 down before the start of the live broadcasts. When will those broadcasts start? Sometime before the next Olympics, ostensibly.
Let’s get tonight’s live blog going. As always, I’ll be jotting down my thoughts in real time. I’ll admit I’m curious to see how the steals work, even if the Battle Rounds themselves are still so conceptually odd that I’m slightly skeptical. Still, the idea that someone cut during this round could actually end up winning the entire thing gives each iteration in this phase of the game added dimension. So even if we’re not going to see any four-dimensional chess played amongst the coaches, we should hopefully see something more intriguing than the past two seasons.
8:00 p.m. Flash grenades. That’s what The Battle Rounds need! OK, maybe not. I’m gonna work on this.
8:01 p.m. Well, they just totally gave away the identity of someone saved by The Steal. That’s sort of shocking. Less shocking? I don’t remember who that female is. That’s what happens when you’re a singing competition that picks 64 people over the course of a month.
8:02 p.m. We re-meet the four mentors for the teams in montage form.
8:03 p.m. Our first battle comes from Team Blake: Terry McDermott versus Casey Muessigmann. Shelton explains why they are together: “You’re both loud, powerful singers with great pitch.” He gives them Kansas’ “Carry On, My Wayward Son” as their battle song. Mentor Michael Bublé suggests Muessigmann change his technique to fit the song, rather than force country onto the tune. Shelton warns McDermott not to feel he has an advantage, as past Battle Rounds have often gone in favor of the underdog working out of his/her comfort zone.
8:06 p.m. Musicman sits down with Shelton and Bublé after the rehearsal. Muessigmann insists that he can win the entire competition. “I’m a fighter,” says Muessigmann, approximately 500 times. Afterwards, McDermott has his one-on-one time with his coach/mentor combo, and he’s warned that Muessigmann will be a fierce competitor. (He’s a fighter, don’tcha know.)
8:08 p.m. Final rehearsal time, with the two competitors singing with the full band. Shelton praises Muessigmann’s growth over their short time together. “The Voice” is either telegraphing his victory or trying to make McDermott’s victory seem like an upset.
8:10 p.m. The battle begins, with the two harmonizing quite well at the start. As each singer takes a solo, the camera pans over their friends and family in the crowd. In terms of actual warfare, the two barely acknowledge the other at the outset, instead occupying their own spaces within the confines of the stage. That changes halfway through, with the pair finally squaring off and essentially sing-yelling at each other for the rest of the song. With that said, there’s nothing truly galvanizing about the performance. It was perfectly good, just nothing revelatory coming from either man.
8:12 p.m. Aguilera feels both picked their spots to shine within the song. Green appreciates McDermott’s stage presence, but seems to prefer Muessigmann’s vocal performance. Levine reminds McDermott that he wanted him on Team Adam from the start. (Hmmmmm.)
8:14 p.m. Shelton sets up his decision, noting that he knows how to work better with country artists. But the winner is…A COMMERCIAL BREAK. I am not sure anyone is going to steal this.
8:18 p.m. OK, we’re back. And the winner of the battle: Terry McDermott. As I thought, the show was setting up that upset from the beginning. Muessigmann thanks Shelton for the chance to grow as an artist. No coach elects to steal him, however.
8:19 p.m. The next battle comes from Team Adam: Bryan Keith versus Collin McLoughlin. They meet Levine and mentor Mary J. Blige for their first rehearsal. Levine picks Sublime’s “Santeria” as a “thread that connects” both of them. That’s an awfully strange song choice, to say the least. McLoughlin thinks the song is more in Keith’s wheelhouse, but is up for the challenge. Blige worries that McLoughlin’s razor-sharp pitch might work against him, and implores Colin to show some emotionally-based cracks during his performance.
8:22 p.m. No one-on-one chats, as we go right into final rehearsals. Keith notes improvement in McLoughlin’s performance over their time working together, and has trouble understanding some of Levine’s direction. If you close your eyes, Keith sounds like a perfect replication of the original song. Whether or not that’s a good thing or not shall be seen after the commercial break.
