We’re barely older and likely none the wiser, but here we are at the second round of battles. The first time around disappointed those hoping for constant fireworks or a method to the madness, meaning the second round not only had to entertain, but actually rise to the expectations set by its deluge of publicity.
In many ways, the follow-up is far more important than the establishing round. Why should we keep watching when the novelty almost immediately wears off? What more could this round offer, if not a recycled version of the same old pageantry? And really, is there anything said on or around that stage that actually makes any sort of sense? Maybe comfort in the formula is the secret to its success. The battle round might reek of another era and dabble in shoehorned theatrics, but at the end of the day, there is just something innately thrilling about watching two people face the obstacle to their dearest goal, square their shoulders, and eviscerate their opponent with some borrowed words and a carefully practiced smile. For all sick intents and purposes, that’s what entertainment has always been.
But enough about the presidential debates.
I haven’t been shy about the fact that I think the battle rounds are basically ridiculous. Making singers compete in a boxing ring is more often than not an exploration in who can sing louder. Last week was a muddled hodgepodge of extreme highs (Trevin and Amanda) and extreme lows (Cody and D to the O to the M to the Oh, forget it, I’m sure trying to), glued together by sincere coaching sessions and the debut of Christina’s bedazzled bandana. This week did much of the same, but with fewer standouts from either extreme. These second battle rounds were pretty okay, and I was pretty okay with it.
Blake and CeeLo had an off week. CeeLo’s song choice took a nosedive. Owl City’s “Good Time”? Really? Poor Mackenzie and Emily barely got to sing because they had to jump around half the time like sugar-high 12-year-olds in a One Direction mosh pit. I was thrilled Mackenzie took it, but both were better than that battle, because both are better than that song. Blake has built his typical army of drawling country superstars this season, but we saw the first real drawback of having such a honed specialty in the face of the Steal. When he let Nicole Johnson go (after making her sing his wife’s song, to boot), she tearfully made an appeal to the other judges for the steal, and got nothing. “I have a strictly pop team,” Christina said to Blake as Nicole ran offstage. “I have to stick with what I know.”
While 99 percent of the battles are predictable, Benji and Sam James’ “You Give Love a Bad Name” actually took a turn for the unexpected on Monday. At first, it seemed like Benji had this one on lock. After all, he’s the yowling screamer who had CeeLo squirming in his seat (if I have to remember it, so do you). But Adam, recovering nicely from his not-so-Sublime slipup last week, made a canny choice in choosing a song Benji would feel comfortable with and Sam James would hate. Benji couldn’t (or wouldn’t) rein in the yowl, and Adam sent him home against every other judge’s recommendation. The most interesting thing about Adam’s selection process isn’t that he’s pickier. Adam doesn’t seem to be playing for the win; he’s playing for the experience of coaching.
In related news: The best surprise of this season so far has been Christina adopting a role as den mother of promising teen girls. When she used her first Steal to grab Alessandra from Adam on Tuesday, it prompted my favorite moment of the battles so far. Adam told Christina she has a lot she could specifically teach her, and Christina just said, “I know.” Both Sylvia Yacoub and Alessandra Guercio were my least favorites in their battles, but Christina saw kindred spirits there. Not only did Christina know she can coach unrefined power into control, but she saw herself in these ferociously talented but insecure teen girls. In an era where reality show judges are only allowed to relate to the contestants insomuch as they have also been on a stage, The Voice sings because it allows the judges to care.
- Loved Adam’s choice of Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake” for his teen belters Kayla and Alessandra, because it means he knows one of life’s great certainties: Covers of Katy Perry songs are almost always better than actual Katy Perry songs.
- Monday’s episode had more spark than Tuesday’s, which has officially become a pattern. I get that NBC is perpetually going through tough times, but adding a third hour every week for the ballooned teams feels like what it is: a desperate afterthought.
- Jocelyn Rivera is cute as a goddamn button, but she’s also a dead ringer for Mona Vanderwaal and therefore cannot be trusted.
- CeeLo: “You are both equally incomparable.”