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The Voice Live Cross Battles Recap: Were the Right Singers Paired Up?

TVLine — Charlie Mason

The Voice’s Knockouts went down for the count as Monday’s episode ushered in the NBC sing-off’s new round, the Live Cross Battles… which was actually a bit like the old round since it featured two contestants chosen by their coaches to perform two different numbers. But, unlike in the Knockouts, the competitors came not from the same team but from different ones, and the winners would be decided by overnight voting rather than the coaches. How did it all shake out? Read on…

Team Blake’s Kim Cherry performing “Poison” (Grade: C-) took on Team Kelly’s Betsy Ade performing “You Oughta Know” (Grade: D) | For the show’s first Cross Battle, Blake Shelton put in Kim and challenged reigning champ Kelly Clarkson to send in an opponent. She went with her rocker to go against his rapper. And based on Kim’s performance, it sounded like Betsy should have this in the bag. Kim’s singing was a little all over the place, sometimes good, sometimes just sloppy; her rapping was better. When it was Betsy’s turn… oh dear. She sounded throughout the verse like she was going in and out of pitch (and often out of breath to boot). She regained her footing a little — but only a little — on the big choruses. Not great. And you know how you know it was a bad match-up? Blake started his critique by saying that the duo sure looked like they were having fun. When it was Adam Levine’s turn to talk, he focused as much on how well Betsy had taken off her jacket as on either contestants’ singing.

Team Adam’s Mari performing “My My My” (Grade: C-) took on Team Blake’s Selkii performing “Torn” (Grade: D-) | Called upon to send in a warrior, Adam selected Mari, then admitted that he was going to challenge exactly the coach we’d expect him to: Blake, who’d been busying himself teasing his frenemy about his mohawk. First up, Mari sounded from the get-go stronger than Kim or Betsy had, which was a relief. None of us wanted a night of performances that ranged from iffy to really iffy. She ran into some trouble pitchwise on the bridge but righted herself for the chorus. Make that “the first chorus.” The second time around, she ran off the rails, letting the energy of her performance undermine her vocals. And considering how solid Selkii has been thus far in the contest, I suspected she’d just given her the win before her opponent had even sung a note. Buuut… when Selkii stepped behind the mic, she kinda talk-sang the verse — never my favorite — and, on the chorus… gee. She was a disaster. I hate to say that about a singer that I really like, but she was all over the map vocally and had more pitch problems than a baseball player about to be invited to leave the mound. Oof.

Team John’s Lisa Ramey performing “It Hurts So Bad” (Grade: B+) took on Team Kelly’s Karen Galera performing “Unfaithful” (Grade: C+) | For his first Cross Battle, John Legend sent in Lisa and elected to challenge Kelly, who tapped Karen to perform since she was so eager to hear the number that her contestant had been working on. As Lisa started singing, I crossed my fingers, held my breath and… whew. She started off pretty good — or compared to everyone else thus far, amazing. As she went on, her experience showed — she didn’t buckle under the pressure but delivered one massive round note after another. Was it vocally flawless? No. But it was damn impressive, exciting and head and shoulders above the rest of the singers at that point. When it was her turn, Karen delivered a performance that went from nicely controlled to good and growly to… eh, ultimately mediocre. Kelly, as she loves to, went on about Karen’s tone. But neither Karen nor her tone could hold a candle to Lisa’s performance Monday. Nonetheless, I feared that since older singers so often fare poorly with voters, Lisa might be the one in danger Tuesday, not Karen.

Team Kelly’s Matthew Johnson performing “Who’s Loving You?” (Grade: B) took on Team Adam’s Domenic Haynes performing “Damn Your Eyes” (Grade: A-) | When Kelly chose to send in her “beam of sunshine” Matthew, Adam struck back by choosing Domenic. This promised to be great! And oh, yeah! Once Matthew opened his mouth, I stopped grumbling to myself about how much I missed the vocal sweetening that the show was able to do on prerecorded performances. He sang like a soulful freight train, leaving all over the tracks behind him notes that were as sweet as caramel. Yeah, he kinda tripped on his last run, but big deal. This was overall a super solid performance. When Domenic took his turn, his first few notes were so sexy, I think I might be pregnant. As his performance went on, that raspy and raw quality that his vocals have served him tremendously well. And he was so, so, so into his performance, it was kinda breathtaking. I got chills, actually. I know some of you will probably say that he was too yelly, but damn. I loved it. He sang like a man possessed, and I just bought it hook, line and sinker.

