"The Voice" stage became a battleground Monday night for eight epic showdowns between some fateful pairings of singers eager to prove their mettle as would-be "Voice" winners. The stakes were high, and so was the pitch of some of the battle rounds' most coveted losers.
The night started out with a match-up between Team Adam's Grey, a Berklee-trained wedding singer, and Nic Hawk, a musical theater-bred performer at ease on-stage. Adam paired them on Jessie J's "Domino," a song Grey was accustomed to singing every weekend at wedding gigs.
That might seem to give her the advantage, but on-stage it wasn't so clear-cut. Adam and his mentor, OneRepublic singer Ryan Tedder, had warned them it wouldn't be. "I think if they both do this the right way, it's gonna be a really tough choice," Adam admitted.
They did, and it was. Grey's vocals were solid and smooth, while Nic's were more energetic and unexpected, punctuated with his frenetic energy. The coaches were split on who they thought had won the round, but Adam handed victory to Grey, much to Blake Shelton's bafflement and ultimate delight.
"Why is Adam such an idiot?" Blake wondered aloud as Adam let a tearful Nic go from his team — and he snatched up Nic, paying tribute to his strong voice. "You delivered an excellent vocal performance, AND you did all that other crap that you do," Blake said. (He also admitted he might be the last coach one would expect to pair with Nic. "If there was ever an odd couple, it's me and Nic," he said.)
Next up were two of Team Christina's teen belters and future divas, Amber Nicole and Timyra-Joi. With the help of her mentor Ed Sheeran, Christina paired the two powerhouse teens on Beyonce's "Listen," a song she felt both girls would be able to connect with emotionally. (Amber Nicole admitted the song held special meaning to her, choking up as she tried to explain it in rehearsal.)
"This one is all about passion, and I know that these girls have it. They just have to believe it," Christina said. That made the challenge in rehearsal convincing both of her team members to push through their nervousness to give the song their all.
Onstage, both Amber Nicole and Timyra-Joi did, topping themselves over and over as they traded croons and wails. Christina was obviously moved, cheering them on, mouthing the words, gesturing emphatically and even being moved to tears.
That made picking a winner a hard task for the coaches. "It was a real, legitimate battle," Adam said. "I don't know what the hell I'd do. These girls are amazing," Blake agreed.
Christina, overcome with emotion from the performance, echoed their indecision, but she ultimately handed the bout to Amber Nicole. "I felt that she was a little bit older and a little bit more developed," she said, though she added that she was stunned that none of her rival coaches stole Timyra-Joi afterward.
The next match-up was between two of Team Blake's "outlaw country artists," as he called them: Justin Chain, who had fought his way back from a horrific motorcycle crash to pursue his singing career, and Shelbie Z., who had carved out a new life as a singer after leaving a life of pageants.
Their challenge: The Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson duet "Don't You Wanna Stay," a song Blake admitted would push both his charges "to the peak of their range."
Both Justin and Shelbie were worried about whether they had the range, and the power, to pull it off. "Think high," coach Cher advised Shelbie when she hesitated before hitting a high note. Cher worried about the pair's harmonies, too, but was convinced that if they perfected the harmonies they'd both benefit.
Onstage, they did, sounding more like a proper duet than a battle, to their credit. "It's so hard to be so accurate with harmonies," Christina noted. "You blended so perfectly," she added, though she admitted that she would choose Shelbie as the winner.
Blake complimented their chemistry, too, and like Christina, he picked Shelbie as the winner.
Next, courtesy of Team CeeLo, was another pairing of two very young singers, albeit two very different ones this time: recent high school graduate and show choir alum Anthony Paul and current high school student and shy folk-pop singer Caroline Pennell.
CeeLo paired them on Justin Bieber's hit "As Long As You Love Me," but he warned that he wanted them to give the song their own flavor. "Anthony is really experienced in show choir, so I don't want him to overdo this song," CeeLo said. Caroline was intimidated by the fact that the song was more obviously up Anthony's alley, and the fact that, as she said, "one of my biggest struggles has been singing to people."
Onstage, the pair delivered a striking, unexpected departure from the familiar Bieber hit, with Caroline giving the song her trademark wispy sound and Anthony meeting her halfway, exploring the dynamics of his voice.
"You both killed it," Adam said, but he handed it to to Caroline. "It was its own interesting world that we were brought to," he said of her performance. But for that same reason, Blake handed it to Anthony. "Anthony displayed so much versatility, because it was such a darker, slowed-down version of that song, which seems to be more Caroline's thing."
Whatever the case, Christina called the match-up her favorite battle of the night. CeeLo agreed, but he handed the win to Caroline. "There's something so surreal about your voice, it encourages me to dream with my eyes open," he mused, even as he said he regretted pairing the two teens against each other, because it meant he had to lose Anthony.
But Anthony wasn't heading home. He was heading to Team Christina, thanks to her steal. "He's fantastic," she said, praising her new team member's vocal control and the way he refrained from overpowering Caroline's more delicate voice on their duet.
The next pair of the night was another from Team Adam, this time of two music business veterans: Donna Allen, a long-time member of Gloria Estefan's Miami Sound Machine, and Tessanne Chin, a long-time back-up singer ready to strike out on her own.
Each had skill in spades, and where Donna exuded soul, Tessanne exuded smoothness, Adam observed. He paired them on Emeli Sande's "Next to Me," setting himself up for an awfully tough decision after they had finished tearing through the ballad with grace and grit.
"It was epic," Blake said, summing up the coaches' thoughts. He picked Donna as the winner, admitting he had nothing to criticize in either singer's performance, while Christina picked Tessanne. "You took that song to a completely different level." CeeLo's one regret, he said, was that the song didn't really allow either singer the chance to carve out her own moments within it.
Adam heaped praises on both battling singers, too, as they stood on-stage holding hands in suspense. "You're both world-class singers. I think either one of you could win this thing," he told them. But he ultimately chose Tessanne as the winner, and she graciously thanked Donna, crediting her with pushing her toward her best performance.
A pairing of two very different divas came next on Team Christina, with rocker Briana Cuoco, erstwhile personal assistant to her "Big Bang Theory" star sister Kaley, facing off with 16-year-old rock-tinged Jersey girl Jacquie Lee. Christina assigned them both a familiar song she hoped they would make their own: the classic folk ballad "House of the Rising Sun," a dark morality tale that mentor Ed Sheeran noted every rising rock band tried their hand at, too.
"They're inspired by a lot of rock and soul, and I really didn't want to give them something too safe," Christina said of her selection.
On-stage, the two singers summoned growls from the song's bluesy lows and worked its highs to a fevered vocal showdown that showcased both their chops and wowed all the coaches.
CeeLo, citing "clarity and consistency," picked Jacquie as the would-be winner, while Blake thought Briana came out on top. Adam's inability to choose a winner laid bare Christina's conundrum, though. "I don't know, I don't know!" he said.
Christina chose Jacquie as her winner. "She is that lion in a kitty-cat's body. I love her," she said of her teen prodigy protegee.
That set the stage for the first battle yet over a steal, with both Blake and CeeLo vying for Briana on their teams. CeeLo praised Briana's "true grit, true growl and true talent," even though he hadn't picked her as the bout's winner, while Blake touted her songwriterly approach to singing.
That won Briana over, and she picked Blake as her new coach. "I think she's a dark horse in this competition," he said of his new addition.
With that, the teams had gotten whittled down a little, and shuffled around a little, at the end of the first night of battle rounds. Battles will continue Tuesday.
"The Voice" airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8/7c on NBC.