The all-new cross battles begin and prove change can be good
When The Voice announced it would be shaking things up this season with an all-new live round series called the cross battles, it was very much a shrug situation. How different from the knockouts could it really be, anyway? Putting one team’s contestant against another’s for America’s vote? Yawn.
Well, now that we’ve seen how this will work, it’s actually a lot more fun than that. The jury’s still out on how the results round of this new Voice venture will shake out, of course, but so far it’s actually quite entertaining to watch as the coaches form their own battle brackets on the fly like this.
Sure, this system does bring out a little bit of petulance from the more competitive coaches who want to be in contention, like, all the time (ahem, Adam Levine), but the fact that these singers don’t have a set match in place and don’t know when they’re going gives this stage more of a game show element. The contestants seem to be both excited and alarmed when they’re called up, and it’s intriguing to see how they handle these impromptu pairings.
Let’s take a look a how the very first round of the new cross battles shook out, then, shall we?
#1: Kim Cherry (Team Blake) vs. Betsy Ade (Team Kelly)
Blake Shelton claims he put some real thought into it, so by putting Kim Cherry on top, he’s obviously trying to make a statement about his team right now. He may be a country musician, but he can appreciate — and hopefully coach -— other genre artists, too. Blake also gets to choose whose team to compete with for the inaugural cross battle and opts for the reigning champ, Kelly Clarkson. Kelly’s delighted to be in it so early on in this new series and decides to match Kim’s rap stylings with some metal in Betsy Ade.
Kim opens with an energetic performance of “Poison” that gives her some room to rap with that playful, smiling style, even if her singing sections are tepid. She might not be the strongest singer in the competition, but she does still have a voice; Like Cardi B, her style courts some nostalgia for the early ’90s era of hip-hop, and she exudes a lot of confidence when she’s in that lane. Betsy also knows exactly who she is and what she wants to sing and proves it with every lyric of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” She’s got the requisite angsty, grunge presence to match this song, and she leans into both wails and whispers with equal fervor. The coaches are impressed with the level of energy both have brought to kick off this leg of the competition, but Blake is still biased about his own squad member, and so is Kelly. Adam throws in his two cents to say he’d pick Betsy to win, thanks to her ability to rip off her jacket mid-performance without breaking stride, but we’ll see if America agrees or not.
Who’ll win? Betsy had a lot more staying power throughout her performance, so she should carry this one.
#2: Mari Jones (Team Adam) vs. Selkii (Team Blake)
Adam decides to follow Blake’s lead on picking someone with a unique bit of flare in Mari Jones. Instead of going head-to-head with the newbie or last year’s winner, though, he chooses to pick a fight with Blake, who in turn decides to give Selkii a shot at proving herself.
Mari performs with the same bubbly cadence that’s made her a standout the previous rounds, but she does suffer from a lack of cohesion in her delivery of “My My My!” Her snappy funk tones still come through enough, though, especially compared with her competition here tonight. Selkii’s subsequent rendition of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” is a shaky, disjointed mess. She struggles with her runs and power notes. Mid-song, she attempts to make a few adjustments — a rock growl here, a soft run there — but nothing quite sticks. Blake tells audiences at home that he loves working with Selkii and wants to see her carry on, even reminding the crowd of her strength with a guitar, but Adam’s right that Mari’s vibe is more appealing here, and both Kelly and John agree that she’s probably won this bout.
Who’ll win? Mari. Easily.
#3: Lisa Ramey (Team John) vs. Karen Galeria (Team Kelly)
When it’s John Legend‘s turn to engage the next cross battle, he decides to continue the “fierce ladies” trend that’s been going on so far with his own rockette Lisa Ramey. He draws in Kelly to choose a contender, and she selects Karen Galeria, whom she’s been looking forward to seeing on-stage tonight.
Lisa kicks things off and gets everyone grooving with a fierce, growly rendition of “It Hurts So Bad,” which shows that she’s got some fearlessness and command, and it’s the most stylish showcase of the night so far. Karen follows that up with her take on Rihanna’s “Unfaithful,” and while she doesn’t have as much power or poise as her predecessor, there is a romantic quality to her voice that’s hard to ignore. John is impressed by Lisa’s stage presence and vocal strength, while Kelly praises her contestant’s sultry tone. Adam and Blake both weigh in to say that they would give their votes to Lisa to win the match.
Who’ll win? Lisa has earned this W, no doubt.
#4: Matthew Johnson (Team Kelly) vs. Domenic Haynes (Team Adam)
Kelly’s up next, and she chooses to put Matthew “Mr. Personality” Johnson up to bat and chooses to challenge Adam a.k.a. Mr. T. (blame his mohawk for the many A-Team references of the evening). Adam then decides to throw one of his early favorites into the ring with Domenic Haynes.
