"The Voice's" Battle Rounds continued this week, with 12 very able-throated singers entering the show's garishly neon-lit boxing ring and only six walking away unscathed and on to the live semifinals. For all you "Voice" newbies, the Battle Rounds are to "The Voice" as Hollywood Week is to "American Idol" and the Judges' Houses are to "The X Factor." It's the segment of the season when the top 48 (four teams of 12) are whittled down to the top 24 that will eventually compete for public votes. Two singers on the same team, of roughly the same musical genre, step into the ring, and after an epic singoff, that team's coach chooses which of the two contestants to keep. Sometimes, the coach's choice is clear; other times, it's a close call. Sometimes, the coach chooses wisely; other times (as evidenced by a few questionable verdicts last week), not so much.
The worst-case scenarios, however, come when a coach makes the stupidest choice of all: the choice to pit two of his or her strongest team members against each other, thus ensuring the premature elimination of one of the show's best contestants. This unfortunately happened twice this Monday, with two pulse-pounding, nail-biting, heartbreaking battles that could only end in tears...unless some new rule was created so that these battles could end in a tie. Sadly, that did not happen. Le sigh.
Here are the two battles that bummed me out the most this week:
TEAM XTINA: Lindsey Pavao vs. Lee Koch
Lee & Lindsey in the coolest "Voice" battle everLindsey the asymmetrically coiffed indie girl and Lee the scruffy indie rocker/baker were my two hands-down favorite contestants on Christina Aguilera's team this season. So how could Christina do this? Why would she jeopardize two of her best players? Why didn't she pit Lee against, say, the Line, or pit the Trey Songz-covering Lindsey against rapper Moses Stone or obvious fodder contestant Ashley De La Rosa? This was a travesty (almost as big a travesty as fellow coach Blake Shelton confessing that he was unfamiliar with the song Lee and Lindsey sang, "Heart-Shaped Box"). Both Lindsey and Lee dug deep into the Nirvana classic and put their unique stamps on it--Lee sounding deliciously creepy and weird, Lindsey sounding sexy and gothy and vampy and torchy--and both of them really, really deserved to stay. It was actually the coolest battle I'd seen in "Voice" history. Christina picked Lindsey, a decision I could hardly protest (Lindsey is incredible), but saying goodbye to Lee this early in the season was spirit-crushing, not to mention very surprising. Christina Aguilera is dang fool.
WINNER: Lindsey Pavao
TEAM CEE LO: Jamie Lono vs. Jamar Rogers
Jamie & Jamar in the night's most bittersweet battleLast season, silly Cee Lo Green forced two very worthy opponents, Nakia and Tje Austin, to battle each other--and while I was happy to see Nakia prevail back then, I was sad to see Tje get eliminated so early. Cee Lo, having arguably the strongest team again this season, made an even lamer move this week, placing adorable sandwich-maker Jamie Lono in the ring with another one of my Season 2 Team Cee Lo favorites, "American Idol" veteran Jamar Rogers. The two boys sang Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is," but what I want to know is...what was Cee Lo thinking? Why didn't he have Jamie battle dull bar-band rocker Justin Hopkins, or have Jamar battle the overrated James Massone or fodder contestant Wade? Why would Cee Lo want to lose either of these guys? Anyway, the Foreigner power-ballad was a much better fit for Jamar's belty style, and with his moving backstory (he's an HIV-positive recovering drug addict who miraculously turned his life around), he was already a fan favorite. Jamie did his best, but Jamar clearly outsang him. So Cee Lo picked Jamar, which was definitely the right choice...but the even right-er choice would have been letting Jamie spar with another, more suitable opponent, on a more suitable song. (Side note: "The Voice" cast is going to go hungry this season, now that they've lost their sandwich chef AND their pastry chef in one night.)
WINNER: Jamar Rogers
Oh well. I still love "The Voice," although I admit I'm loving it a little less right now, now that some contestants I was really excited about are already gone before I even had a chance to vote for them. So, is it too soon to ask if Lee and Jamie can be brought back as Wild Cards?
Anyway, here's how this week's other, decidedly less controversial battles panned out...