8:28 p.m. The first person to punch Carson Daly for his ridiculous intros gets my backing to win the entire competition.
8:29 p.m. Battle time! It’s a laid-back battle, to say the least. But that’s the song’s fault, and not something I lay upon the competitors. Keith’s grittiness really sells the material in a way that McLoughlin simply can’t pull off. That doesn’t make Keith an inherently better artist, or more likely to win the competition as a whole. But it certainly puts him in a much better position to win this particular battle.
8:32 p.m. Shelton notes Keith’s raspiness, but favors McLoughlin’s pitch. Aguilera points out that McLoughlin rushed the tempo, whereas Keith stayed in it with more swagger. Green also throws his weight behind Keith.
8:34 p.m. Levine says, “It really came down to who interpreted the song in a way that made me want to take them forward.” And under those conditions, the winner of this battle is Bryan Keith. No surprise there. As McLoughlin starts to thank Levine, both Green and Shelton press their button to steal. Levine is honestly delighted by this revelation. I like how those pushes came out of nowhere. We can add this to “The Spanish Inquisition” to things we can never expect, apparently.
8:35 p.m. Shelton smartly points out that Green just voted for Bryan Keith just moments before. Ouch. Well played, Blake. Green suggests that the song choice didn’t do him justice, and that McLoughlin will flourish under his artistic guidance. Who will McLoughlin choose? You’re not gonna believe this, but we won’t find out until the next commercial break.
8:40 p.m. We’re back, and without further ado, we learn Colin McLoughlin is the newest member of Team Blake. Whee! Steals are fun! That seems like a slightly wasted steal, but it was enjoyable to behold all the same.
8:42 p.m. Moving right along, we have our first Team CeeLo Battle: Diego Val versus JR Aquino. They meet mentor Rob Thomas at their first meeting and learn their battle song: Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl”. That’s as curious as “Santeria”, but is potentially more fun. Rob Thomas uses the word “smooth” within the first five second he’s onscreen to describe Aquino’s voice. Let’s see if he compares Val to the approximate temperature when standing seven inches from the midday son. Both Green and Thomas are impressed by Aquino’s performance right off the bat, whereas Val apparently didn’t even rehearse before arriving. That’s just embarrassing. I’m talking “Cupid auditioning with ‘The Cupid Shuffle’” levels of embarrassing. I’d like to steal the last five minutes of my life back. Is there a button for that?
8:50 p.m. Val insists that he’s been practicing every day. Aquino vows he won’t settle for being a star on YouTube. IT’S ON. Or, something.
8:51 p.m. Aquino does the old “pull the handshake away at the last minute” trick. Ugh. Are we in fifth grade? Val certainly knows the lyrics at this point, but it’s unclear he has a handle on the melody. It might be an original take that Green helped him hone, or he could be just making up notes. Aquino’s more on point, but he’s also too focused on “attitude” to play to his innate strengths. Their voices really don’t mesh at all, which makes their overlapping parts slightly painful. “The Voice” has made me predisposed to Aquino after that rehearsal sequence, but I could see this going either way. Val has great stage presence, which shouldn’t matter in a competition nominally based around vocal talent. But we all know it does.
8:53 p.m. Levine praises Val’s performance on the high notes. Shelton liked both performers, but votes for Aquino. Aguilera enjoyed Val’s energy at the end, and thus offers support for him. Green thinks he could do something “strange” with Val, even while admitting Aquino is the stronger overall singer. And just as I thought, the winner of this battle is Diego Val. Who needs rehearsal? Sigh. Green feels the ceiling is higher with Val, much in the way that George Lucas once thought the ceiling was higher on Jake Lloyd as a young Anakin Skywalker. So there you have it. That felt like a TV decision, not a musical decision. Val The fact that no one steals Aquino is sad but not surprising. Val is the better visual performer, so naturally he gets the nod on a show called “The Voice”. Double sigh.