Matthew starts the cross battle off with Jackson 5’s “Who’s Loving You,” and he again shows off that full-package appeal he’s got with his wholesome disposition and a full, warm voice. There’s not a lot of nuance to his sound here tonight, but he’s still got some quiet journeyman-style strength going on. On the other hand, Domenic arrives as something of a surprise with his raw rendition of Etta James’ “Damn Your Eyes.” It might be a bit theatrical, but his chest-pounding antics only amplify the scratchy achiness of his vocals here. There’s something very old school about his sheer commitment to the message of the lyrics here, so his performance is pretty compelling through and through. Both of their coaches are proud of them, and while John might not have a stake in this fight, he agrees that it’ll be a tough call for audiences to choose between Domenic’s authenticity and Matthew’s elevated range.
Who’ll win? Tough to say, but Domenic had the edge on intensity. Don’t be surprised if a steal or save gets thrown down for whoever “loses” this round, though.
#5: Presley Tennant (Team Kelly) vs. Kayslin Victoria (Team John)
Kelly was up again immediately after and decided to put forward someone she believes will make it far in this competition with Presley Tennant, and when challenged, John picks Kayslin Victoria from his remaining slate.
Presley kicks things off with another Rihanna favorite, “Love On the Brain,” and while there are some moments of her delivery that threaten to sound a bit generic, she breaks through with some unrestrained ferocity and doesn’t sound out of her depth when those full-tilt belts come along. Meanwhile, Kayslin performs “Stay” and offers a tinier, steadier sound that’s sticking close to her comfort zone but does not break the mold. Of the unbiased coaches, it’s Adam who insists that Presley should probably win the round for surprising the crowd with her best performance yet.
Who’ll win? Probably Presley.
#6: Celia Babini (Team Adam) vs. Oliv Blu (Team Blake)
Adam is clearly enjoying the new cross battles because it means he can carry on with his faux feud with Blake again and again as many times as he likes. So, after choosing to put Celia Babini on-stage, he challenges Blake to another cross battle. Blake instructs Oliv Blu to “go show ’em how it’s done,” and that’s exactly what she does.
Celia starts things out with her take on Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years,” and while her decision to go with a less obvious number, this is a complete mismatch. Her rugged, ghostly resonance still comes through, but she’s completely omitting that air of sweetness that makes this song work, which makes it sound forced, like she’s trying to stick a lightbulb into a wall socket. Even worse, her voice is shaky and imbalanced. Then comes Oliv Blu with an airy, uncomplicated performance of “Gravity” that totally shows her predecessor up. Oliv doesn’t dress up her classic, jazzy vocals and delivers a clean, sunshiny sound. By keeping it simple, she’s showing a lot of style here tonight.
Who’ll win? Oliv Blu. But Kelly seems eager to steal the castaway from this battle either way.
#7: Dexter Roberts (Team Blake) vs. Andrew Jannakos (Team Adam)
When it’s Blake turn again, and he picks Dexter Roberts to go up next, Adam dares him to challenge him to a third sparring session so that they can go country vs. country with his Andrew Jannakos.
Dexter kicks things off with “Believe” by Brooks & Dunn, and while the introductory lyrics are awkward, with him waffling through some whispers between belts, there is still something enticing about his round, rustic tones, even if he doesn’t seize on the opportunity to really sell his sound. Andrew, meanwhile, comes along with Russell Dickerson’s “Yours” and has a little more power and control to start with, even if his performance starts to get clunky along the way to the end. Even the uninterested coaches are split as to who should win this round; while Kelly appreciates Dexter’s old school country aesthetic, John thinks Andrew has given more impressive performance of the two.
Who’ll win? It’s a close call, but Dexter will likely take it home.
#8: Maelyn Jarmon (Team John) vs. Rod Stokes (Team Adam)
Last but certainly not least, John chooses Maelyn Jarmon to represent his team for the final cross battle of the evening because he believes she is a closer who will continue to thrive on this show. Adam, who’s gotten greedy about wanting to have his turn tonight, asks John to challenge him but is unprepared when he does just that. Off the cuff, he decides to throw Rod Stokes in the ring with this perceived front-runner.
As soon as she begins singing, it’s clear why John is so enthusiastic about Maelyn. Her melodic vocals have both tenderness and tenacity, which is a hard combination to pull off, and, as John predicted, she seems hard to beat after this refreshing performance. However, Rod follows her up with a solid and soulful recital of “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” and his scratches and breaks land nicely here. John praises his contestant’s “intelligent, stylistic” choices to ebb and flow with her intensity throughout the number, but Adam thinks Rod may be the “story of the night” for holding his own against her in this cross battle. We’ll see soon enough!
Who’ll win? Maelyn should. It wouldn’t be a shock for Rod to earn a save or steal after this, however.
Adam Levine: Domenic Haynes, L.B. Crew, Mari Jones, Celia Babini, Kalvin Jarvis, Andrew Jannakos, Rod Stokes, Kendra Checketts.
Kelly Clarkson: Karen Galera, The Bundys, Jej Vincent, Rebecca Howell, Abby Kasch, Presley Tennant, Matthew Johnson, Betsy Ade.
John Legend: Maelyn Jarmon, Lisa Ramey, Julian King, Shawn Sounds, Kayslin Victoria, Beth Griffith-Marley, Jimmy Mowery.
Blake Shelton: Gyth Rigdon, Kim Cherry, Carter Lloyd Horne, Dexter Roberts, Selkii, Andrew Sevener, Karly Moreno, Oliv Blu.
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