After 23 seasons of The Voice — all of which have starred soon-to-be-retiring OG coach Blake Shelton — it seems like everyone has been there, done that, and gotten the “I’m on Blake’s Last Team and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” T-shirt. Let’s face it: It’s hard to keep things fresh after 12 years on the air! But as the Season 23 Battle Rounds commenced Monday, there was a newfound sense of excitement — not just because of a new “game-changing” twist, but because of new coach Chance the Rapper and his much-needed “production prowess.”
First, the twist. This season, there’s something called the “Playoff Pass,” which is kind of like a Save on steroids. It allows each coach, one time per season, to not only keep a Battle’s losing contestant in the competition, but also have that contestant bypass the Knockout Rounds and go straight to the live shows. So, in those cases, the loser is actually the real winner.
And so, that brings us to Monday’s standout Battle, between harmonic sister trio Sorelle and returning Season 22 diva Manasseh Samone. Even without the Playoff Pass, really this would have been a historic performance.
Back during the Blind Auditions, Chance tasked Sorelle with crooning a few a cappella lines of “What Would I Do” from The Wiz, which they did beautifully, so this week, I was hoping for “A Brand New Day” or maybe even “Ease on Down the Road.” That didn’t happen, sadly, and when I found out that he’d instead assigned Sorelle and Manasseh a totally overdone Adele cover, “Someone Like You,” I was disappointed. But then… something magical happened, as Chance put on his (“3”-emblazoned) producer hat and created an intricate, utterly unique arrangement, resulting in a standing ovation and a performance unlike anything on The Voice before.
“When the singing started, separately, I thought, ‘How is this gonna ever blend?’ And now I never want you guys to not sing together,” said Blake.
“No one’s ever heard that song like that; that was really cool,” marveled Kelly Clarkson. Blake thought the sisters, whom Chance described as a “trained wall of sound,” were so perfect and pristine and “sang with such attack and were so tight with each other,” it was “almost hard to believe that was live!” Niall Horan agreed, gushing, “I can’t believe what I just heard. … It sounds like a record. Like, you would struggle to get a record to even mix that well!”
Manasseh certainly had the mighty pipes to handle this massive Adele ballad (Kelly said singers like her are “the reason why this show exists,” and Niall called Manasseh’s voice “goosebump stuff”). But Sorelle had something different, something never heard in all 12 years of the series… “something that this competition needs,” as their coach put it. Chance said this would be his toughest decision of the season, but he eventually made the correct call — by choosing Sorelle, and then using his Playoff Pass on Manasseh.
Technically, I would have given the Pass to Sorelle, who’ll still have to survive the upcoming Knockouts to get to the Lives. But for now, I’m delighted that both contestants are still in the game… and I’m still hoping for that The Wiz song. Until then, here’s how the rest of Monday’s Battles panned out:
TEAM BLAKE: Tasha Jessen vs. EJ Michels, “Tracks of My Tears”
Blake said both of these power-singers possessed “individual superpowers,” but in the Battle ring, EJ was just a bit more, well, super. His voice was so crisp, so fresh and so clean, that it cut right through the room. “EJ, you came out here and I was afraid for [Tasha],” Kelly admitted. The two vocals did blend beautifully, resulting in what Chance called an “awards show-level performance,” but as Blake put it, EJ “came in swinging.” Blake said he hadn’t “ever been so shocked by someone” in the Blind Auditions… which made it all the more shocking when he chose to go with Tasha instead. (He claimed he considered using his Playoff Pass on EJ, but refrained.) Thankfully, both Chance and Niall swooped in to steal EJ, and in another surprise, EJ went with the coach who didn’t turn for him in the Blinds. To quote the ever-quotable Chance, that was a decision.
WINNER: Tasha Jessen / STOLEN: EJ Michels moves to Team Niall
TEAM CHANCE: Mariah Kalia vs. Jamar Langley, “Gravity”
Chance put his production prowess to work again on this Battle pairing, explaining that while Mariah and Jamar are 20 years apart in age, they’re both “very soulful people.” Jamar, who gave a James Brown-style showman performance for his Blind Audition, revealed a very different “artist’s artist” side of himself this week, breaking out an electric guitar for this bluesy John Mayer cover. The song assignment definitely seemed better-suited to him, and while Niall said 17-year-old Mariah had “this sass that you can’t teach,” Jamar still had the edge from his “years and years of gigging.” Chance said both singers were “fire.” (And apparently Chance using the phrase “awards show performance” is the new Voice drinking game, as he exclaimed, “We’re gonna win an Emmy! This is crazy!”) But in the end, the more ready-for-prime-time Jamar was the winner of this Battle, Emmy-winning or otherwise.
WINNER: Jamar Langley
TEAM NIALL: Gina Miles vs. Kala Banham, “Skinny Love”
Kelly called this song choice — more inspired by the Birdy remake than by the Bon Iver original — “smart,” which it was. But Niall wasn’t so smart to pair up his “two beautiful storytellers with two soft and supple voices” — a foolish, “shot myself straight in the foot” decision that supposedly caused Niall “many “sleepless nights.” Gina, with her rich and rounded tone, sounded as gorgeous as I remembered, but as Blake noted, this Battle was “about as evenly matched as we can get.” Well, Kelly — who’d been blocked from recruiting Kala in the Blinds, and actually gasped, “Oh my God!” midway through this duet — finally got her girl, going in for the Steal. I’m glad both lovely songstresses are still in the competition.
WINNER: Gina Miles / STOLEN: Kala Banham moves to Team Kelly
TEAM KELLY: Allie Keck vs. Cait Martin, “It Must Have Been Love”
I swooned when this Roxette duet started off all tender and broken and vulnerable, with the two ladies being very generous and locked-in duet partners — “what a Battle should be,” as Niall put it. But towards the end, they pushed it too hard in an attempt to show off and emote, and it was strident and sharp and just too much. (“I was nearly pinned back in my seat,” laughed Niall, although he meant that as a good thing. It wasn’t.) Blake said four-chair Blinds contestant Cait had more “finesse” and rock chick Allie had “more of an attack,” and Kelly said these “incredible powerhouses” both “rose to the occasion in a different manner” — so really, it all came down to a matter of choice. And ultimately, I think Kelly made the right one.
WINNER: Cait Martin
TEAM BLAKE: Kason Lester vs. Walker Wilson, “Here Without You”
Blake called this “the easiest no-brainer Battle that I’ve ever put together”: two classic-rock longhairs, both inexplicable one-chair turns, who looked like they could be brothers. (“You guys are the exact same person,” quipped Chance.) These two probably would have split the public vote if they’d both advanced to the Live Playoffs, so I understood Blake’s logic here. But while Kason and Walker apparently share hairdressers and musical tastes (I’ve never seen any two Voice contestants so “pumped” over a Battle song assignment as these bros were over their 3 Doors Down power ballad), they were very different vocally. Kason had a pack-a-day rasp, while — as Niall worded it — Walker’s “voice just pierced through,” with “a brightness to the tone but also a nice grit.” I have a feeling this was one of Blake’s easiest no-brainer decisions, too.
WINNER: Walker Wilson
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