“The Voice” Recap: Battle Rounds, Part 1

Last night, The Voice aired the first of several Battle Round episodes. Unexpectedly to some, the next chapter in the popular singing show came with one additional feature: the “steal” option. As we’ve seen so many times, there have been contestants who’ve been unjustly eliminated in the Battle Rounds either because of coach bias or the pressure to appease the fans. Controversy, especially over last season’s shocking boots (Angie Johnson, Monique Benabou and Orlando Napier were the most unfortunate victims), wants to be minimized and so the coaches can now steal a contestant from their former coach that deemed them as having lost the battle — essentially cut from the competition unless they’re saved by a judge. Now I usually don’t care much for second chances, but so far all the “steals” have managed to keep around talent that in no way, shape or form deserves to leave this early. As you remember, I vented in anger over some of the decisions made at the end of each Battle Round performance last season, but so far we’re off to a good start this episode since I only ever turn red in frustration one time. Find out my complete thoughts on the start of Season Three’s Battle Rounds after the jump…

Team Blake Round 1: Terry McDermott VS. Casey Muesiggman (“Carry On My Wayward Son) — Anytime somebody is given a classic rock song to sing, my ears instantly perk up. I absolutely love this Kansas hit, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Casey since he had to tackle something so outside of his “country” comfort-zone. That being said, I personally thought Casey did a terrific job with the song. I felt as though he understood the lyrics better than Terry, and infused a ton of heart and passion into every fiber of that performance. It’s hard not to want to see the man succeed. With Terry, I may not be as in love with him as Cee Lo and the rest of the judging panel are, but I will contend to the fact that he was born to sing this song. Terry’s power as a singer is very reminiscent to the great rock stars of the 1980’s, and it’s refreshing to hear such clarity and volume in today’s “mellow-in-melody” music world. Although this match-up didn’t seem like a fair one to me, there’s no denying that Terry completely owned this Kansas classic from a purely objective ear. Reluctantly, I too would have declared Terry the winner of the Battle Round, but I still believe Casey did an incredible job with something so outside of his wheelhouse given the small amount of rehearsal time. Hearing the two in unison was the kind of divine force only a rock god could completely appreciate.

Performance Reviews: Terry (***1/2), Casey (***). Winner: Terry, Eliminated: Casey.

Check out the Battle Round below:

Team Adam Round 1: Bryan Keith VS.Collin McLoughlin (“Santeria”) — I don’t know what to make of this pairing or song choice, other than it seemed like a ploy to get rid of Collin by selecting a Sublime song so utterly wrong for his voice. Collin is so likable even though he sounded incredibly corny on “Santeria,” and as I mentioned it’s not a song I’d ever choose for his pitch-perfect voice. Bryan Keith knows how to find the nuance and eccentricities in the song, however. He was also using his raspy tone to unearth the darkness from the song’s lyrics, which I always appreciate and live for. There’s no question that Bryan Keith’s performance was definitely edgier, and as a result more fitting for this particular track. My major gripe with Bryan is that he often comes off a bit reserved, almost too subtle and sly for his own good. I’d like to see him take ownership of his swagger just a tad more. Based on the tune itself, I would have given Bryan the win, but I truly feel that Adam didn’t give Collin the right song for his artistry and voice to explode. Thank god he was snatched up by Blake after Adam inadvertently dismissed Collin from his team. I almost gave Collin a (****) review for his Blind Audition, but held back because I knew there was still more greatness to be found in that natural instrument of his. I’m thrilled that he’ll be given another opportunity to fulfill the potential demonstrated in his miraculous version of “Wild World.”

Performance Reviews: Bryan (***), Collin (**1/2). Winner: Bryan, Saved: Collin (Team Blake).

Watch their Battle Round right here:

Team Cee Lo Round 1: JR Aquino VS.Diego Val (“Jessie’s Girl”) — What a difference an episode makes. I didn’t care for JR and was sold on Diego during the Blind Auditions, but the two have flipped for me. JR was able to balance style, feeling and performance with his version of the beloved “Jessie’s Girl.” Diego’s voice was off quite a bit, and he was annoyingly aggressive and didn’t seem as into the song or the competition as he should have been. That rehearsal footage was a nightmare to watch, because I wanted to jump into the television screen and shake Diego Val to make sure he was still awake. He seemed totally unfocused during rehearsals and wasn’t taking this giant platform bestowed upon him serious enough. It was obvious to all watching that Diego winged his performance, even if he won over Cee Lo and Christina with his gusto and cocky bravado. The overall delivery from both competitors was pretty substandard, and I wanted more individual moments, but for me JR won this round without question. I could not believe my ears when I heard Cee Lo announce Diego Val as the winner over the far more consistent and vocally talented JR Aquino — what crap! That news provided my first angry moment of The Voice this season, though I’m sure there will be plenty more to come down the road. In my opinion, Diego has no future in this competition. He isn’t very unique, he wasn’t prepared, and he’ll go very quickly if he makes the live rounds. Sorry if I seem upset or heartless, but I cannot believe someone with such a poor work ethic was rewarded last night.

