Sexiest 'Voice' Battle ever: 'I didn't know if I was supposed keep watching or look away'


Up until this week, I have considered John Legend — who won his first time out with contestant Maelyn Jarmon — to be one of the best coaches in The Voice history. I’ve also believed that he has the best team of Season 18. But I am questioning John’s decision-making abilities after Monday’s final Season 18 Battle Rounds episode, when he bafflingly decided to pit the two best contestants on his team — nay, the two best contestants of this entire season — against each other.

We all remember 28-year-old Cedrice, a.k.a. “Ceyoncé.” The gorgeous, Sinéad-headed chanteuse made a major impression as the final Blind Audition of the season, when she slinked onto the stage, sizzling her way through “Fever” while Kelly Clarkson declared her “the hottest woman alive.” And during the Blinds, 23-year-old hip Hawaiian troubadour Thunderstorm, besides having the marquee-worthy name of a superstar, was so brilliant during his gentle cover of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” that even normally reticent host Carson Daly declared it one of the best Voice auditions he’d ever seen. So, for John to sacrifice either singer this soon made absolutely zero sense.

On the plus side, what was Team Legend’s loss was viewers’ gain. Cedrice and Thunderstorm’s duet of Rihanna and Mikky Ekko’s “Stay” was one of the most magical and sensual Battles of all time, and it was heartening to witness the mutual appreciation society between them. Thunderstorm described Cedrice’s voice as “silk” and “milk ‘n’ honey,” while Cedrice raved about the “clarity in [Thunderstorm’s] powerful moments.”

These two were generating some serious heat. The minute they started singing while sex-eyeing each other, Kelly gasped, “Whoa!” Raved Nick Jonas: “This was one the Battles I was most looking forward to seeing — and you guys did not disappoint. You guys were out of this world — and also incredibly intimate! I didn’t know if I was supposed keep watching or look away!”

John must have realized he’d made a big, dumb mistake. He told Cedrice, “You carry yourself like someone who should be on all sorts of stages — a supermodel, an actress. … And Thunderstorm, you have one of the most special voices I’ve ever been around. It’s raspy and angelic at the same time.” (“Like an angel that smokes,” Blake Shelton joked.) But John had to make a tough decision... and so, he went with smoking-angel Thunderstorm instead of the smoking-hot Cedrice.

But there was no way that Cedrice was going home so soon… especially after her thoughtful and moving elimination speech, when she told the coaches: “Whatever it is that you have all experienced — all the hardship, all the sacrifices — thank you for going through it to be here with us.” (I guess Cedrice can add “motivational speaker” to her list of talents/possible career opportunities.) So of course, Blake — the only coach with a Steal left at this point — swooped in to, as Carson put it, “save the day.” Even Blake’s rival coaches were delighted. “No one wanted you to go home,” Carson told Cedrice, speaking for all of America.

As the Season 18 Battles Rounds wrapped Monday, going into the episode Nick also still had a Steal, and Kelly had a Save… though she probably wishes she’d still had a Steal in play by the time Cedrice was available. Oh well. Here’s how the other Battles panned out:

TEAM NICK: Samuel Wilco vs. Arei Moon, “Missing You”

I have to commend Nick for this song choice. The John Waite breakup ballad — a massive hit in 1984 that is somehow little-heard nowadays — worked wonderfully for both very different singers, because its sense of yearning was something they could both latch onto. This was also a lot less old-fashioned than I feared it would be, even with one of this season’s oldest contestants (military man Samuel, who celebrated his 40th birthday during rehearsal week). The tension and interplay between Samuel and Arei’s vocal tones was masterful, and the coaches all agreed that this was an even match, But I was more impressed by Samuel, whose robust, forceful delivery just cut through the song. Ariel held her own, but she was more restrained, while Samuel’s desperation was palpable. “I made a mistake in pairing you together,” Nick lamented, as he faced his own tough choice. I think he also made a mistake in choosing Arei. Way to ruin Samuel’s birthday, Nick!

