At last we’ve made it to my favorite stage of The Voice: the epic Battle Rounds portion! Judging by last night’s show, there’s no question this is the best season in terms of overall talent. It actually makes me a little upset knowing some of these folks didn’t try out for American Idol, especially since the show has a proven track record for churning out chart-topping stars. Oh well, I can’t have it all…but what I do have is a fantastic feeling about this season’s crop of contestants. Only one artist left yesterday that deserved to remain in the competition, but for the most part those who left needed to. Moreover, those who were spared by the judges’ “steal” option happened to be some of my early favorites, so I certainly am not complaining and am happy to see them fight another day. Let’s review the singing brawl…
Team Adam Round 1: Amber Carrington vs. Sasha Allen (“Try”) — First off, I’m not a huge fan of Pink but both this track and “Sober” are about as honestly tragic as pop music comes, so I was very pleased to see Adam push these girls to really search deep down for that raw emotion. I have to disagree with Adam appreciating Amber’s take more. In rehearsals, her breezy delivery really took a hold of me, but her actual rendition on performance night was a bit too hesitant. Vocally, she hit the same money notes as Sasha, but I felt like Amber was over-thinking her performance and ended up escaping from the song’s emotional grasp. Sasha, meanwhile, provided nuance, not to mention beautifully “acting” out the lyrics. There was a lot of character in her tone that gave Pink’s “Try” even more flavor and pizzazz. I can see why Sasha frustrates Adam at times, though — I too took issue with her flair for drama and her penchant for overcooking every note in the blind auditions. Here, however, I didn’t notice it and actually thought Sasha was wonderfully restrained, especially during the harmonies. She never tried to swallow up her competitor’s voice, and that to me was a sign of a consummate professional.
Performance Reviews: Amber (***), Sasha (***½)
Winner: Amber Carrington; Stolen: Sasha (Team Shakira)
Team Shakira Round 1: Garrett Gardner vs. J’Sun (“How You Like Me Now?”) — I don’t envy Shakira having to choose a winner this round. I can see reasons why both of these guys deserved victory. Ultimately, I have to side with the She-Wolf in opting to go for the awesomely raw growler, Garrett Gardner. J’Sun may have had a smoother ride on those notes with that velvety R&B voice of his, but his tone isn’t special when comparing it to a plethora of vocalists in the same genre. Gardner, on the other hand — holy hell and a hand bag! The kid’s confidence has elevated to the point where he’s ready to run for mayor of Rockerville. He added so much gritty oomph to every lyric, which perfectly correlated with the song’s rocky vibe and underlying sensuality. Vocally Gardner wasn’t as strong as Tony Lucca was when the former Mouseketeer tackled the song back in Season 2 — which still is one of my all-time favorite performances, by the way — but he handled it with such pride and conviction that it didn’t stain my enjoyment. I was like a proud parent watching at home, and I just hope Garrett continues to fine-tune his technique as the competition progresses. By the way, those mid-range runs before the chorus? Stellar beyond words!
Performance Reviews: Garrett (***½), J’Sun (***½)
Winner: Garrett; Eliminated: J’Sun
Team Blake Round 1: Holly Tucker vs. Michelle Raitzin (“Blown Away”) — Whenever a frontrunner goes against cannon fodder, it’s offensively apparent what will transpire. I felt bad for Michelle because she makes these jazzy inflections with her voice that would sound great on a record, but let’s face it: Holly simply dominates country. Her voice was clear, powerful and rode through the storm of Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away.” Holly is a strong singer but effortlessly so, but she made up for her lack of energy with some angry facial expressions. Michelle focused way too much on elaborating her voice and completely forgot to transcend the anger illustrated in Underwood’s lyrics. Still, when the girl’s voices came together in unison, there was no tornado powerful enough to destroy that foundation. Michelle gave it a solid attempt, but Holly dominated the performance from beginning to end.
Performance Reviews: Holly (***½), Michelle (***)
Winner: Holly Tucker; Eliminated: Michelle Raitzin
Team Usher Round 1: Jess Kellner vs. Taylor Beckham (“You Know I’m No Good”) — Dang Usher, why did you have to make these girls sing one of my all-time favorite songs? Both of these young singers have gorgeous voices but their tones didn’t quite match the mature jazzy nuances of the Amy Winehouse original. Jess kept up more and added a bit of her own dynamic seasoning for good measure, but her delivery felt very forced and artificial. Still, the girl’s runs were mostly on point even though she acted like a three year old wearing high heels that swallowed her feet. Taylor has a thin, shrill voice that actually sounds pleasing when sitting comfortably on a pop or R&B track. Here it just sounded like she was straining, but because I was so enamored by her creative interpretation of Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Going Down” in the blind auditions, I was pleased to see her moving on in the competition with Blake as her mentor. He’s the best coach for molding unique voices that maybe can’t hit the highest notes but still have commercial value.
Performance Reviews: Jess (***), Taylor (**½)
Winner: Jess Kellner; Stolen: Taylor Beckham (Team Blake)
Team Blake Round 2: Christian Porter vs. The Swon Brothers (“Won’t Back Down”) — Oh here we go, the one battle round where I fundamentally disagreed with the outcome. Sure, bar singer Christian Porter hit plenty of bum notes in his performance, but his tone always had personality no matter what. There’s nothing unique or distinctive about The Swon Brothers whatsoever. They sound like any other cover band out there that releases their own versions of famed classic rock songs. Christian had style, glowing charisma and really knew how to play to the crowd. The younger Swon Bro didn’t start singing until well-past the midway mark and vocally had nothing on his older brother. I’m not sure why Blake felt Porter’s journey should end now, and the loss of Porter stung even more when no other coach went out of their way to steal him.
Performance Reviews: Christian (***), The Swon Brothers (***)
Winner: The Swon Brothers; Eliminated: Christian Porter
Team Adam Round 2: Judith Hill vs. Karina Iglesias (“This is a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”) — I’m going to respectfully disagree with Adam that this was “the best battle round ever on The Voice.” Nobody has been able to top Vicci Martinez and Niki Dawson’s “Perfect” duet, although there have been some who’ve come awfully close. Judith and Karina weren’t even the best of the night, so I’m not sure what hyperbolic ganja Adam was smoking. Also, I’m getting tired of “This is a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” being used as the go-to showstopper. We get it — powerful song that explodes when powerful voices jump on it. I wish Adam had done something different to challenge his two talented songstresses, but no matter. Judith only needs to sing one note to completely own a song. Her lack of energy and effortless delivery could end up costing her fans in the end (voters love when contestants visibly struggle to stay on top), but I personally think she deserves a reservation for the finale. Karina had a lot of moments where she took command, ad-libbing to the extreme, although sometimes to her detriment. Judith just exudes perfection, and it would have been beyond foolish for Adam to say no to Michael Jackson’s former singing partner. Both girls were impeccable but only one appeared ready to tour worldwide.
Performance Reviews: Judith (***½), Karina (***½)
Winner: Judith Hill; Stolen: Karina Iglesias (Team Shakira)
Here’s how I rank the battles:
1. Garrett Gardner vs. J’Sun
2. Judith Hill vs. Karina Iglesias
3. Holly Tucker vs. Michelle Raitzin
4. Amber Carrington vs. Sasha Allen
5. Christian Porter vs. The Swon Brothers
6. Jess Kellner vs. Taylor Beckham
Agree or disagree with my The Voice recap? Sound off below in the comments section and be sure to check out tomorrow’s post covering the second night of battle rounds!