Sometimes battles on "The Voice" are won before the two vocalists face off in the ring. And sometimes we have to take on faith that the show's coaches know more about their team members' potential after working with them over the course of at least two sessions (albeit of indeterminate length) than we do after watching them sing for just a few moments onscreen. "That's why we have coaches on this show and not judges," Blake Shelton observed on Monday night.
Shelton's comment foreshadowed the first real battle-round surprise of the season, which arrived seconds later courtesy of Cee Lo Green. In a matchup between adorable 19-year-old George Horga Jr., whose family came from Romania in pursuit of the American Dream, and Juhi Pathak, an equally adorable 16-year-old weighing a future in music or aerospace engineering, Juhi, with her arrestingly quirky signature tone, seemed to have carried the round. After all, as Horga and the other coaches acknowledged, he'd hit a clunker of a note early on in Gavin DeGraw's "Best I Ever Had." Even Horga thought he'd lost the match, he later admitted. Not Cee Lo.
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Green gave Juhi a cute nickname -- "Juju," he called her – and then gave the win to Horga. Juhi was a "young Einstein," Green said, but Horga had a "brave heart" and he wished to advance with someone who wanted to "solely do this as if there's no plan B."
But don't cry for Juhi. (No "boo-hoos" for Juju!) Adam Levine snapped her up on a steal, his first of the season, saying he felt like he'd "just won the lottery." While there was work to be done, he said, the talented teen has "potential, potential, potential."
The outcomes of most of the other battles were easier to predict.
Ultracool vocalist and single dad Josh Logan, of Team Christina, trounced bouncy Latin-music lover Michael Lynch on Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe." Levine, who wrote the song, complimented both singers, but tipped Logan as the winner for his more "polished," commanding performance. Christina Aguilera complimented Levine, calling him a "perfectionist kind of a singer," and handed the victory to Levine sound-alike Logan. Lynch went home unstolen.
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Soulful, bearded Austin Jenckes, who may be this season's answer to Season 3 finalist Nicholas David, out-emoted and out-connected sporty Brian Pounds on the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody." Their coach, Shelton, said "technically" the competition was "dead even," but, praising the way Jenckes "really loses himself in a song," gave him the match. "I think Austin's gonna take my team deep into this competition in the live shows," Shelton said. The other coaches apparently agreed with the coach's call. No one pushed a button for Pounds.
In a battle of Team Adam singers who'd returned from past seasons and turned multiple chairs in the blinds, James Irwin faced off against Matt Cermanski. Levine said he was looking to advance whoever moved him more with OneRepublic's "Counting Stars," whose lead singer, Ryan Tedder, happens to be Levine's guest adviser this season. Neither Irwin nor Cermanski gave a terribly impressive performance, which Levine acknowledged. Still, someone had to win, and that person was Irwin. (Unless you asked Cermanski's mom, who told her son she thought he'd won. Aw. Moms.)
Team Christina's Destinee Quinn, whom the show has unflatteringly dubbed a "biker bar singer," may not have been the favorite when she went up against classically trained former model Lina Gaudenzi on the Dixie Chicks' "I'm Not Ready to Make Nice," but win it she did. Aguilera had challenged the singers to connect with the song's lyrics and emotions, and while Gaudenzi had shown superior range, Aguilera said, Quinn had moved the audience more with her performance. It was the second (if more modest) surprise of the evening, and it also ended with a steal by Levine, his last one. Again he cited the singer's "potential."
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In the episode's final match, Apple computer expert James Wolpert and Will Champlin, whose dad played in the band Chicago, faced off on Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive." Levine swore he hadn't paired them because they both wore glasses, but rather because they were so similar as to be "somewhat redundant" members of his team and he wanted to move forward with the stronger of the two. Though vocally the match may have been a tossup, the three male coaches couldn't get over the mismatch between Wolpert's geeky look and potent vocals. Levine, just before declaring him the winner, said Wolpert looked like he "could be working in the stock market -- in a cool way." Who knew a necktie could so prettily tie up a victory?
It didn't impress Aguilera, though. She used up her last steal to add Champlin to her team. "To me, you were consistent, you were steady and you followed through," she told him.
With just a few more battles, Green alone among the coaches has a steal remaining. It'll be interesting to see whom he uses it on.
Who are your favorites so far?