When the newly single Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton hooked up after meeting-cute on the Voice set a few years ago, they seemed like greater opposites than Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat. What on earth could an alt-rock Orange County fashionista and a grizzled, fly-fishing, bro-country singer from Oklahoma have in common? But as we all know, the star-crossed showmancers are still going strong, many Voice seasons later — despite the fact that, now that Gwen is back as a coach this season, she and Blake are constantly sparring on the air.
During Monday’s Battle Rounds, Gwen tried to explain her surprisingly successful dynamic with Blake while reflecting on the unlikely chemistry between two of her battlers. “You're super-straight, clean, and polite,” she told baby-faced soul sweetheart Kiara Brown. “And he's dirty, nasty” — referring to sexy, earthy, all-grown-up reggae crooner Royce Lovett. “So, the contrast in the duet is working so amazingly. There's a chemistry. It's like me and Blake: We do not seem like we would be together, but yet we go together perfectly. It's like this weird contrast.”
The weird contrast worked very well between Kiara and Royce, during a duet of Bob Marley’s "Turn Your Lights Down Low.” It worked better than I had expected, frankly. Royce has been one of my favorite Season 17 contestants since the Blind Auditions, and his vocals, as Gwen’s fellow coach John Legend pointed out, were “made for this song.” I definitely preferred Royce’s raw, husky voice and confident delivery over the laid-back Kiara, who’d been repeatedly warned during rehearsals by Gwen and guest mentor will.i.am not to play it too safe. However, I must commend Kiara for heeding that advice: She totally stepped it up in the ring, and I witnessed a lot of growth from her during just one episode.
Gwen was impressed by Kiara’s accelerated progress as well. “If you can unleash that much, you have more to unleash, and I'm so curious to see what that is. … I'm falling in love with you, just because of how hard you worked,” Gwen told Kiara. Of course, Gwen still picked the more ready-for-prime-time Royce, “because his voice has so much character, personality, and dynamics” — but, since this is the first season in which coaches are allowed to save one contestant during the Battle Rounds, she tried to keep both contestants on her team, by using her one Save on Kiara.
Gwen may have gotten her wish, but then rival coach Kelly Clarkson also tried to steal Kiara… and Gwen made the foolish mistake of confessing to Kiara that she hadn’t planned to use her Save this soon, because there was someone else on her team that she was “torn” about. Whoops. “I do want you to be able to use that Save, so I'm gonna go with Kelly,” Kiara understandably decided after that revelation.
Oh well. At least the nice girl, Kiara, didn’t finish last. And Gwen still has Royce. And, of course, Gwen will always have Blake.
These were the other Battles of Monday night:
Team Legend: Jared Herzog vs. Will Breman, “Treat You Better”
Jared sounded a bit too low and shaky at the beginning of this Shawn Mendes hit, though he gained momentum as the performance progressed. Will, on the other hand, was strong from the start and never faltered. His voice fit more comfortable with the song, and his falsetto was a pleasant surprise. Speaking of “weird chemistry,” though: I really liked the way these guys turned this routine into a playful battle, pushing each other out of the way as they fought over some imaginary love interest. Still, it was obvious that Jared was the one who’d get pushed off the show for good.
Team Blake: Marina Chello vs. Ricky Duran, "Valerie"
Let me just say that after a zillion years of this song being attributed to Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson, it was refreshing that Blake actually had these contestants perform the more stomping, skronky, pub-singalong version by the band that originally wrote and recorded it, the criminally underrated Zutons. But regardless of whatever ‘Valerie” version, or really whatever song, these two might have performed, Marina was still destined to outclassed by Ricky, a four-chair contestant. Ricky showcased a gravelly, gritty voice that Blake compared to that of the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson (one of my personal favorite rock ‘n’ roll belters of all time), and while Marina held her own and was better than she’d been during her cruise-shippy audition, I was shocked that Blake used his Save on her — and that Kelly (unsuccessfully) tried to steal her! I still find it hard to imagine Marina lasting past the Knockout Rounds, but we’ll see.
WINNER: Ricky / SAVED: Marina stays with Blake
Team Kelly: Jake Hoot vs. Steve Knill, "Always on My Mind"
This was the perfect split-the-difference song choice for “country to the core” singer Jake, whom Kelly compared to Ronnie Dunn, and smoky-toned soulman Steve. And this was a very evenly matched, apples/oranges pairing. Jake had the power notes that ultimately drowned out Steve, but I listened closely, and I could hear Steve’s tenderness and emotion. I really wish Kelly had used her Save on Steve. He gave me Josh Kaufman vibes (his audition had been one of my favorites of the season), and I’d always thought he could be Season 17’s dark horse.
Team Kelly: Brennan Lassiter v. Gracee Shriver, “Blue Ain’t Your Color”
Team Kelly: Damali vs. Brooke Stephenson, “Set Fire to the Rain”
These were blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em montages, so I will assume Kelly might the right decision by picking Gracee over Brennan, since Brennan’s solo wasn’t shown. However, Gracee really needs to ditch her amateurish, try-hard affectations. As for the latter Battle, Brooke Stephenson was one of my early Season 17 favorites and even Kelly said Brooke seemed more ready and had a purer tone, so I’m not exactly sure why Kelly was so “intrigued” by Damali. I would need to watch a full performance to figure out that head-scratcher.
WINNERS: Gracee, Damali
Team Blake: Joana Martinez vs. Matthew McQueen, "High Hopes"
Matthew was seemingly the breakout heartthrob of the Blinds — the coaches actually compared him to Tom Cruise and Christian Bale — but his high hopes were dashed this week. The cranked-to-11 Panic! at the Disco anthem was way too big for his indie-balladeer voice; he freely, understandably admitted that he was intimidated by his 15-year-old opponent as he struggled in rehearsal. Once onstage, Matthew improved, but he was still no match for an octave-hopping pop prodigy like Joana. With a different song choice that played to Matthew’s rasp, this Battle might have had a different result, and I think he was worthy of a Save or Steal — since, as Gwen told him, “I think that you're super-interesting as an artist, and I would love to see what else you would do.” But as one fan amusingly tweeted last week, maybe this reality TV pretty-boy would be better off going on The Bachelorette instead. And maybe if Gwen had kept him around, he would have just made Blake fake-jealous.
Team Gwen: James Violet vs. Kyndal Inskeep, "I Could Use a Love Song"
Neither contestant was familiar with this Maren Morris ballad, so they struggled to connect to it at first; even after two days of rehearsal, they were still forgetting the lyrics. But after a much-needed lecture from tough-loving mentor will.i.am, they finally got their act together, literally, and brought it onstage. The result was an unexpectedly lovely duet. Kyndal’s songbird tone was so bell-clear and pleasant, and James’s performance had a lot of heart and grit as well as a lot of range and texture. Kyndal ultimately prevailed, but then Gwen tried to use her Save while John tried to use his Steal.
And then… there was a cliffhanger! Apparently James was the contestant that Gwen had been “torn” over all along. “You were always on my ‘I'm gonna save him’ list,” she revealed to James. “I feel like we can keep this relationship going. I'm so terrified you're gonna go with John!” But we will have wait till Tuesday to find out James’s final answer. See you then.
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