‘The Voice’ recap: Let the Battles begin

Let the Battles begin! On Monday, The Voice Season 13 moved on from the Blind Auditions to the Battle Rounds, with guest advisers Kelly Rowland (for Team J.Hud), Rascal Flatts (Team Blake), Joe Jonas (Team Adam), and good ol’ Billy Ray Cyrus (helping out daughter Miley). The night commenced with a surprising (and surprisingly steal-free) verdict, and concluded with a tasteful tribute of sorts to the late Tom Petty (who, come to think of it, would have made an excellent Voice adviser) and a double-steal.

Let’s recap!

TEAM J.HUD: Lucas Holliday vs. Meagan McNeal

In one corner: Lucas, the Maxwell-channeling everyman cashier. In the other: Meagan, the dynamite diva whose face, according to fashionista Miley Cyrus, ought to be emblazoned on Voice T-shirts. This was a matchup of two big voices and big personalities, both “unique artists with an R&B feel” and both deserving, but it was Meagan who seemed like the star player here. Sure, Lucas had the classic Voice backstory (i.e., he possesses a great set of pipes, but definitely does not have the sort of pop-star face that gets silkscreened on T-shirts). But since Meagan was a standout in the Blinds for me, I couldn’t imagine the competition progressing without her.

I also assumed that the New Jack jam that Jennifer Hudson assigned for this Battle, Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative,” would doom Lucas. The karaoke-ready party track instantly transformed Lucas into Drunk Uncle. I could’ve appreciated his cheesy hamminess, or hammy cheesiness, if he’d gone totally over the top à la Tenacious D’s Jack Black, Eagles of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes, or, say, Beck circa Midnite Vultures, but there was nothing fresh or edgy about this performance. Lucas seemed like a mere novelty act. Meagan, on the other hand, kept it real, just as the song said, and was the real deal. (Plus: The dress! Those earrings! Miley was right. The woman needs her own fashion line.)

The coaches looked confused. Or amused. Or both; I’m not sure. While Miley appreciated Lucas’s body rolls, and Adam Levine thought he was “sickeningly awesome,” no one seemed to take Lucas seriously. Adam even gasped at one point, “What in the hell was that?” But soon it was my turn to yell “WTH?!” when Jennifer picked Lucas, and no one stole Meagan. I know that was their prerogative, but I think the panel got this one very wrong.

WINNER: Lucas Holliday

TEAM MILEY: Moriah Formica vs. Shilo Gold

Sixteen-year-old baby badass Moriah slayed her Heart song during the Blinds, while all I can remember about Shilo is that her frog-throated Raspy McRasperson audition seemed more like a commercial for Ricola or Sucrets. (A concerned Adam even fetched her a glass of water.) So again, I expected this would be no contest. And again, I was surprised — pleasantly this time — when Shilo cleared her throat and held her own. That glass of water must have done the trick!

Don’t get me wrong: In this showdown between Miley’s two “growlers” on the Guess Who’s “American Woman,” it was not hard to guess who deserved to stay. Not only did the Joan Jett-esque Moriah have the right rawk ‘n’ roll attitude and an electric guitar to boost her coolness quotient (and, probably, give her a bit of an onstage crutch/prop), but she also had the more powerful pipes. However, Shilo was a shocker. She sounded a gazillion times better and showcased a gajillion times more stage presence than before. Paired with a less formidable Battle partner, she might have had a chance.

Adam called Moriah “unbelievably cool and unique and different.” Blake called Moriah a “born rock star.” Miley called her a “rock goddess — but you’re just great as a singer, without attaching your age or your gender or anything to you.” Shilo knew she was a goner, but at least this American woman redeemed herself after a terrible first impression.

WINNER: Moriah Formica

TEAM BLAKE: Keisha Renee vs. Noah Mac

On paper, this pairing made zero sense. A 30-year-old Nicki Minaj backup singer turned aspiring country crooner up against a 17-year-old indie-pop singer-songwriter? Why, Blake, why? But you know what? As a duet, this actually worked.

Blake gave Keisha and Noah the Elvis Presley version of Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” explaining that its origins in vintage country, rock, and soul would fit both of their distinctive voices. And it did. Noah was pure ‘50s teen idol dreaminess with his warm crooner tone and fragile vibrato, while Keisha brought gospel fire to her verses. Both singers put their own stamp on the song. As to which would prevail, that was all just a matter of (Blake’s) taste.

