We said goodbye to nine of the 48 qualifiers from the blind auditions as the first half of the battle round saw 12 sing-offs and three steals, courtesy of Tom Jones, Will.i.am and Ricky Wilson.
The battle round is traditionally the least interesting part of The Voice, as we wave goodbye to the chair-spinning fun of the blind auditions and move towards a more traditional competition format. But this week’s first of two battle round episodes was more engaging than in the previous two years, partly because there’s a genuine sense of camaraderie and empathy between the four coaches and also because the quality of contestants on show was mostly extremely high.
The coaches’ choices of who they pair of against whom and their subsequent song selection is often a curiosity. Sometimes it’s clear that a particularly strong contender is paired off against a relatively weak one to facilitate their passage through to the next round. 16-year-old Beth McCarthy, who wowed the judges with her guitar version of LMFAO’s Sexy and I Know It in her audition, was always going to come out on top against twins Tila and Tavelah as they battled it out on Katy Perry’s Roar.
But equally there were moments where we had to say goodbye to one of two strong acts who were thrown together because they had the misfortune to have a similar sound. Step forward Kenny Thompson, who lost out to Bizzi Dixon after a sparkling duet of Hey Jude.
And then there were others where a merely good singer was fortuitously paired against a mediocre opponent. Celestine certainly outshone Mairead Conlon on Jessie J’s It’s My Party, but in truth both put in a screechy performance which left me distinctly underwhelmed.
The same went for the battle between Blackpool singers Emily Adams and former Emmerdale actress Kelsey-Beth, neither of whom did enough with Christina Aguilera’s Fighter to make me sit up and take notice.
This wasn’t the only local battle of the night either, as Coventry’s Lee Glasson (the one who did Can’t Get You Out of my Head at blinds) went head-to-head with Bryan Adams soundalike Jamie Weston on The Killers’ When You Were Young, with the former emerging triumphant.
While the overall standard was, for the most part, at least competent and at best majestic, there was the odd clunker. Country singer Talia Smith fluffed her opening notes on Olly Murs’ Dear Darlin’ and never really recovered, losing out to Sally Barker‘s silky vocal. However, with an impressive array of younger and even teenage quality on display, it’s unlikely we’ll see the 54-year-old progress much further.
Overall, while the song choices made by the coaches and their guest mentors – Dante Santiago and last year’s runner-up Leah McFall for Will.i.am, Tinie Tempah for Tom, Katy B for Ricky and Scissor Sisters front-man Jake Shears for Kylie – were strong, and in a couple of cases inspired, there was the odd dud.
It’s My Party descended into a competition of who could screech the louder and Leo Sayer’s Thunder in my Heart was just weird. But Bizzi and Kenny’s Hey Jude was lovely, while Will’s selection of Michael Jackson’s P.Y.T. worked brilliantly for Callum Crowley and Tom Barnwell.
The geeky (and ever so camp) Barnwell was one of those who was well worth a coach’s steal but slipped through the net. Instead Glaswegian Steven Alexander was (deservedly) snapped up by Tom. Jessica Steele was also worth Ricky taking a punt on based on her blind audition, although she didn’t do herself justice against ‘Harp Girl’ Anna McLuckie, who saw her off easily on Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).
Much more fortunate was Nomakhosi, who I thought was fortunate to become the final member of Kylie’s team and then equally lucky to be snapped up by Will after a lacklustre rendition of Tainted Love. When you consider that Tom Barnwell went home, as did the booming West End voice of Nathan Amzi (who, ironically, suffered from sounding too West End and not commercial enough), it felt like an odd decision. But hey, Will has sold 40 million or so more records than I have, so who I am to judge? (Of course, disagreeing with the coaches is part of the fun …)
So, nine have been sent home while 15 are through. Next week, with only Kylie’s steal remaining, 11 of the remaining 24 will say goodbye. The battles have only just begun …