The big question after last week's episode was whether this show could possibly produce a stranger performance than the misguided, torturous Nirvana cover that left all who heard it in dire need of a hug. This week, we already have the answer: "Yes, of course. And furthermore: duh!" Unsurprisingly, the most wonderfully weird battle on the show so far arrives courtesy of Team Cee Lo.
Former model Erin Martin has a voice that splits the difference between Macy Gray and CocoRosie, which is an otherworldly combo. Her competition is the shambling Shields Brothers, who came to the show to "punch America in the face with rock & roll." God bless Cee Lo for making this unlikely binary and having them sing "What's Love Got to Do With It," for some reason.
When we first glimpse the three contestants learning the song together, Erin keeps making requests about the arrangements in a way that either no performer has done before, or the show's producers have elected not to reveal. It doesn't exactly paint her in a noble light, but when you hear the song, it's clear she was right to question how her voice was being used. This is the first battle wherein the song sounds like two completely different songs, neither of which sounds like the actual song it's supposed to be.
The Shields Brothers, whom celebrity guest Babyface accurately describes as "Wayne's World," seem to vocally confuse Tina Turner with Warrant. Erin tries to use her Sunday afternoon voice in a Saturday night context, and it still sounds slow and affected, with an odd, upturned squeal on the last note of the chorus. The weirdness ante is only upped by Erin's wardrobe, which is a Queen of the Damned ensemble, complete with comically oversize shoulder pads that look like goth pup tents. It's hard to pick a winner, because neither contestant really did "better" than the other. Cee Lo makes a good point, though: Erin does seem like her voice can do more things than the Shields'. He picks her.
The night's most bizarre performance was preceded by its cutest. The mononymous Pip looks like a tiny lesbian Harry Potter in a bowtie, but he sounds like a legendary Broadway belter. Here he must battle Nathan Parrett, who looks like the most sensitive shirtless greeter at Hollister. Together they perform Amy Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good," minus her particular damaged flair. Pip has a big stage presence for such a little guy. Nathan is somewhat cowed by his competition, and his nervousness shows. Over a particularly toothless backing track, Pip draws his notes out like a vintage lounge singer and smiles big. Nervous Nathan sounds clear and strong, but he's a little outclassed here. Adam picks Pip.
Just like Pip, Jonathas only has the single name. Unlike Pip, however, he has a pompadour-mullet and an anatomically correct tattoo of a woman's face on his bicep. Jonathas confessed a long-standing crush on Xtina during the auditions, and here they duet together as he prepares to take on Ashley De La Rosa with "No Air" by Jordin Sparks. Guest coach Lionel Richie comes off like an acting coach this week, continually harping on Jonathas about staying in character. Apparently, his character is someone who is also in love with Ashley De La Rosa, because they look awfully comfortable with each other out on that stage. Ashley has a great big voice hiding beneath her slinky looks, and Xtina ends up picking her and breaking Jonathas' heart forever.
Keeping the one-name train a-rolling, up next is the insufferably spelled ALyX, who has to get in the vocal ring with Jermaine Paul, the studly, fashionable former background singer for Alicia Keys. Although Carson Daly dubs her "the fearless pop singer with the big personality," ALyX's personality here is restricted to being told repeatedly by both Blake Shelton and his lovely wife, Miranda Lambert, to "just have fun out there," because that seems impossible for her. While Jermaine Paul gives his all on Billy Ocean's "Get Out of My Dreams," ALyX fails to make an impression beyond her sheer, polka-dotted ghost-sheet blouse and the fact that she yells, "Sometimes you just gotta say 'What the hell!'" after the song is over. (After the Shields Bros and Erin Martin, though, we're fresh out of "what the hell," ALyX.) Blake picks Jermaine.
Rounding out the show are two incredible performances. First, the more traditionally viable Angel Taylor takes on Katrina Parker, who is the embodiment of this show: a sultry vocalist trapped in the life of an office worker (with the body of Adele, to whom Xtina compares her). Together, they sing Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love," which definitely has the word "bleeding" in the title and is about a specific kind of love. (Both contestants talk about how they can personally relate to the pain of the song during rehearsal.) These two sound great together, and both really lean into the song. The audience goes crazy after the big finish. It feels like one of the toughest calls of the whole series, and sure enough, when Carson gets to Adam, he is slunk down deep into his very owl-like sweater, not wanting to be called on. Ultimately, he chooses Katrina, who did indeed sound more confident, and perhaps more consistent, throughout the battle.
The final performance of the night pits powerhouse songstress Erin Willet against the more countrified Gwen Sebastian on "We Belong Together" (Pat Benatar's, not Mariah Carey's). "What sucks about this is one of you is not gonna go on," Blake reminds the contestants redundantly at the outset. Although her performance in rehearsal leaves Miranda Lambert floored, Gwen is afraid that Erin will go out and own the stage. Erin similarly impresses during rehearsals, but guest coach Kelly Clarkson wisely advises her to save her wail for when it's really heartfelt and there's a purpose for it.
The battle takes on some additional gravitas, however, when Erin learns just before the battle that her father, who is in the hospital, has taken a turn for the worse and may not last more than 24 hours. It was his wish, though, that Erin stay and take the chance she'd worked so hard to earn. "I hope he knows I'm doing this for him," she says. Buoyed by her personal trauma, Erin rises to the performance and commits wholeheartedly. Gwen gives it all she's got, too, with a resilient, raspy twang whenever it seems she's been overpowered. After the duet, Gwen smiles and nods at Erin in a really genuine way, and then they hug. No other pair on this show has shown so much mutual respect.
"Seriously," Blake says afterward, "I wish it wasn't that good." Nobody envies him having to send Gwen home, but Erin did manage to edge her out just a little, and so that's what he must do. "I couldn't have lost to a better performer," Gwen concedes.
Next week: It's the final week of battles, and the previews show Cee Lo crying. Why so sad, Cee Lo?