9:00 p.m. It’s time for a Team Christina battle, with two of the coolest-named contestants in the competition: De’Borah versus Nelly’s Echo. They meet their mentor, Billie Joe Armstrong, and learn their battle song: The Police’s “Message In A Bottle”. Aguilera tells the camera that she paired them up due to their shared battle-filled backgrounds.
9:02 p.m. I want to know more about this pianist. Does he hang with the guy from “Glee”?
9:03 p.m. Armstrong thinks the song is tailor-made for Nelly’s Echo. After hearing Echo sing a few notes, I would concur. Echo wants to play around with the melody, which worries both coach and mentor (and HitFix recapper) slightly. De’Borah confesses little familiarity with the tune (due to her sheltered past, not lack of preparation), but Armstrong loves the mistakes that she makes.
9:05 p.m. Final rehearsal time, and De’Borah is still working through the specifics of the song. Anxiety is high for her, and she’s worried that she won’t have it down in time. Aguilera tries to calm her down, offering up various ways De’Borah could approach the performance. Still, if she doesn’t actually nail this by showtime, this feels like a steal situation in the making. De’Borah’s audition was so strong that I wouldn’t be surprised to see her still in the competition even if she loses.
9:11 p.m. Nelly’s Echo starts off with those vocal flourishes he mentioned/threatened he might try, and they feel much too showy. De’Borah barely gets any vocal time in the first half of the song, only getting to shine after an extremely messy overlap between the pair. (They didn’t battle so much as crash into each other on the highway headlong.) De’Borah still doesn’t have the song down, but has found a way to emotionally deliver an interpretation that fits within the overall structure of the song. But on the whole, there’s a lot of misdirected energy onstage by both. A more focused approach would have made either contestant really stand out in this round.
9:14 p.m. Green was blown away by the soul in De’Borah’s voice. Levine takes time to praise De’Borah’s story, but doesn’t really address her performance. Shelton admires the way her performance built in an ever-growing fashion throughout the song. (I’m sensing a theme here.) Aguilera is proud of both her team members, but penalizes Nelly’s Echo for going too over-the-top with his vocal pyrotechnics. As such the winner of this battle is De’Borah. Every worry I had during auditions melted away the second she started to sing onstage. She just has a certain quality that demands attention. De’Borah’s parents are bawling in the crowd. “You made Daddy proud!” her father says backstage. Awww. They are awesome. As he leaves, Nelly’s Echo thanks Aguilera on behalf of himself and his entire home country of Nigeria.
9:22 p.m. It’s a two-on-one battle for Team Blake: 2Steel Girls versus Gracia Harrison. So, so much country in the house. I’m hoping Shelton and Bublé choose a punk song, just for funsies. Nope, they actually pick The Dixie Chick’s “Sin Wagon”. Oh well. Bublé asks 2Steel Girls to belt out more during their rehearsal, with mother Allison more tentative about the song than her daughter Krystal.
9:24 p.m. At the final rehearsal, Harrison’s nerves seem to overcome her, and all three seem to have trouble keeping up with the speed of the lyrics. Shelton’s song choice is a bit suspect here. It’s one thing to challenge the contestants, and another to steamroll them.
9:31 p.m. Battle time! The three instantly move center stage, which is a smart move in order to sell the story of the song. They appear to be involved in a single performance rather than two competing ones, and it’s a joy to watch. I’ll eat crow here and say that Shelton’s choice no longer seems suspect, but rather inspired: All three women do their coach proud with that one, rising to the occasion and putting forth two equally strong performances.
9:33 p.m. Aguilera likes both sides of the equation, but gives Harrison the nod due to her stage presence. Green goes with the mother/daughter duo, and Levine serves as musical Switzerland. “This is the toughest one for me in a long time,” bemoans Shelton. But in the end, the winner of this battle is Gracia Harrison. Man, duos have their work cut out for them on this show. Levine is mad that Shelton picked Harrison, as he was ready to steal her away.
