Judges start to form their teams for the live finals and send six hopefuls home as the teammate sing-offs kick off.
By John Mitchell
Tony Lucca on “The Voice”
Let the battles begin!
With the blind auditions completed and the judges’ 12-person teams in place, the Battle Rounds began Monday night (March 5) on “The Voice,” with teammates facing off by doing duets. In the Battle Rounds, judges Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and Cee Lo Green pick a song for two of their team members to take into the ring for a sing-off and then must decide which performer bested the other and gets to stay and advance to the finals.
Over the next four weeks, Teams Xtina, Adam, Blake and Cee Lo will be cut in half, leaving 24 finalists to compete for viewer votes when the show goes live beginning April 2.
One of the fun features of the Battle Rounds comes in the addition of celebrity advisers brought in by the judges. This season, the teams will enjoy mentoring from the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Robin Thicke, Ne-Yo, Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Jewel, Miranda Lambert (Blake’s wife!), Alanis Morissette and Lionel Richie.
First to enter the pop-battle ring was Team Adam’s Chris Cauley and Tony Lucca. The pair were tasked with performing U2’s mega-anthem “Beautiful Day” and first gathered around the piano to run through the song with Levine before parting ways to work individually with mentors Morissette and Thicke. Morissette identified with Lucca’s desire to be an artist but cautioned, “It’s not as though you can only be famous or credible, and I think [Tony] sees that now.” Ever the cool cat, Thicke rocked a pair of shades inside while he worked with Cauley, whom he encouraged to perform bigger and not hide behind his vocal.
Once they hit the stage, which was fashioned to look like a boxing ring, both delivered strong performances. Blake was critical of Tony’s pitch and encouraged Adam to go with Chris. Christina and Cee Lo, meanwhile, were in Tony’s camp. Aguilera admitted she might be a little biased because Lucca was her childhood co-star on “The Mickey Mouse Club,” though Cee Lo unabashedly called Lucca the “total package.” Adam evidently agreed and chose Lucca for the team he’ll take to the live finals.
Next up was Team Blake’s Adley Stump and RaeLynn, who at 17 years old is the youngest person in the competition. “You’re both firecracker country girls,” Shelton told the singers, explaining that he wanted to see how their different approaches to the same genre would work singing Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’.”
Shelton paired RaeLynn up with his own wife, Grammy-winning country star Miranda Lambert, as her mentor because the young singer auditioned with one of Lambert’s songs and he said RaeLynn reminded him of Lamert when she was a young singer who appeared on the country-music singing competition “Nashville Star.” Adley got paired with a hero of her own, pop superstar Kelly Clarkson, who encouraged her to control her powerful voice when she stepped into the ring.
Adley and Raelynn delivered two very different takes on the song (though their harmonies were spot on), and while Adley’s strong and smooth delivery won over Christina and Cee Lo, Blake surprised many by choosing RaeLynn, explaining that he felt her more unique style would be able to tell more of a story and that was key to singing country music.
For her first round in the ring, Aguilera went the opposite route of Shelton, choosing two polar opposites to face each other — classically trained opera singer Chris Mann and the less practiced but more passionate Monique Benabou. While Benabou was at first intimidated by her competition’s experience, she received plenty of reinforcement from mentor Jewel, who said she was capable of stronger singing than she knew. For his part, Lionel Richie had to push Mann in the opposite direction, asking him to take it down a notch. “Sometimes the imperfections are what we’re looking for,” he told the singer.
Chris seemed to have trouble reeling in his vocal to suit Celine Dion’s power pop ballad “The Power of Love,” but his chops were undeniable. While Blake preferred Monique’s more in-the-moment take, Chris won the support of Cee Lo and Adam and ultimately Christina to earn a spot on her team for the live finals.
Cee Lo paired up two of his own powerhouse female vocalists, Cheesa and Angie Johnson, for his team’s first face-off in the ring, giving the singers the ’80s classic “Total Eclipse of the Heart” to tackle. When Cheesa and Angie first met with Cee Lo for a run-through, the sultry-voiced songbirds got into a little bit of a back-and-forth over raising the pitch of the song, with Cheesa first suggesting they take it up a half-step and Angie asking it be brought up another half (and just outside of Cheesa’s comfort zone).
Good thing Cheesa was in the mentoring hands of Babyface, who’s worked with artists of very different vocal styles, from Madonna to Beyoncé. Angie was paired with R&B hitmaker Ne-Yo and, in her assessment of the competition, she delivered what might be the perfect analogy of how to handle a singing competition like “The Voice.” “The finger’s got to stay on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot,” she preached.
The well-matched singers earned a standing ovation for their performance and evenly divided the judges. Angie was the choice for both Blake and Christina, who complimented the singer’s “clarity and diction.” But it was Cee Lo’s vote that mattered most, and when it came down to it, he agreed with Adam that Cheesa had won the match.
A very different performance came next from Team Blake, one the judge himself voiced his disappointment with after his team’s two rockers, Brian Fuente and Jordis Unga, finished their rough take on Morrisette’s ’90s staple “Ironic.”
Both singers were clearly worried that the song was not a good fit for them, and that came across in spades when they met with their mentors, Clarkson and Lambert. Clarkson encouraged Fuente to “commit to that” when she noticed he was being repeatedly hesitant in his delivery, while Jordis was even more emphatic in her worry, asking Lambert and Shelton directly what they were looking for from her in the performance.
What no one was looking for was a show that, according to a diplomatic Aguilera, “definitely had some shaky and pitchy moments throughout.” While Shelton wasn’t pleased with the experiment — he gave the rockers the song to see what they’d do outside their wheelhouse ⏼ he went with his gut and picked Jordis, who herself called the performance a “train wreck.”
The night’s final performance was, thankfully, a showstopper from Team Xtina. The pop star paired up gospel singers Anthony Evans and Jesse Campbell to take on Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.” When she announced the pairing she noted, “I thought this would bring up the competitive notch a little bit, because you two have similar styles” — a fact both singers couldn’t disagree with.
Jesse, who was confident, perhaps even showy when he met up with Anthony for their first run-through, was encouraged by Lionel Richie to not try too hard to outdo his competition because he might oversing the song. “Don’t run past you,” the legend warned. Meanwhile, Jewel pressed Anthony to continue to bring the strong emotion he displayed during their work session to his performance.
Once the well-matched singers hit the ring, the performance quickly became the vocal Olympics, with both delivering powerful performances that caused host Carson Daly to declare the sing-off “a heavyweight battle.” Jesse got the thumbs-up from Blake and Adam, and in the end, Aguilera sided with her fellow judges and decided to keep Campbell on her team for the live shows later in the season.
» Tony Lucca (Team Adam)
» RaeLynn (Team Blake)
» Chris Mann (Team Christina)
» Cheesa (Team Cee Lo)
» Jordis Unga (Team Blake)
» Jesse Campbell (Team Christina)
» Chris Cauley (Team Adam)
» Adley Stump (Team Blake)
» Monique Benabou (Team Christina)
» Angie Johnson (Team Cee Lo)
» Brian Fuente (Team Blake)
» Anthony Evans (Team Christina)
Did any of your favorites get cut during the Battle Rounds? Let us know in the comments!
- href=”http://www.mtv.com/music/artist/aguilera_christina/artist.jhtml”>Christina Aguilera
- href=”http://www.mtv.com/music/artist/levine__adam/artist.jhtml”>Adam Levine
- Cee Lo Green
- href=”http://www.mtv.com/music/artist/shelton_blake/artist.jhtml”>Blake Shelton