“I think both of y’all make us feel like we’re in the ’50s/’60s/’70s, when rock ‘n’ roll and country music was what it was then,” said Miley. “Keisha was bringing me to church, and Noah was bringing me to, like, a diner in like the ’50s,” said Adam. Blake must not have been hungry, because he picked the church over the diner. But at the very last second, just as Noah was, to quote The Bachelor, taking a moment and saying his goodbyes, Jennifer went in for the steal. I’d glad that kid will get another chance. I think there’s a lot more to Noah, and he could be Season 13’s dark horse.

WINNER: Keisha Renee / STOLEN: Noah Mac moves to Team J.Hud

TEAM J.HUD: Chris Weaver vs. Kathrina Feigh

I barely remember Kathrina. Chris is a New York drag queen, so OF COURSE I remember him. (If there’s any show I love more than The Voice, it’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. Miley might even agree with me on that.) Sadly, Chris did not perform this Battle’s assigned anthem, Ariana Grande’s lip-sync-for-your-life-worthy “Dangerous Woman,” as his drag alter ego, Nedra Belle. But Chris definitely came to stage to slay — and to shanté and stay.

Interestingly, during rehearsals, Jennifer and Kelly thought both the scenery-chewing Chris (who is a worship leader by day) and Kathrina were doing too much — and that’s saying a lot coming from J.Hud, who’s not exactly the shy and retiring type. Kathrina was definitely oversinging, breaking out a Mariah/Whitney/Celine shtick that forced her pleasantly low voice into a painful upper register, but that was probably because Chris intimidated her.

Onstage, Kathrina did her best, but it was only toward the end of the performance that she came into her own; Chris pulled focus during most of the performance. By the final chorus, however, both contestants were practically shouting the song, with Miley joking, “You have, like, the biggest [read: notoriously overamplified] band behind you right now, and that was almost an a cappella performance. Your voices were the only thing I could hear!”

Blake then told Kathrina, “You literally had the song by the throat,” showing an utter disregard for the definition of “literally.” But he clearly admired her effort, semantics be damned, so that’s why he stole her after Jennifer inevitably saved Chris. Either that, or Blake fell for Kathrina’s tearful speech: “I just want to say, born in the Philippines and not having enough, I feel like I’ve already won!” Aw. Blake’s always been a big softie.

WINNER: Chris Weaver / STOLEN: Kathrina Feigh moves to Team Blake

TEAM MILEY: Brooke Simpson vs. Sophia Bollman

Miley always has the coolest and most unexpected song choices — like Bob Dylan’s “You’re a Big Girl Now,” which she assigned Monday to the two biggest-voiced girls on her team. Brooke was an aggressively (and deservedly) pimped contestant during the Blinds, which made me think she was a shoo-in for this Battle. But Sophia’s voice blended spectacularly with hers, and this was a much more even match than I expected. That being said, Brooke was the more interesting of the two, with more quirk and edge, and less of a basic cruise-ship-singer vibe. I enjoyed hearing the two ladies harmonize, but when it came to the solos, I preferred Brooke, who is easily one of the strongest singers of the season.

It was glaringly obvious from the coaches’ comments that everyone had expected Sophia to be fodder. “Sophia, I didn’t even realize you have such a big range and a big voice!” admitted Jennifer. Adam said he realized “Sophia is not to be trifled with!” Blake declared that Sophia had stepped up to Brooke’s level. After all that gushing and backpedaling, I thought Sophia might have had a shot at a steal. But instead, she went home.

WINNER: Brooke Simpson

TEAM ADAM: Adam Pearce vs. Whitney Fenimore

The Battle Rounds were taped weeks ago, before Tom Petty’s tragic death, no there was no big homage here, but it was still bittersweet to hear a Petty song this week. Of course, no one could ever sing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” one of the all-time greatest classic rock duets, like Petty and Stevie Nicks. And Adam and Whitney’s version wasn’t even as awesome as Phillip Phillips and Elise Testone’s from American Idol Season 11. But these two heartland rockers did sound fantastic together nonetheless, and they did Petty proud. Both were convincing, credible Americana singers, and their chemistry was easy and unforced. I can’t even recall Adam Pearce’s failed audition from last season, and I loathed his corny “Hot Blooded” audition this season, but this slow-burner of a tune fit him well and finally made him seem cool. As for Whitney, she radiated so much rock-goddess swagger, I bet Miley was disappointed that she hadn’t scored Whitney for her much-hyped all-girl team.

But, hey, guess what? Whitney ended up on Team Miley after all! After Adam the L saved Adam the P, both Blake and Miley swooped in for a rare double-steal — and Miley prevailed. Let’s call this a case of Petty theft. Heh.

WINNER: Adam Peace / STOLEN: Whitney Fenimore moves to Team Miley

Tune in Tuesday for another hour of Battles, and maybe a couple of more Tom Petty covers. See you then!

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