We're in the home stretch of the battle rounds with just one episode left before the knock-outs. How did tonight's contestants fare? Well, it was probably my favorite episode of the season so far, and not just because I found love in a hopeless place (Utah).
Proceed for my take on tonight's battles, which ranged the spectrum from totally boring (sorry, "Stuck in the Middle with You") to strangely compelling (Music Box, you are the MOST intriguing thing) to downright ripped from a YA novel (I'm still swooning). Like an erudite Human Torch would say, read on!
Austin Ellis vs. Josh Kaufman
“The hardworking pop vocalist” vs. “the smooth-singing SAT tutor”
How do we know that the battle rounds were filmed months ago? Because Adam refers to Pharrell’s “Happy” as “a new song.” Now, I’m apparently the only person who genuinely can’t tolerate this song, as it is my knowledge that ostensibly nobody else in the EW office appears to share my distaste for it, but the rest of the world seems to think it’s the lord’s sweet gift to music, so I hope you’re all thrilled to hear it become the kick-off for tonight’s battles. And I hope your children play it a million more times in the car before you, too, join the dark side.
In rehearsal, Aloe categorizes Austin’s soul-approach as “growling” and Josh’s as “warm caramel.” Adam basically says that Austin has the stage presence while Josh has the vocals (and we all know that both tenets have won and lost battles before). It’ll be a toss-up even before they hit the stage.
Let’s talk about this actual battle though. Who is possibly supposed to win this thing? They’re both solid. Josh has the voice I’d rather listen to in greater quantity, but Austin had a much more interesting quality AND the energy to back it up. Blake throws his support behind Josh, who has more tricks to his voice; Usher calls Austin a caged beast and also gives the round to Josh; Shakira says it was one of the best battles yet and does not deign to choose a winner. Adam declares Josh the winner, which is likely the right choice (it’s also worth nothing that Austin doesn’t really have a particularly exciting look, while Josh looks like your favorite singing barista ever.)
Alaska & Madi vs. Audra McLaughlin
“Best friends and country duo” vs. “the versatile vocalist”
Ah yes, I forgot about Sansa and Arya Stark! Here they’re taking on Best Name Ever, who, in addition to being titularly gifted, also has one of the most pleasant voices on the season (she turned all four coach chairs so, well, you know). I wasn’t as excited for this little country-fried duo, but I do love a good harmonious pair, so I was happy to give them a chance (perhaps in mourning of the Brothers Walker who were so unceremoniously scrapped in last week’s unseen battles).
Blake gives the trio Linda Ronstadt’s “When Will I Be Loved,” and the look on Madlaska’s faces during rehearsal says it all -- they’re nervous. Audra has confidence and a powerful voice, at least on the surface, and Madi and Alaska can only rely on each other to impress. I also decide during this time that I don’t like one of these two girls but I can’t decide which, although it’s likely both.
The battle starts and sweet, sweet Audra walks all over them, or at least that’s what I think. I have to stop for a second and ask if you, fair reader, are also as irrationally bugged by Madlaska as I am. It's not that Audra's so incredible -- she's not -- but she's a whole lot better than southern Anna and Elsa. If you are in favor of Audra, power to you; if you’re rooting for them, well, that’s your jam (and you can go listen to “Happy,” see if I care).
Usher says Audra held her own; Shakira (or, as Carson amazingly calls her, SHAK) decides to play Switzerland again and keep quiet; Adam pretends to be upset about wanting to steal whoever doesn’t make it through, but we all know he’s just being his usual gorgeous fibbing self. Blake hesitates but picks Audra, just as he is supposed to. Madlaska breaks into tears, but they lighten up when sexy Adam comes over for a sexy hug.
Deja Hall vs. Music Box
“The 16-year-old R&B hopeful” vs. “the Washington vocalist singing for her son”
Lest we forget, Deja is living a kidney-less life, whereas Music Box is living a life NAMED MUSIC BOX. Okay, so her real name is Ayesha Brooks, but she chose the alias Music Box, much like people choose Puff Daddy or Tom Cruise or Senior VP of Global Brand Management. None of these are things I’m okay with.
Miss Hall and Miss Box are given The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” a really great song that makes me pause my TV and go down a brief YouTube spiral. I return as Miss Box scandalously reveals in her interview that she likes being older than Miss Hall and considers it an advantage. Is that a wee little bit of smack talk I hear? We never get any of that on The Voice but maybe that's what's missing. Deja timidly raises her metaphorical hand and asks Shakira about how to channel emotion, and she starts to tear up because she realizes she has no real connection to the mature song. Miss Box kind of smirks a little bit, and suddenly, this whole thing is much more dramatic than I first expected, and I now kind of love Miss Box’s surreptitiously competitive side. It’s like Dallas but with less Judith Light and more, well, Music Box.
Battle time (after a nicely timed Shakira album commercial and yet another spoiler about a steal coming). The song begins and it’s kind of like watching a Charmander sing with a Charmeleon -- Music Box is very obviously an evolved version of Deja, who doesn’t quite have the stage presence nor the voice to detract from Music (although, as is the case with the younger Deja, she’s downright gorgeous).
But oh! What is this? At judging time, Adam decides to support Deja, and Blake compares her to “Superman first figuring out his powers.” (Blake also calls Music “Miss Box” and I now love Blake because he can’t seem to say her name without a certain hilarious skepticism.) Usher doesn’t make a choice, either, but promises that he’s going to steal whomever Shakira doesn’t pick. Shakira defensively/jokingly says, “We’ll see about that,” but, like… no, we actually won’t see about that, Shakira, because you can only pick one person.
Shakira goes for Deja and Usher, as promised, casually swoops in to steal the Box, who lives to contain/ship/store/entertain toddlers another week.
NEXT: Two young people sing into each other's eyes and I'm pretty sure I can see their future