TEAM XTINA: Geoff McBride vs. Sera Hill
Sera spars with GeoffFifty-one-year-old soulman Geoff, this season's oldest contestant, took on young, sassy diva Sera, and while I hadn't been all that impressed with Geoff's first audition, I was surprised by how well he held his own when he got in the ring this week. I would have expected Aretha Franklin's "Chain Of Fools" to be more in Sera's wheelhouse, since she's a female R&B belter, but Geoff definitely sounded more in control here, while Sera seemed a bit scattered, like she was trying a bit too hard. Still, Sera was the one who looked like a star--who had the X factor, if you will--and while my ears were tuned to Geoff, I only had eyes for her. Actually, come to think of it, my ears really tuned in and pricked up when Geoff and Sera sang together; they riffed off each other so well, in fact, that Cee Lo even remarked that they sounded like a professional duo. Well, maybe if things don't work out for Sera, she can re-team with Geoff and they can try out for Kelly Clarkson's upcoming singing show, ABC's "Duets." But for now, Sera is continuing on "The Voice," because according to coach Christina, she was the champion of this battle.
WINNER: Sera Hill
TEAM BLAKE: Charlotte Sometimes vs. Lex Land
Charlotte beats LexLex totally tanked in her first audition (I was genuinely astonished that any coach picked her at all), blaming her mush-mouthiness on nerves, while the super-confident Charlotte was one of the Blind Auditions' early standouts. So this seemed like a very unequal battle from the start. As the two ladies squared off on Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks," glimmers of the greatness I'd heard on some of Lex's pretty indie recordings came through. But overall, Lex's Battle Rounds performance was still a little scattershot; she sometimes almost sounded like she was drunk (what are they serving in that NBC green room, huh?), and the odd way she fluctuated from high-pitched breathiness to guttural deep-throating sometimes reminded me of Lana Del Rey's infamous "SNL" performance. Charlotte was not perfect herself--she was definitely too affected--but the Foster The People hit was more suited to her vocal style. Blake, who clearly harbors a fondness for soft-spoken songstresses like Lex, seemed torn, but in the end he cited one pitchy moment at the beginning of Lex's performance as the deciding factor, and he went with Charlotte. After foolishly picking pitchy singer-songwriter RaeLynn over powerhouse Adley Stump last week, Blake redeemed himself a bit with this sound decision.
WINNER: Charlotte Sometimes
TEAM CEE LO: Juliet Simms vs. Sarah Golden
Juliet upstages SarahWhen Cee Lo paired shaggy rocker chick Juliet, the swaggery frontwoman for emo band Automatic Loveletter, against gentle, unassuming folky Sarah, and then had them sing the Faces' brassy, ballsy "Stay With Me" (a song that the extroverted Skylar Laine recently entertainingly covered on "Idol"), it seemed he was setting up Sarah to fail. Not that I minded that much--Juliet has been one of my favorites this season, so whatever Cee Lo had to do to keep her in the competition, I endorsed. (Especially since he later sacrificed one very strong player, Jamie Lono, and he did NOT need to diminish his team any more than that.) Juliet was obviously in her element, working her gravely voice to full effect (and at full volume) and prowling the stage in circa-'70s leather hotpants, go-go boots, and a "Phyllis" headscarf. Poor Sarah simply couldn't compete; Juliet upstaged her in every way, and the song and stage just swallowed Sarah up. This, unlike Cee Lo's other decision of the night, was a fairly easy call.
WINNER: Juliet Simms
TEAM ADAM: Kim Yarbrough vs. Whitney Meyer
Youth loses to experienceThis was another set-up in which the coach's song choice seemed to favor one contestant over the other. Adam Levine's selection, Mary J. Blige's angsty "No More Drama," was the perfect fit for seasoned, 50-year-old diva Kim, but for spunky 24-year-old Whitney, it was a real struggle. "Some of the places [Whitney is] going, I've already been. I bought the T-shirt and the mug and all that," the world-weary Kim pointed out in her pre-performance interview. This was a huge song, but Kim handled it like a pro and brought the passion of 50 years of living; meanwhile, Whitney's attempt was much shakier, and her youth and inexperience showed. Simply put, "No More Drama" separated the woman from the girl, literally. If this pair had been given a more youthful, fun song--like Estelle's "American Boy" or something by Rihanna--it might have been Whitney who prevailed, since the girl is undoubtedly talented. But based on this specific battle, Kim was the clear victor.
WINNER: Kim Yarbrough
So next week, a dozen more singers will get in the ring. Will the coaches pick their battles carefully for round three? I sincerely hope so, because I can't bear to see any more of my favorites go home so soon.