Once more into the breach, dear friends. On my signal, unleash hell. You see what I'm getting at. But here's Adam Levine with the last word: "You guys are going to be singing in harmony and secretly trying to destroy each other."
After a month of blind auditions, The Voice has entered its second stage. Each of the judge-coaches (joaches? cudges?) has 12 contestants at the outset. Over the next several weeks, though, that number is going to get halved as contestants are pitted against each other for duets, to determine who passes on to the live rounds and who will watch at home, probably while eating Haagen-Dazs Spiced Caramel Biscuit ice cream.
A freshly bearded Adam Levine, who suddenly looks like Christian Bale, sentences former Mouseketeer Tony Lucca and grandma's boy Chris Cauley to the singing pit of destiny first. Their song is U2's "Beautiful Day," though it will most assuredly not be a beautiful day for one of these bros after he's unceremoniously given the heave-ho. Who will it be?
I can't tell if Chris is subtly throwing shade when he describes his competitor thusly: "On paper, Tony has the advantage, because he's been on the Mickey Mouse Club and has that TV experience." Probably not, but he does have a point. Considering Tony's experience on that show (where he co-starred with Christina Aguilera), there is no way the producers will want to cut him loose.
Each coach gets to bring in two pros to help the contestants learn their songs. Tony gets Alanis Morissette and Chris gets Robin Thicke. It's kind of funny to hear them discuss singing in such clinical terms – not only vocally, but also psychologically. "Is there a range where you're scared of going?" Alanis asks. Amazingly, Tony doesn't burst into tears and talk about measuring up to his father.
In case we didn't get the battle aspect, the contestants must perform inside a boxing ring. I half expect them to start fighting for real, but the closest they come is faux-glaring; these two like each other. It's a pretty close call, but Tony edges Chris out and Adam votes him on to the live shows. "I was a fan of your music before," Chris says to Adam, "but now I'm a fan of you as a man." It's a heartfelt sentiment, but it's also fraught with hilarious erotic undertones I cannot ignore in good conscience.
Over on Team Blake, it's late-blooming powerhouse Adley Stump vs. 17-year-old farmer's daughter supreme RaeLynn. The contestants' advisors give them exact opposite advice – Miranda Lambert tells RaeLynn not to try to compete with Adley in belting a song out, while Kelly Clarkson advises Adley to take it down a notch if she needs to meet RaeLynn on a style level. They both seem to want it badly, but Adley has that quiet look of possibly unhinged competitive determination in her eyes, like Kobayashi when he ate 69 hot dogs at Coney Island.
Adley confidently sings "Free Fallin'" poised from beneath a giant curly blowout, wearing some kind of enormous brooch on a necklace. RaeLynn looks like Disney's Country Princess (who would definitely be named RaeLynn), but her timing is slightly off and she seems to turn up the twang on certain notes, which seems insincere. RaeLynn tries to rise to her competitor's power level, but Adley seems to pick her off like a flea. RaeLynn looks like she's going to cry. Cee Lo and Xtina vote for Adley, but in a surprise move, Blake goes with RaeLynn.
I didn't think it was possible that Xtina could bear more cleavage than she did with her previous outfit, but this week she is experimenting with inner-sideboob, which is some next-level business. She's also wearing a flat hat that looks like a tiny Frisbee with sparkles.
On her team, operatic Chris Mann takes on raw talent Monique Bonabou, dueling on Celine Dion's "The Power of Love." Chris takes care to mention that he doesn't know that he's intimidated by Monique, which is as close as he gets to humble. Lionel Richie and his arrow-shaped mustache come by to advise Chris. Monique seems immeasurably relieved when her coach, TV's Jewel, tells her, "Sometimes all that training can keep a person from singing with their heart."
These two forget that they're in a boxing ring as they sing this love ballad to each other, but they know what they're doing. Chris has the more theatrical, professional voice, but Monique really holds her own . . . until he sort of blows her away with a couple of perfectly nuanced runs near the end. Chris wins it.
"Christina helped me work on some of my doubts about myself," Chris says afterward, but it's hard to picture him ever having any doubts about himself.
"I want to see you fight," Cee Lo says, simply, to his battling contestants, Cheesa and Angie Johnson. These two are pretty evenly matched. Neither is classically trained, but they both have impressive natural ability. Angie Johnson has the better backstory, with her military service and YouTube fame. Will that be enough to seal the deal?
Cee Lo greets guest coach Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds while wearing Santa Claus' red silken pajamas for some reason. Meanwhile, Cee Lo's other guest, Ne-Yo, advises Angie to go for Cheesa's throat." "Do you know I'm in the military?" she asks. "The finger's got to stay off the trigger 'til I'm ready to shoot." Look out, Hawaiian Beyonce! Guard your jugular!
A glammed-out Angie stares down Cheesa on "Total Eclipse of the Heart," which I can't hear without thinking of that scene in Old School. They both seem to want it just as badly, and neither blows the other out. After the performance, Adam hems and haws for a while when Carson Daly calls on him, and he decides kind of arbitrarily – "I don't know, Cheesa?" My thoughts exactly, and also Cee Lo's: Cheesa wins. Which is awesome, because then Cheesa's family goes all-out in the Cutest Celebrating Family competition, with a crying dad for the win.
"The one thing I expect from a rocker is to make me go, 'Yeah! Yeah!'" Blake Shelton says, holding up the devil horns sign with his hands. "Whatever these things are? I want to have them up." Just when you thought you couldn't love this dude anymore. Hopefully someone has told him those things are meant to be devil's horns.
Team Blake's Brian Fuente and Jordis Unga face off on a real rocktacular rock song: Alanis' "Ironic." Less-attractive Bradley Cooper lookalike Brian approaches the song from a different angle than Jordis; he's more restrained at first, until letting loose on the chorus. Cee Lo likes Brian's aggressive nature, but Blake surprises by saying that neither contestant really brought it. Ultimately, he found Jordis a little better, though, and she advances on.
Finally, two members of Xtina's team have to duke it out over "If I Ain't Got You." It's pastor's son Anthony Evans against single dad Jesse Campbell. Both have strong gospel roots, but since Jesse got all four judges to turn around with his audition song, Anthony assumes the underdog role.
These two sound great together, the two voices complementing each other. About halfway through the song, though, Jesse steps his game up and puts a rat-a-tat stutter in the word "baby." Instantly, it becomes a serious battle. Anthony meets Jesse's upped ante, and they just keep heightening and topping each other. Xtina is in an unenviable position having to pick a winner here. When she does, it's Jesse. Anthony does a good job holding it together, but you can tell he's hurting. War is never pretty.
Next week: Will Adam still have a beard? Will Xtina explore the mythical under-cleavage?