Performance Reviews: JR (**1/2), Diego (*1/2). Winner: Diego, Eliminated: JR

Listen to the battle below:

Team Christina Round 1: De’Borah VS. Nelly’s Echo (“Message in a Bottle”) — Following that incredible rehearsal footage, I thought I might have been wrong about Nelly’s Echo after I practically eviscerated his version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” a few weeks back. Unfortunately for Nelly’s Echo, I was marginally right. The guy has a great tone when he uses it in the right manner, but when he takes it too far by chucking the melody out the window and into a dumpster, I can’t help but throw my arms up in frustration and run for the nearest set of ear plugs. Let’s get into specifics about how off-the-rails Nelly Echo’s rendition of “Message in a Bottle” was: That opening falsetto note was Twilight Zone-odd, and it’s weird because  he sounded so much stronger and self-assured in rehearsal. During the live battle, he was doing way too much with the melody, and refrained from letting anyone enjoy the song as it simply is. De’Borah’s opening verse was far subtler but still more effective. I love her vibrato and its demonstration of her range as a singer. She knew how to emote and sell the meaning behind the infamous Police song. Nelly’s Echo, meanwhile, overplayed his hand, and each note he sang made me wince in pain. On the other side of the equation, De’Borah was killing it with such passion and vivaciousness by the song’s end. For me, De’Borah won by the largest landslide of the night, and I guarantee you she’s going to be a huge fan favorite this season. I hope she continues to grow stronger and stronger in confidence.

Performance Reviews: De’Borah (***1/2), Nelly’s Echo (1/2 star). Winner: De’Borah, Eliminated: Nelly’s Echo

Hear De’Borah slay the competition below:

Team Blake Round 2: 2 Steel Girls VS. Gracia Harrison (“Sin Wagon”) — Oh boy, the duo I gave the lowest score to from the Blind Auditions was up to bat against the incredible Gracia Harrison. I was a bit worried when things began, because the mother/daughter team really kicked up their vocal abilities a few notches since last we saw them. They’re not quite there yet as seasoned songstresses, but at least the two have left the karaoke scene far behind them. Still, Gracia’s talent is hard to deny, even on a song as hokey pokey as “Sin Wagon,” despite a few hiccups along the way. Gracia’s a terrific vocalist, but I just wish her eyes didn’t showcase such fear and nervousness. However, Gracia’s voice was more powerful and audible than both 2 Steel Girls’ voices put together during the battle. I’ll give 2Steel Girl’s this much: the pair’s singing has improved immensely, and they finally sound in sync with one another. Slight adjustments on an upward scale doesn’t result in bringing down a beast of a country singer — which is exactly what Gracia is — so it was beyond evident who deserved to win this battle.

Performance Reviews: 2Steel Girls (**1/2), Gracia Harrison (***). Winner: Gracia, Eliminated: 2 Steel Girls.

Watch this “country” throw-down:

Team Cee Lo Round 2: Amanda Brown VS. Trevin Hunte (“Vision of Love”): This pair is too talented for words! I was not expecting Amanda to be such a powerful and exquisite vocalist. Trevin was the first contestant I gave a perfect score to, and he certainly doesn’t fall into a sophomore slump with his take on the classic Mariah ballad. His verses are silky-smooth, and his high notes send chills from head to toe. However, I’m an objective critic and to me Amanda was just a hair greater than Trevin in this particular round. When she walked out onto that stage, I felt like I was watching a legend take charge of her comeback concert. Her voice is so effortlessly delivered, and she hits all the emotional points in the song with aplomb, so much so that I couldn’t help but feel completely privileged listening to her sing – it was a both a joy and a complete honor. Amanda Brown is undeniably this season’s dark horse, and I hope the fans take her into their arms and embrace her beyond-incredible talent now that she’s been saved by Adam Levine. I’m upset at myself for similarly undervaluing Amanda’s talent as a singer, but now I’m a complete believer and wish nothing but the best for her on this journey.

Performance Reviews: Amanda (****), Trevin (***1/2). Winner: Trevin, Saved: Amanda (Team Adam)

Watch what is sure to be one of the most astounding performances this season:

Finally, here are my rankings for last night’s individual Battle Round Performances:

1. Trevin Hunte VS. Amanda Brown
2. Terry McDermott VS. Casey Muesiggman
3. Bryan Keith VS. Collin McLoughlin
4. 2 Steel Girls VS. Gracia Harrison
5. De’Borah VS. Nelly’s Echo
6. JR Aquino VS. Diego Val

That’s all for The Voice until tomorrow morning. Below, comment away to your heart’s desire, and be sure to list your favorites and whether you were outraged by any of the decisions made during this Battle Round episode. All my favorites remain safe, so I cannot complain too much even though it was tragic seeing the earnestly committed JR Aquino leave. I’ll shut up now and leave you to some water cooler talk, so have at it!