'The Voice' recap: The battle rounds, part 2
What "The Voice" lacks in judge-wardrobe excitement (How many nights must we be subjected to Christina Aguilera's absurd small, circular, sparkly hat-like object? Probably as many weeks as there are battle rounds, right?), it makes up for in heated, high-stakes vocal interplay and surprise conclusions.
The second night of battle rounds saw a few unexpected pairings take the stage, with some interesting results, and a couple of choices on the judges' parts that I, for one, didn't totally see coming. Talented singers were sent packing, along with some who'd inarguably stumbled, but those who moved on had, by and large, proved their mettle in the ring.
The night made it clear, if it wasn't already, that the ticket to surviving the battle rounds is having not only the voice but also confidence, swagger and, more than anything, the ability not to fall to pieces while the cameras are rolling.
And if you're ever on "The Voice," whatever else you do, make sure you don't (A) let them hear your voice crack (and certainly not twice); (B) look like a total deer trapped in headlights during rehearsals (particularly when your opponent is lighting up the room with her easy wit); (C) let on that you haven't heard the song you're singing in 10 years and don't really remember much about it (especially when your opponent has already made it clear that she knows the song inside and out and is already making it her own); and (d) get mercilessly outsung in the ring by whomever you're matched with.
Just a few helpful pointers. Here's a breakdown of who could have used them on Monday night and who was just fine as it was, thank you very much:
Pairing: Power-voiced, sunglasses-sporting soul singer Geoff McBride versus power-voiced hotel worker Sera Hill
The song: Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools"
Thoughts going in: McBride's voice is so powerful, it blasts mentor Lionel Richie clear across the room, but Hill seems to have solid command of her vocals and might be able to connect better emotionally, especially with Aguilera, who, you'll recall, got up onstage to duet with Hill as blind auditions wrapped. Will McBride lose the sunglasses, which he wears for medical reasons, as Richie has advised him to do?
The performances: McBride, who has indeed swapped his sunglasses for clear-lensed specs, looks cool and sounds cooler, but Hill puts on a little more of a show, strutting around and (oh, well) making better eye contact.
The response: The judges are of different opinions as to a winner: Cee Lo Green likes McBride. Blake Shelton goes with the contestant who most turned him on: Hill. And Adam's seduced by McBride's clear glasses. But Aguilera's pick — the only one that counts — is …
Winner: Sera Hill
Pairing: Sassy Jersey girl Charlotte Sometimes versus insecure camp counselor Lex Land
The song: Foster the People's "Pumped Up Kicks"
Thoughts going in: Sometimes is clearly the more dynamic performer and personality. Land just seems to be perpetually in a panic, and remember how her nerves did her voice in during blind auditions, after her whispery vocal quality had already spun chairs? If she doesn't pull off some serious vocal fireworks, Sometimes will elbow her right out of the ring.
The performances: In fact, Land does land the more interesting vocal performance. She's got sort of a weird quiet-loud thing that's pretty captivating. But Sometimes is clearly so at home onstage, she doesn't even seem to be trying very hard. Is Sometimes pulling her punches? And will it cost her?
The response: Aguilera punted, calling one singer "sexy" and the other "sassy." Green picked Sometimes, while Levine went with Land. Shelton thought that Land was "pitchy," though she took interesting vocal risks, but that Sometimes had what it took to be a star.
Winner: Charlotte Sometimes
Team Cee Lo
Pairing: Singer-songwriter Sarah Golden versus rocker Juliet Simms
The song: Rod Stewart's "Stay With Me"
Thoughts going in: It's smooth versus gritty in this matchup. But Simms, who says she has been compared to a female Rod Stewart, clearly has the upper hand. The song is a natural for her voice, while Golden must struggle to make it her own. Does Golden even stand a chance?
The performances: In fact, Golden, despite the fact that she doesn't stand a chance, is pretty good, selling her voice as best she can. Simms' voice actually doesn't make as big an impact onstage as it did during rehearsals, in my opinion, but her high-boots-and-hot-pants outfit sure captures attention.
The response: Levine picks Simms, saying he'd liked her from the beginning. Shelton goes with Golden, finding her voice more versatile. Aguilera says Golden was sunk by the song and concludes that the choice is a "no brainer": Simms. And Green? He hems and haws, saying he'd "prefer to have both" women on his team, then picks who we all knew he'd pick all along: Simms.
Winner: Juliet Simms
Pairing: Young diva Whitney Myer versus veteran diva Kim Yarbrough
The song: Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama"
Thoughts going in: I'd like Myer to win if only because she got in this great line: "Kim and I, we're both powerhouse singers, though her house is bigger than my house." Also because it feels like it would be wrong of Levine to send her home after telling her he thought she could win the whole thing. But she may be so worried about Yarbrough that she psyches herself out.
The performances: In what host Carson Daly tells us is "an epic battle of youth versus experience," I think youth actually prevails. Yarbrough sounds good, but Myer sounds good too. And she's the more interesting performer to watch.
The response: Shelton is stymied, says he felt like he was watching "one of those diva concerts," and picks "Carson." Aguilera says Myer nabbed the higher end. Green picks Yarbrough. And Levine says both singers have "bright futures ahead" of them, and then sends Myer off to search for hers, opting to keep Yarbrough.
Winner: Kim Yarbrough
Pairing: Red-headed baker Lee Koch versus interesting-haired non-baker Lindsey Pavao
The song: Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box"
Thoughts going in: Poor Koch. It's clear from the get-go that Pavao is going to wipe the floor with him. Just for starters, she's a huge Nirvana fan and knows the song they've been assigned to sing backwards and forwards, while he confesses he hasn't heard it in a decade. That doesn't go over too big with Aguilera, and even Koch's guest mentor, Jewel, seems to struggle to find something complimentary to say about him.
The performances: Koch does better than expected. Pavao gives her vocals some texture but has a distinctly flat stage presence. The whole performance is definitely peculiar.
The response: Green picks Koch because he reminds him of Jesus. Levine calls it all "delightfully creepy" and says "maybe" he'd pick Koch. Shelton said he didn't like song, which he'd never heard before, saying "I would have picked 'Monster Mash' if I was going for creepy," and then picks Lindsey. And Aguilera? Was there ever any doubt? She picks … Pavao.
Winner: Lindsey Pavao
Team Cee Lo
Pairing: Dynamic HIV-positive recovering addict Jamar Rogers versus humble sandwich maker Jamie Lono
The song: Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is"
Thoughts going in: Apparently Rogers and Lono are friends. Aw! Poor Lono, who suddenly reminds me a little (just a little) of Richard Simmons, can't get through a rehearsal without being undone by a nervous voice crack. Rogers, meanwhile, both sings and glows like a natural star. The sandwich maker is toast.
The performances: Lono muddles through. Rogers, who tells us he's doing this for everyone who's ever had to overcome a challenge, soars.
The response: After the other judges do their best to offer comforting words to Lono while praising Rogers, Green puts him out of his misery by picking Rogers, saying he admires his perseverance, power and confidence. Rogers weeps grateful tears. And Lono? He also weeps, saying maybe his purpose in making it as far as he did was to allow his pal Rogers to advance. Poor guy.
Winner: Jamar Rogers
Do you think the right contestants advanced?
— Amy Reiter
Photo: Jamar Rodgers,left, and Jaime Lono compete in "The Voice" battle rounds. Credit: Lewis Jacobs / NBC