On Night 3 of the Battle Rounds, "The Voice" coaches, especially the two newest of them, began playing things a little closer to the vest. Usher and Shakira both declined to render a verdict on other coaches' team battles when it suited them strategically. Tipping your hand, they seem to have realized, can complicate a move to steal.
Asked which contestant he'd pick in a Team Shakira battle, Usher replied, "You'll see in a second."
Shakira, for her part, told Blake Shelton at one point, "I'm going to stay like Switzerland. I'm gonna be neutral." Even when Blake Shelton protested, she remained resolute. "I'm sorry, Blake. I can't help you."
Meanwhile, Adam Levine, hardly a stranger to fiercely competitive behavior, was fresh out of steals and generally unafraid to make his preferences known. After one Team Blake battle, he was so frustrated he couldn't push his button to steal a discarded duo he began to shake his whole spinning chair console. Oh well.
Here's how the battles played out:
Austin Ellis vs. Josh Kaufman
Levine, guest mentor Aloe Blacc at his side, paired Austin Ellis, a one-chair turn whose blind audition barely saw airtime, with Josh Kaufman, the SAT-tutoring dad who had turned four chairs, on Pharrell Williams' "Happy," a current hit with an old-school vibe that he felt would suit their styles. Ellis brought lots of energy, but, with his smooth, warm vocals ("caramely," someone called them), it was Kaufman's match to lose, and he didn't lose it. Shelton marveled at Kaufman's vocal "tricks." Usher also gave the round to Kaufman, but compared Ellis to a "caged beast" and told him he had real talent. Shakira said she'd oscillated between and ultimately been drawn in by both singers. "Forced to make a decision," Levine said, he chose Kaufman.
Winner: Josh Kaufman
Steal? No. Usher said, while he thought Ellis was a "great" talent, he was saving his saves for "something special."
Alaska & Madi vs. Audra McLaughlin
When Shelton and guest mentors the Band Perry gathered with Oklahoma teen duo Alaska & Madi, whom he'd beaten Levine for in the blinds, and four-chair turn Audra McLaughlin, he noted it was "the most people that have ever sat around the piano in the history of 'The Voice.'" Shelton gave the country-singing young women Linda Ronstadt's "When Will I Be Loved," noting that he hoped the song would showcase their personalities and ability to "convey a country lyric." Usher called the battle "phenomenal" and offered advice, but claimed not to know who'd won. "You're stuck because I can't tell you which one to pick," he told Shelton. Shakira also declined to name a winner. Levine expressed frustration that he was unable to steal, telling Shelton it would be a mistake to send either contender home. Shelton, called it "easily" his "toughest decision" and gave the match to McLaughlin, saying her "voice comes out of an era of country music that I grew up on" and that he believed was "missing from country music right now." He was irritated that none of the other coaches stole Alaska & Madi, but perhaps less so than Levine. "Those girls could have won, and you're crazy," Levine told Usher, running backstage to tell the Oklahoma teen duo they were "awesome" and he would have stolen them if he could.
Winner: Audra McLaughlin
Steal? Surprisingly, no.
Deja Hall vs. Music Box
Shakira and her guest mentor, Miranda Lambert, teamed pure-voiced 16-year-old Deja Hall, a three-chair turn, with a Berklee College of Music grad calling herself Music Box, for whom only Shakira had turned, giving the singers the Bangles song "Eternal Flame." Levine noted both women had "really special qualities," but said he'd pick Hall because her youth left so much room for growth. Shelton compared Hall's voice to a superpower, but gave the match to "Miss Box" because of her "unique sound." Usher thought both would go far and refused to render a verdict. Shakira outlined the "advantages and disadvantages" of youth, and ultimately went with it, picking Hall, whose voice she called "angelic." Then Usher startled everyone by hitting his button for Music Box. "Your voice was incredible. You have the potential to go really, really far in this competition," he told her. All she needed, he said, was the "right coaching." If Shakira was offended, she didn't show it. "I'm so happy that you stole her," she told Usher.
Winner: Deja Hall
Steal? Yes! Usher
Madilyn Paige vs. Tanner James
Usher, working with guest mentor Jill Scott, paired two young singers from Provo, Utah, who went to the same school, but had never before met each other, assigning them Taylor Swift's "Everything Has Changed" and asking them to take risks and emote. "The Romeo and Juliet battle," the coach called it, saying he wanted each to "passionately" challenge the other. It was adorable. "That was like watching golden retriever puppies frolic through fields of wheat during the sunset or something," Levine said after they'd sung, calling it "cute overload … so romantic and sweet." Shakira called Paige's tone "unique" and "beautiful" and James' delivery "flawless." And Shelton marveled over the singers' appeal and talent, giving the match to Paige. Usher offered "kudos" to both, saying they'd performed "exactly" as he'd hoped, but ultimately picked Paige.
Winner: Madilyn Paige
Steal? No, though Shakira looked tempted.
Dawn & Hawkes vs. Josh Murley
Levine matched the musical/romantic duo whose blind audition made him gush that it was his "favorite performance" he had "ever seen ever on 'The Voice'" with single dad Josh Murley, whose blind audition we'd barely glimpsed, on "Stuck in the Middle With You" by Stealers Wheel. He was looking for the three of them to "shed the weirdness of two against one" and convey a loose "campfire vibe." Shelton called it a "really solid performance," "pitch perfect," with no clear winner – or at least none that he was willing to say, though he did allow that Dawn & Hawkes included the "prettiest" contender. Usher gave it to Murley. Shakira said she'd never heard the song before, but that, even though she didn't drink, it had made her "want to have a beer." Levine said he'd accomplished what he set out to, and then chose Dawn & Hawkes, as expected. Less expected was that Shakira swooped in to steal Murley at the very last second. "He's way too talented to walk away from this competition," she said.
Winner: Dawn & Hawkes
Steal? Yes. Shakira
Bria Kelly v. Tess Boyer
In yet another match that seemed to have a predetermined outcome, Usher selected former NFL cheerleader Tess Boyer, who'd turned only his chair in a quick-hit blind audition, to go up against bluesy 18-year-old Bria Kelly, whom he'd won in a four-chair turn, hoping each would show "vulnerability" on Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart." Boyer battled against what she called her "pageanty" presentation and managed to give her coach "goosebumps" during rehearsals. Shakira called it an even match and complimented Boyer on her dynamics and Kelly on her "amazing voice." Levine declared himself to be a newly minted fan of Boyer's and said Kelly made him fear Team Usher. And Shelton said that, while they'd all known Kelly would be great, Boyer had come "out of nowhere," showing "finesse" and "dimension" and taken the match. Usher gave it to Kelly, of course, but all was not lost for Boyer. Shelton scooped her up, saying she'd "stepped up her game and showed herself to be a "fighter."
Winner: Bria Kelly
Steal? Yes! Blake
What did you think of the night's battles?
ALSO:Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times