Are you ready for some more Battle Rounds?! Of course you are. Battle Rounds are everyone’s favorite, right? And we’ve all been clamoring for a second round of battles; it’s simply the best way to assess everyone’s individual vocal talents and allow them to express themselves as artists without being inhibited by other styles or abilities -- right? I know we’re all on the same page about this one, so I’ll just move on. This. Is. The. VOICE!
Confession #1: I actually always enjoy the Battle Rounds, so while I didn’t understand the logistical need for a second go at it, I wasn’t too bent out of shape. You have to admit, they were at least right that narrowing down to the best contestants would make for the best battles. I felt invested/torn on almost every pairing, probably due to an extremely level playing field of match-ups and finally letting the contestants choose their own songs… sort of.
Oh, and, Confession #2: I am not your regular Voice recapper. You would have noticed eventually by the lack of excellent contestant-to-YA-literature-character comparisons, but added attention to the Battle fashion choices. Tonight’s assessment: such strong blazer game. Also, hats... well, mostly one hat. Only two things could have inspired Usher to to wear that Daniel Boone hat on steroids: 1. He was finally possessed by the spirit that CeeLo undoubtedly conjured via Ouija board and left in that chair for him; 2. He heard the news of Pharrell getting a magical turning chair in season 7 and decided it was time to make his own cranial presence KNOWN before that scene-stealer comes in.
Carson, voice of tiny God, comes over the loudspeaker to announce tonight’s round like we’re about to enter watch a gladiator battle to the death: The teams have been assembled, their coaches have prepared them for battle, and now it’s back to the ring for Round 2. Luckily there’s no entertainment via homicide necessary, because tonight is just good music, plain and simple. Chris Martin is in the house and the large, sad future elephant he brought to the room with him is barely noticeable over his star power. Let’s see what he thinks of…
“She’s a Little Bit Country, and She’s Little Bit Rock & Roll (and Don’t You Forget It)”
Audra McLaughlin vs. Megan Ruger
When Megan first spots Audra, she hopes she doesn’t have to sing country because she’s all about rocking out these days. But thanks to the new multiple choice style of choosing songs, they’re able to choose “The Climb” on their scantron sheet, which is a nice middle ground. Chris Martin reveals himself to actually be your dorky dad, asking if this is one of the songs Miley twerks in, and I really don’t think he’s trying to be funny. He immediately follows up with, “I don’t really know what I’m talking about.” He tells them they’ve got to be their own front(wo)men, but Blake is most concerned about Megan losing her rocker edge and Audra falling out of the pocket. (Why can’t anyone stay in the damn pocket?)
When Megan and Audra take the stage – in leather and lace, respectively, because these two are nothing if not on theme – they’ve mostly gotten it all together. Audra starts off stronger with a deep steady vocal, but Megan catches up to her on the big notes. Unfortunately, Megan keeps doing this fake flexing thing to indicate just how strong she is on her climb that’s pretty tough to watch. I liked Audra when she went against the girl duo last week, but I didn’t feel like she totally swept them. Here, she truly proves herself to be a rich, if not totally engaging, vocalist.
Usher says she does a thing with her voice where it seems like she just might fall, but she never does, but Adam was more surprised by Megan. But it’s all up to Uncle Blake; he agrees with Usher that every time you think Audra is going to do one thing, she does another, and when he says he’s never heard anything like it in country music, you know it’s all over. Audra’s uniqueness beats out Megan’s straightforward approach, and though her personal branding might need some spicing up, that voice is one to watch.
“A Battle of Souls”
Cierra Mickens vs T.J. Wilkens
Cierra and T.J. look like they could maybe be siblings, or maybe fall in love with each other and be together forever, all because of this reality show. Cierra is new to Team Usher and feeling a little intimidated by T.J.’s established presence on the team and his music school precision. Luckily she gets her first pick on Oleta Adams’ “Get Here” and T.J. is game for a ballad.
In their first rehearsal, Usher worries about T.J.’s range transitions, but Chris isn’t dwelling on it because he’s too impressed by T.J.’s ability to sell, “You can windsurf into my life.” Which, yes, Chris Martin! That deserves some credit. This song is super beautiful and has super ridiculous lyrics that Sierra and T.J. sing so nicely, it’s almost goes unnoticed that they’re singing lines like, “Take me up on a carpet ride/You can make it in a big balloon.” Almost.
Chris sends them on their way with instructions to connect to each other more (he ships it), and when they get on that stage, they take his advice to heart. I’ve always liked Sierra, because listening to her sing feels like listening to her tell a story; apparently that’s a little something T.J. picked up on too, because these two sell every bit of that longing and windsurfing story. I say they should take this thing on the road. Adam, Shakira, and Blake say they can’t help Usher with a decision, and Usher says he doesn’t need it because he’s decided: T.J.’s level of comfort and confidence with this song have earned him the spot on Team Usher. Usher and Shakira bolt to the stage to hug it out with Sierra, and she sure must have been as sweet as she seemed.
“Country Boy Meets City Girl Meets Creepy Blake”
Jake Worthington vs. Tess Boyer
You can tell Blake really revels in the awkwardness of the Battle pairing reveals: “OK, kids, come meet your opponent!” Jake is immediately nervous about Tess’ powerhouse vocals, but he must not have heard that former steals aren’t faring so well tonight -- oh, and that he’s a great singer too (all cards on the table: I have a soft spot for Jake). But he might just be intimidated by Tess’ shiny silver sweater, because seriously, she could be performing in Times Square for tips in that thing. I loved it.
The fresh-faced duo chooses “Have a Little Faith in Me,” and earn an immediate “It sounded wunduhful!” from Chris after their first rehearsal. Both singers are struggling with the long vowel-filled notes, so Chris teaches them to visualize the note in front of them, which might explain why pop singers are always reaching out to grab at something when they go for the kill notes. Perhaps this is all that’s been holding me back from an illustrious singing career. The conviction and low range come easy to Tess in rehearsal, and she’s got Jake nice and intimidated without even a bit of smack talk.
When it comes to the real deal, both give nearly equal flawless performances. I think Jake might have a little edge on uniqueness of tone, but Tess has the kind of classic voice that I took to even more upon multiple viewings. Usher says they both showed growth and different sides of themselves tonight, and he and Adam refuse to pick a winner, the clear bat signal for a steal. But Shakira is never one to shy away from saying exactly what she means, usually with an impressive vocab word or two, and reveals it was Tess who really blew her away. She plays her cards right, because Blake makes the call to “cast [his] vote for loyalty” on Jake, and Shakira wins Tess after all three coaches push to steal. In probably my favorite blunder of the night, the usually criminally smooth Usher says his vote has always been for Tess and is then immediately reminded that he just voted against her, like, six days ago. You might need to lose the hat, bro, it’s throwing you off your game. J/K keep that hat forever.
NEXT: An uneven pairing against Christina Grimmie...I see whatchya did there, Adam!