Team Kelly’s Presley Tennant performing “Love On the Brain” (Grade: C) took on Team John’s Kayslin Victoria performing “Stay” (Grade: C+) | After recovering from Domenic singing right to her in the previous Cross Battle, Kelly got Presley off the bench, prompting John to send in his “pop ingenue.” I hated to hear that Presley was going to be doing Rihanna’s hit since Chris Blue’s rendition was so amazing, I haven’t been able to stand anyone else doing it since. But that said, Presley sang with great passion. Unfortunately, her voice often seemed to be bigger than she could control, so she sometimes shot straight out of pitch. She struck me as a strong singer in need of more training to properly manage the power of her pipes. Kayslin, too, made sure that we knew that she had a humongous voice. But she was so busy impressing us with the size of it that she occasionally dropped the reins and got a bit pitchy. In the final analysis, I preferred Kayslin’s performance. She probably doesn’t have Presley’s range, but she seemed to have at least a little more control over her vocals.

Team Adam’s Celia Babini performing “A Thousand Years” (Grade: D) took on Team Blake’s Oliv Blu performing “Gravity” (Grade: B-) | Once again, Adam was unable to resist challenging Blake. I just hoped that Celia would slay, because she was one of my absolute favorites of the season. Alas, she started a little flat, then got a little pitchy and, if I wasn’t mistaken, just crumbled from nerves. She still reminded us just how moving her voice could be, but that only made it all the sadder that so very much of this performance was so very bad. Heartbreaking. This was Oliv’s to lose. Not that she needed an easy win. On stage, she was poised and, for the most part, in control of her vocal. Not the most thrilling performance ever, but good — and light-years better than what poor Celia did. When it was Adam’s turn to speak afterwards, he encouraged viewers to imagine all the other things that his team member was besides the singer who’d just put her worst foot forward. John suggested that “A Thousand Years” hadn’t been Celia’s favorite kind of song to perform, and it had showed. Blake, in turn, praised Oliv for not over-singing, which actually seemed like it could pass for good advice for all the contestants: If you can’t go huge with a vocal, go smaller but do it well.

Team Blake’s Dexter Roberts performing “Believe” (Grade: B+) took on Team Adam’s Andrew Jannakos performing “Yours” (Grade: C-) | After being dared by his frenemy to do so, Blake once again challenged Adam, who decided to fight country with country. This didn’t seem like much of a battle, though, considering that Dexter was such an old pro, he’d already competed on American Idol, and Andrew was a newcomer. Regardless… I wasn’t nuts about the talk-singy way that Dexter handled the verse — I prefer my cheese on a pizza, thanks. However, his vocals soared into the stratosphere on the choruses, and he demonstrated as much polish as you’d see on a shiny new cowboy-belt buckle. I didn’t think this could possibly go well for Andrew. But he wasn’t terrible. He ran into some — OK, a lot of — pitch problems. However, when he was “on,” he was really on. And he sliced the cheese more thinly than Dexter, which I appreciated. Adam pointed out his team member’s range. It was just a shame that he wasn’t able to stay in pitch as he showed off that range. John even went so far as to say that Andrew had given the better performance. (Wha?)

Team John’s Maelyn Jarmon performing “Mad World” (Grade: A) took on Team Adam’s Rod Stokes performing “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” (Grade: B) | “Nobody’s gonna beat Maelyn, I’m telling you now,” said John before challenging Adam. And I had to agree with him. She’s my Season 16 frontrunner by a mile. Up first, Maelyn tackled the Tears for Fears ballad that (don’t judge me!) Riverdale made me love all the more. Need I mention that she performed beautifully? She just bends and twists and raises that immaculate voice of hers in ways that make me think she might well come from another planet. We Earthlings don’t deserve her. I felt bad for Rod going up against Maelyn, but he did really well, singing with a kinda Rod Stewart-y rasp and so much forcefulness that he practically didn’t need the mic. I might have faulted him for shouting the classic ballad, but he did it on pitch. And really, could ya blame him for taking his performance to the extreme in hopes of standing a chance against Maelyn? Didn’t think so. Adam tried to make “the story tonight” about Rod, but it seemed to me that, barring a Steal or a Save, that story was destined to come to an end Tuesday.

So, now that you’ve gotten a taste of the Live Cross Battles, are you hungry for more? Or did you miss the Knockouts format? Vote for your favorite of tonight’s performers below, then hit the comments.

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