WINNER: Arei Moon

TEAM KELLY: Megan Danielle vs. Samantha Howell, “Top of the World”

At first this seemed like a Davey/Goliath situation: Samantha, the polished pro, versus Megan, the vocally untrained, small-town teen waitress. But as Kelly said, Megan was “raw in a really rad way.” The gritty, weathered texture of Megan’s voice worked perfectly with the Patty Griffin classic, more so than Samantha’s pristine, bell-clear tone. And because she related its lyrics of regret to her own experience with her once-estranged father, Megan connected in a way that Samantha did not. (“It felt like it was your story, like it was your life,” Nick told Megan.) The rehearsal mentorship with guest adviser Dua Lipa was actually Megan’s first-ever singing lesson, but she’s a quick study. Kelly appreciated that as well as Megan’s fighting spirit and ability to “use her nerves as fuel,” and Kelly declared Megan the “dark horse” of the season. But while Megan was the underdog victor, Samantha was too good to let go just yet, so Kelly used her Save — thus sending Samantha off to that weird four-way Knockout against Team Blake’s Todd Michael Hall, Team Nick’s Michael Williams, and Team Legend’s Nelson Cade III. Samantha’s pretty, lilting tone could get drowned out by those three men… or she might stand out and prevail. Watch this space.

WINNER: Megan Danielle / SAVED: Samantha Howell moves to four-way Knockout

TEAM BLAKE: Jon Mullins vs. Todd Tilghman, “Ghost in This House”

Blake warned Jon and Todd that this Shenandoah song is “sacred to hardcore country music fans,” so it was a challenge for both singers. But I think both rose to the occasion. I had feared that Todd, whose adrenaline-bursting Bind Audition had him bouncing all over the stage like an overexcited toddler, wouldn’t be able to rein in all his giddy energy during this sorrowful ballad, but he absolutely did. By using that manic energy for good, he gave his performance a slightly unhinged quality that made him more believable than Jon. This apparently wasn’t going to be a Davey/Goliath situation, with four-chair Todd predictably beating out one-chair Jon. But then… Nick stole Jon! Nick felt an emotional connection from Jon as well, and as he noted, “You can’t teach that.”

WINNER: Todd Tilghman / SAVED: Jon Mullins moves to Team Nick

TEAM LEGEND: Brittney Allen vs. Zan Fiskum, “Closer to Fine”

This Indigo Girls classic (again, another great, slightly leftfield ‘80s song choice!) certainly seemed more suited for singer-songwriter type Zan than for pop diva Brittney. I’m not sure if this apples/oranges pairing worked on such a harmonies-driven tune. The coaches all gushed about their “camaraderie” and “teamwork” and “seamless interweaving,” but I thought this duet, if you can even call it that, sounded messy and disjointed until they finally gelled at the end. However, in the moments when I could actually discern the individual ladies’ voices in the mix, Zan, as expected, was stronger. John even compared Zan to his above-mentioned previous winner, Maelyn, and he sent her through.

WINNER: Zan Fiskum

TEAM KELLY: Sara Collins vs. Mandi Thomas, “My Baby Loves Me”

I wouldn’t have expected a classically trained opera singer like Mandi to know her way around a Martina McBride ’90s country classic, but she sings Heart’s “Barracuda” in her cover band back home, so clearly she can take on anything. Sara, a country singer by trade, was a better performer here, but Mandi was a vocal goddess. My one concern with Mandi going forward is while she’s one of those “can sing the phone book” type of contestants, on shows like The Voice, having an identity is important — so she still might get lost in the shuffle.

WINNER: Mandi Thomas

TEAM KELLY: Jules vs. Tayler Green, “Water Under the Bridge”

TEAM NICK: Jacob Miller vs. Kevin Farris, “Lights Up”

Man. I thought we’d made it through the Battles with nary a montage, but apparently not. I don’t understand why producers wouldn’t show full performances by the coolest contestants from each of these teams. But — based on their previous auditions — it seemed the right two singers respectively prevailed.

WINNERS: Tayler Green, Jacob Miller

Next week, the Knockout Rounds will commence and the remaining contestants will be Mega-Mentored by… JAMES TAYLOR! Yes, none other than the legendary Sweet Baby James himself. See you then.

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