9:40 p.m. It’s time for another Team CeeLo battle, and he pits Trevin Hunte versus Amanda Brown. The pair meets Green and Thomas and learn their song: Mariah Carey’s “Vision Of Love”. High risk, high reward choice there. “You represent the dynamic of Mariah Carey: power and control.” Brown launches into the song, and Thomas throws up his hands as if to say, “I quit.” Green is shocked by what he hears, in a good way. He’s almost as shocked to see Hunte shrink in the face of competition. “Trevin is his own worst enemy,” says Thomas. “I shouldn’t have paired y’all together. I’m mad,” murmurs Green.
9:44 p.m. We’re at the final rehearsal time, with Hunte still deep inside his own head at this point. Green asks Brown to find her own place in the lower registers, both other than that mostly listens in amazement. By the end, their harmonies together promise potential greatness. “I can’t lose either one of you!” Green says through gritted teeth.
9:46 p.m. Performance time. Let’s see what happens.
9:46 p.m. ….
9:47 p.m. ….
9:47 p.m. Look, this…this? THIS? THIS is incredible. Goose bumps from moment one, and they only grow as the performance carries on (my wayward son). You can feel the two of them vibing off each other, competing but also pushing each other further and further. About halfway through, they each cast this “Can you BELIEVE we’re doing this?” look in the other’s direction. On top of that, it’s an incredibly tight performance, with barely a note missed, a harmony wasted, or an emotional spot unmined. Whew. That was great. And CeeLo Green couldn’t look more depressed about the choice he has to make.
9:49 p.m. Not only did the audience give that a standing ovation, but the coaches did as well. Levine preemptively commits to whomever Green doesn’t choose. “You guys are the show. You are why we’re here,” he says. “I’ll be damned if I can think one negative thing to say,” says Shelton. “I speak this language,” notes Aguilera, trying to get in their heads before the inevitable steal scrum that’s about to happen.
9:50 p.m. “Why did you put these two together?” asks astute journalist Carson Daly. “I really didn’t realize how accomplished you were, Amanda,” says Green, who looks like he wants to hop into a time machine and do this all over again.
9:51 p.m. Between a rock and a hard place, Green chooses a commercial break. What a wuss.
9:55 p.m. “I’m at a loss for words. Both your abilities are miraculous!” praises Green. Will Green go for the more polished presence or the rawer talent? C’mon: it’s CeeLo Green! The dude that picked Diego Val so the two could do something “strange” together! Of course he’ll go for the option that allows him the most space in which to explore. As such, the winner of this battle is Trevin Hunte. I worry for moment Hunte might collapse onstage due to relief.
9:56 p.m. BUTTON MASHING CHAOS! Backstage, Hunte cheers for his former teammate as he realizes what’s happening in front of the crowd. (I just realized these two will be in direct competition once again down the line. I also just got really excited.) The irony here is that three judges that didn’t turn around during the blind auditions are all but offering their first-born children to get her services now. This alone justifies “The Steal”, no? Seems pretty obvious this was a good addition to the show. Let’s just hope “The Voice” doesn’t exponentially raise the number of steals per season, as it has done with its contestant pool.
9:57 p.m. “A little bit of contrast between the coaches usually leads to good things,” notes Levine, trying to crowbar his way into Brown’s heart after serious pitches from Shelton and Aguilera. Brown wants to go with her gut. As such, Amanda Brown becomes the newest member of Team Adam. “I’m a good thief,” smirks Levine, moments after his steal. “He just became my competitor,” Green laments. “Now he has the other best.”
Team Blake: Terry McDermott defeated Casey Muessigmann; Gracia Harrison defeated 2Steel Girls
Team Adam: Bryan Keith defeated Collin McLoughlin (subsequently added to Team Blake via steal)
Team Christina: De’Borah defeated Nelly’s Echo
Team CeeLo: Diego Val defeated RJ Aquino; Trevin Hunte defeated Amanda Brown (subsequently added to Team Adam via steal)
What did you think about the first night of Battle Rounds? Did The Steal help or hurt? Who surprised you the most tonight? Did any mentors stand out? Sound off below!