Don’t get me wrong. The battle rounds on “The Voice” are still some of the hottest competition on television. But this week is also the start of March Madness. By that, I don’t mean Alec Baldwin yelling at another flight attendant. I’m talking about the return of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, where the best teams in the country (minus my alma mater, the University of Washington Huskies, whose egregious snub from the competition has me writing this blog under protest) go head to head to determine a champion.
With that tournament, it’s all about seeding. Who are the top seeds, getting the best chance of going all the way, and who will have a tough time because they’re ranked near the bottom? Given that the Madness is sweeping the nation, it seems only fitting that this week’s blog seeds tonight’s six battle rounds from most to least impressive.
1. Sera Hill vs. Geoff McBride
The first battle of the night was the best as well. It’s hard to mess up “Chain Of Fools,” and both of these powerhouse soul singers batted the tune around the ring like a piñata at a five-year-old’s birthday party. Proud papa Geoff, who seemed so mild-mannered during the blind auditions, shocked coach Christina Aguilera and pretty much everyone else with the way he was belting notes around. It was enough to scare Sera into admitting that she was “going to pull out my diva card a little more.”
Much of the time, it can be a little tedious watching the contestants hang out with their coaches and mentors while they practice their song. These two were such different personalities – he’s the strong and silent (except when it’s time to sing) type and she’s the one who never seems to stop talking – that it was as entertaining watch them practice as it was watching them sing. (It was also entertaining to hear Christina tell Sera that “her runs are crispy,” which may be a compliment but it just sounded wrong somehow.)
The performance itself was hugely entertaining, and the surprising moment Geoff actually whipped off his glasses to look Sera in the eyes could have clinched a win for him. However, there’s just something about her manic style on and off the stage that Christina seems to relate to. Hence, no surprise that Sera is staying and Geoff got booted. One quick note to NBC, though. What’s with the cutting to commercial just as Christina was about to announce her decision? Just show it already. Do you really think that after a round like that, we’re going to switch channels to see if “Antiques Roadshow” is on yet?
2. Lindsey Pavao vs. Lee Koch
This may not have been the top battle of the night, but it was by far the creepiest. Watching Lindsey and Lee work their way through “Heart-Shaped Box” felt like a little like sitting through the first couple of minutes of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. It’s never been the feel good hit of the summer, but they turned it into this dark dirge that will be on plenty of Halloween playlists later this year.
Which seemed unnerving at first, especially since Lee’s got a great voice for folk rock and Lindsay seems very adept at Fiona Apple like alt-rock. As the tune slithered along, though, it was like watching a dark drama. His fragile vocals flickered like a candle in the haunted house and her falsetto even made lines like “I wish I could eat your cancer” seem dangerously sexy.
Equally entertaining was Blake being totally baffled by the tune, suggesting that if they wanted something creepy, “Monster Mash” would have sufficed. A great idea for next time, perhaps. But for now, Christina made the right choice going with Lindsey because a) she had a better stage presence and b) for my money (of which there is not nearly enough, by the way), she’s the sexiest and most unique performer in the competition.
3. Jamar Rogers vs. Jamie Lono
Ordinarily, when a contestant on any reality show says something as self-important as “If I win this, it’ll be a victory for anyone who’s ever overcome anything,” it comes across as something that makes even Russell from “Survivor” seem like a model of modesty. Somehow, though, Jamar can pull such a grandiose statement off thanks to his immense talent. He’s got the kind of energy that can make a can of Red Bull say “That’s it. I’m going to bed” and a voice that can shatter windshields two counties away. So it was almost unfair for him to go up against soft-spoken sandwich maker Jamie.
And it was almost unfair for coach Cee Lo Green to give them a soaring gospel-esque number like “I Want To Know What Love Is,” a tune that played right into Jamar’s powerful lungs and didn’t suit Jamie’s alt-folkie style. Watching his voice break during rehearsals was kind of heart-breaking because he seems like such a nice guy. Even he seemed to know he didn’t stand a chance against Jamar.
Which is why this ranks right in the middle of the evening’s battles. It really wasn’t much of a contest – picture Usher singing against, I don’t know…me – and you get the idea. Still, I’d forgotten who over-the-top Jamar was in his blind audition and this go-around reminded me how good he can be and how much I know regret not picking him as one to watch as the competition moves on.
4. Kim Yarbrough vs. Whitney Myer
This one wins at least one prize, for best line of the night when 50-year-old Kim said of her much younger opponent, “Some of the places she wants to go, I’ve already been and bought the t-shirt and the ring and the mug.” Actually, make that two prizes. Adam Levine won for being the coach least afraid to a team member. At one point in the rehearsals, he politely but firmly went after Whitney for tossing in about three too many breaths into the chosen song, “No More Drama.” It’s not like he’s turned into Simon Cowell or anything, but it was kind of nice to see some serious critiques.
This pairing was one of the evening’s very few even ones, and despite her very apparent fear of getting overpowered by Kim, Whitney never disappeared onstage. I suppose it’s saying something when two of the other three coaches refused to pick a winner. (I swear there are times they pick the eventual loser just to make sure nobody’s feelings are hurt.) This could have gone either way, ironic given that this was one of the evening’s few moments of drama based on a song called “No More Drama.” Speaking as a fellow member of the AARP crowd, however, Adam made a good choice going with Kim.
5. Juliet Simms vs. Sarah Golden
Once again, just like with Jamar and Jamie, this one was pretty much decided the moment Cee Lo handed Juliet and Sarah their song – Rod Stewart’s “Stay With Me.” (What’s the deal, Cee Lo? It seems like you’re stacking the deck. Could you maybe let Purrfect pick next week instead?). With her shaggy hair and raspy voice, Juliet already seemed like Stewart’s long-lost…let’s go with…sister. So doing this old Faces tune was perfect for her. For the folkier Sarah, not so much.
It’s not like Sarah didn’t try. She worked in rehearsal to put her own spin on the song, even slipping in a Slim Whitman-like yodel (those of you in my age bracket, I hope you like the reference there). However, she came out to battle in a tie and what looked like a vest she stole from Blake Shelton’s dressing room. On the other hand, Juliet came out looking as smartly disheveled as the song itself, showing offer her tattoos and an extremely short skirt that called to mind another Stewart classic, “Hot Legs.”
There was never any drama here, from start to finish. Too bad for Sarah, who seemed very nice and would no doubt fare very well in, say, “The Voice: Coffee House Edition.” In the end, when Carson Daly goaded Cee Lo into announcing his choice by asking the coach to “put them out of their misery,” it was only Sarah who was put out. And Juliet lived to rock and rasp another day.
6. Charlotte Sometimes vs. Lex Land
On the plus side, this was a battle between the two best names in the entire competition. And the downside? Yet again, not a lot of drama. Lex is one of the most versatile and intriguing vocalists to survive the blind auditions. She’s somebody you may well pay good money to hear perform at a cocktail club one of these days. But Blake’s pitting her big lungs and timid personality up against Charlotte’s rock voice and take-no-prisoners approach…well, you might as well have the casts of “Jersey Shore” and “Downton Abbey” do a winner-take-all cage match while you’re at it.
With no irony at all, Charlotte announced, “I want to destroy her” before the pair stepped into the ring. Not a way to win teammate of the year, but she’d rather win “The Voice.” So her attitude carried over into their version of “Pumped Up Kicks” and despite some sexy, breathy notes from Lex, Charlotte accomplished two things. First, Blake picked her to move onto the live shows. And second, so well and so clearly that for the first time ever, I actually understood the lyrics to “Pumped Up Kicks.”