The battles are here! On Monday night, "The Voice" moved on to that exciting stage of the competition known as the battle rounds. You know the drill: Each coach pairs up his or her team members to combatively duet on a song and then, after the two singers give it their all, breaks one of their hearts by picking the other to advance.
The heartbreak is mitigated for some by the coach steal, in which the other coaches can scoop up unpicked singers for their own teams, turning losers back into potential winners with the push of a button. Sometimes more than one coach makes a play for a contestant, and the battle moves to the big red chairs. But for those who don't get picked by their coaches and are passed over by the rest, it just means double the rejection. Brutal.
Given the intensity of the battles themselves, the music-industry mentors brought in to help the coaches during this round often seem beside the point. This season, though, in addition to Ed Sheeran (Christina Aguilera's team), Miguel (CeeLo Green's team) and Ryan Tedder (Adam Levine's team), the battles brought us Cher, who performed during last season's finale, gently jousting with Blake Shelton. Cher!
By enlisting Cher as a mentor, "I have forever trumped any coach on any season of 'The Voice,'" Shelton said. Hard to argue.
And then there were the matchups:
Levine pitted Berklee College of Music-trained wedding-band singer Grey against flirtatious family-centric dance instructor Nic Hawk on Jesse J's "Domino," calling them the "two most opposite people I can imagine." Grey's voice was strong and mellifluous and Hawk's sometimes wavered, but he was by far the more interesting performer, energetically dancing around. "He's got his own little disco going," Shelton said, adding that it was "impossible not to get wrapped up in that." Green concurred, but Aguilera preferred Grey's "steady" vocals. Levine chose Grey, but Hawk didn't have to go home. Shelton scooped him up in a steal, joking (I think) that he wanted Hawk to teach him to dance. "Adam, you screwed up so bad," Shelton said, later admitting, "If ever there was an odd couple, it's me and Nic," but adding, "I think it's going to be a lot of fun."
In a battle of the teens, Aguilera had 17-year-old Amber Nicole face off against 15-year-old Timyra-Joi, asking them to dig deep to impress her with Beyonce's "Listen." The young singers' impassioned performances – one smooth, one gritty -- left Aguilera in tears. "If I was up and coming, I would be scared of you guys," Aguilera said. Green gave the match to Timyra-Joi. Levine and Shelton weren't sure who'd won. Aguilera had to make the call, and she chose Amber Nicole, saying she was a bit further along vocally. Surely someone would steal Timyra-Joi. Someone? Anyone? Alas, no. The 15-year-old was sent home in tears. "I'm really shocked and disappointed that no one snatched her up," Aguilera said. Shelton seemed a bit disappointed himself. If he could, he said, he'd go back and steal her.
Shelton paired up two Alabama-based country singers, Justin Chain, who'd recovered from a devastating motorcycle crash, and pageant consultant and hairstylist Shelbie Z. on the Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson duet "Don't You Wanna Stay." Shelbie Z. proved she had greater staying power. The other coaches were split in their preferences – Green thought Shelbie Z. might have veered a bit off pitch – but Shelton was clear, evenly assigning any pitch issues and picking Shelbie Z. as the winner. No one moved to steal Chain.
Green teamed 18-year-old show choir singer Anthony Paul with 17-year-old summer-camp singer Caroline Pennell on Justin Bieber's "As Long As You Love Me." Paul thought he had the advantage going in, since the song was more in his wheelhouse, and he certainly took the opportunity to showcase his vocal control, pulling back where needed and showing off where possible, but Pennell's quirky style trumped his. Her performance mesmerized. The coaches agreed it was a standout battle – the best of the day, said Aguilera – but didn't agree on a winner. Levine was transported by Pennell's take; Shelton gave the match to Paul. Aguilera hedged her bets and declined to declare who'd won. When Green picked Pennell, calling her style "surreal" and saying it "encourages me to dream with my eyes open," Aguilera swiped Paul, saying she'd been impressed by his control.
The final two battles were fiercely fought. Levine matched up the Tina Turner-esque Donna Allen – at 54, the former Miami Sound Machine backup singer wanted to prove it was never too late to pursue your dreams – with lush-voiced Jamaican singer Tessanne Chin on Emeli Sandé's "Next to Me." You pretty much knew the battle was going to go to Chin – the younger singer had turned four chairs during the blinds -- but Allen gave Chin a good run for her money nevertheless. Shelton thought Allen had actually taken it, but Green, Aguilera and ultimately Levine declared Chin to have been the winner, and sadly no one scooped up Allen. Oh, well. There are worse things than being repeatedly compared to Tina Turner on national TV, even if you are sent home thereafter.
In the last pairing of the night, Aguilera had Briana Cuoco, who's looking to step out of the shadow of her famous sister, actress Kaley Cuoco, battle it out with 16-year-old high schooler Jacquie Lee on the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun." But the bigger battle happened after Aguilera picked Lee as the winner. Both Green, who had given the match to Lee, and Shelton, who thought Cuoco had won, went in for the steal. Green thought he'd sewn things up when he told Cuoco her he'd nurture her "weathered," "durable" voice and help her go far as part of Team CeeLo. But Shelton complimented the way Cuoco connected with her lyrics – saying he could tell she was a songwriter – and won her for his team, using up his final steal of the season on the very first night of the battles. Bold!
What do you think? Did the coaches make the right calls?