'The Voice' recap: The battle rounds begin
Let the battles begin! With the blind auditions at its back, "The Voice" pivoted to focus on the battle rounds, in which each of the four coaches –- Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton -– pairs up members of his or her team of 12 to go head to head in a duet, bringing in celeb mentors Alanis Morrisette and Robin Thicke (Levine), Kelly Clarkson and Miranda Lambert (Shelton), Babyface and Ne-Yo (Green), and Jewel and Lionel Richie (Aguilera) to help along the way.
Then, two by two, song by song, the paired-off contestants square off, the competition perhaps spurring them to reach new vocal heights or tap into deeper emotions. Afterward, the other coaches weigh in, but ultimately, the singers' own coach must choose which of his or her two handpicked team members to take through to the forthcoming live shows, and which to send home with little more than a hug and a few memories. When all the battles have been fought, each judge will emerge with just six players.
"In the battle rounds, you start with great singers and you end up with the best there are," Shelton said at the outset of Monday night's show.
Here's how the first pairings went down:
Pairing: Former Mouseketeer Tony Lucca v. Chris Cauley, whose music career is inspired by the memory of his bluegrass-playing grandma
The song: U2's "Beautiful Day"
Thoughts going in: Lucca may have had the edge in terms of experience, but Cauley came across as more gracious, if somewhat less articulate, saying he respected his opponent "as a dude and as an artist."
The performances: Cauley, who'd been concerned more about his onstage style than his voice, gave a compelling performance, but Lucca looked cooler and more confident, that early experience paying off.
The response: The judges were split on who emerged victorious, but only Levine's vote mattered.
Winner: Tony Lucca
Pairing: Adley Stump, former cheerleader and sorority girl with a newfound love of singing vs. RaeLynn, a button-cute 17-year-old Texas farm girl with big dreams
The song: "Free Fallin'" by Tom Petty
Thoughts going in: When Shelton told us in voiceover that RaeLynn looks and sounds like a young version of his wife, Miranda Lambert, whom he'd called in to coach the young contestant, it was hard not to imagine RaeLynn had this thing in the bag before singing a single note in the ring.
The performances: Stump's a belter; RaeLynn's a "stylist," as Shelton had noted. But really, both seemed nervous. Stump belted through it. RaeLynn styled through it. And neither emerged as a clear winner.
The response: Aguilera and Green thought Stump's power came through more strongly, and that RaeLynn might be a little young to go all the way, but Levine found RaeLynn to be the more "interesting" performer. Shelton said it's all about telling stories, and picked …
Pairing: Classically trained Chris Mann vs. big-voiced Moroccan beauty Monique Benabou
The song: Celine Dion's "The Power of Love"
Thoughts going in: Mann's got the training. Benabou brings the emotion, at one point moving herself to tears while singing. Which would win? It'd all come down to the voice, naturally.
The performances: Benabou seemed to have boosted Mann's capacity for emotion. She started shaky but gained her footing and was every bit Mann's vocal match.
The response: Shelton pegged Benabou as the winner. Green noted that Mann is his man, "one of the best that we have."
Winner: Chris Mann, though Aguilera did heap praise on Benabou, whom she said sang like "an angel."
Team Cee Lo
Pairing: Air Force member and YouTube star Angie Johnson vs. Cheesa Laureta, competing to help her family
The song: Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart"
Thoughts going in: Green's motives seemed a little creepy when he told these two scrappy singers, "I want to see you fight," but they did seem motivated. I figured Johnson, who'd bring the military vote and whom we were also told has the edge on vocal depth and range, was a shoo-in.
The performances: But in fact, in the ring, it was Cheesa who had the more interesting, resonant voice.
The response: Shelton and Aguilera went with Johnson. Levine opted for Cheesa. And Green?
Winner: Cheesa Laureta (surprisingly)
Pairing: Brian Fuente vs. Jordis Unga, both of whom we were told are "rockers"
The song: "Ironic" by Alanis Morrissette
Thoughts going in: Neither of them impressed during rehearsals. Unga seemed to be psyching herself out.
The performances: With widespread pitch problems and petrified-looking performers, this was the lowest-impact match-up of the night -- ironic, maybe, for rockers.
The response: "Jordis" … "Brian" … "Jordis" … and it was …
Winner: Jordis Unga, though Shelton admitted neither had done his or her best and Unga herself called her performance "a train wreck." Nowhere to go but up, she noted.
Pairing: Preacher's kid Anthony Evans vs. single dad Jesse Campbell
The song: "If I Ain't Got You," by Alicia Keys
Thoughts going in: Both of these guys have big voices and sweet looks, but Campbell, unless he got overconfident or overzealous, had the clear edge.
The performances: It was closer than anyone had imagined, with Evans attacking and holding some gorgeous notes. But when Campbell delivered the word "b-b-b-b-baby," it was essentially a knockout punch.
The response: The judges were breathless, floored, using words like "stellar" and "insane" and "blown away," but ultimately Aguilera picked ….
Winner: Jesse Campbell, who if he keeps singing like that could maybe really win the whole thing.
What did you think of "The Voice's" first battle round? Did the judges pick the right singers to go through?
-- Amy Reiter