The Voice Battle Rounds Kick Off: Kelsea Ballerini Steps in for Kelly Clarkson, Gets Just as Abused

Brandy, Dan + Shay, Luis Fonsi and Darren Criss join the Coaches as advisors — too bad they weren’t around to keep an early favorite from going home!

It’s time for eyes wide open on “The Voice” as we move into the Battle Rounds and everyone gets to see everything at all times.

And the first thing we all see is that Kelly got an incredibly meticulous makeover since the Blind Auditions. She looked like a whole different person; Kelsea Ballerini, in particular. Kelsea stepped in for Kelly to take over the round, though we’re not sure why Kelly couldn’t have just video-conferenced in. Maybe she was all snotty and congested.

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She was still able to enjoy some of the banter, as Kelsea was in constant contact with her, and even Blake called to tell her he didn’t believe she was sick at all — and that Kelsea was doing a terrible job in her stead.

We think Kelsea did pretty good, though, effectively using Kelly’s Steal. It was a night that saw a couple Steals and a Save, and we agree with almost all of those decisions. But there is one artist in particular we thought had a great night, and it wound up being their last on “The Voice.”

The Coaches brought in advisors for this round to help them hone the performances, and Kelly was around for that round, so she existed in that footage alongside her advisor, Luis Fonsi. Blake spent as much time cracking jokes with Dan + Shay and his contestants as he did Coaching them.

Brandy was in the interesting position of helping a duo tackle her song, and found herself so impressed with their arrangement, she said she was going to steal it for her shows. Meanwhile, Darren Criss had great insight for Nick’s team about performing to a camera as he did on “Glee,” considering we still don’t have a live audience.

Several of these singers really stepped up their games in this round, making the jobs tougher than ever, and this is only the first night of the Battle Rounds. Does it actually get better/harder from here?

Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Nick Jonas and Blake Shelton.

And just for fun, I’m going to rank the performances from worst to first to see who my favorites are, and then see how well they do as the season progresses.

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Christine Cain vs Pia Renee

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(Team Legend – “Baby,” Brandy) Credit to the both of them, they injected enough adult sensuality and energy into the song that Brandy wanted to crib it for her own performances. That’s a testament to their artistry, and Christine in particular for that. Pia definitely pushed herself to slide into what was coming more naturally for Christine, but in doing so, she was a little sharp a few times, and even hit a shrill moment. She’s got the pipes, but wasn’t accessing them as consistently as Christine. She worked harder to put on a show, for sure, and did win in that regard, as Christine was a little too mellow in her delivery. We’d actually give Pia the edge because she put in the work and got this much stronger already, whereas Christine was pretty level with rehearsal.

Results: Pia wins

Aaron Konzelman vs Connor Christian

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(Team Blake – “I Ain’t Living Long Like This,” Waylon Jennings) It’s always exciting when someone surprises you and really steps up beyond what you expected, and that’s exactly what Connor did on this. We really thought Aaron, who was so much more in his familiar comfort zone on the track, would just eat him alive, but that’s not what happened at all. With his signature rasp, Connor actually took full ownership of the song and began to dominate. Aaron wound up coming in a little under the band. Aaron sounded confident and solid, but Connor really took it to another level, so we’d have to give it to Connor.

Result: Connor wins

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Gaen Garcia vs Ryleigh Modig

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(Team Kelly – “pov,” Ariana Grande) Interestingly, as the song progressed it felt like Ryleigh was running away with it, having a stronger connection to the verses. But Gaen had such a stronger chorus than her, it felt like they evened up again. He’s got a bit of a bigger voice, while hers is more intimate and breathy, so they just fit different parts of the song. We’d give Ryleigh the edge because she felt a little more connected to the song, and expressed its nuances a little more movingly.

Result: Ryleigh wins; John, Nick steal Gean; Gean chooses Team Legend

Dana Monique vs Devan Blake Jones

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(Team Nick – “Stuck With U,” Ariana Grande & Justin Bieber) On paper, Dana had this one in the bag because she legitimately is a vocal force of nature. Unfortunately for Devan, it really was almost like going up against Aretha Franklin, because Dana was so polished and effortless in the moments big and small. Meanwhile, he had moments throughout, but at times he was just swallowed up by her power, by the song itself and by his own creeping insecurity. Dana was just undeniable on this one.

Result: Dana wins, Nick steals Devan

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Avery Roberson vs Ethan Lively

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(Team Blake – “Just Got Started Lovin’ You,” James Otto) We thought both would come up short in different ways, but then neither of them did. Ethan suddenly felt connected to the lyrics and had no problem rising to his higher register, while Avery brought more animation and energy to the piece, while perfectly navigating the trickier parts of this song’s range. It’s not an easy one to sing and project the proper storytelling emotions, but both of them pulled it off. Ethan is far more traditional country and was slightly more polished on this, while Avery is a more interesting country artist that makes you wonder what other influences he might be able to bring. Ultimately, though, for rising to the occasion, we’d barely (oh so barely) give the edge to Ethan, feeling confident that someone else would pick up Avery (as he’s got more artistic diversity).

Results: Avery wins; Kelsea steals Ethan

Awari vs Jose Figeuroa Jr

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(Team Nick – “You Say,” Lauren Daigle) This is one of the closest Battles this show has ever had, just an incredible performance by both of them. Each has their own unique style, with Awari coming full throttle with a barrel-chested vocal that can pull back and be tender on command. John, meanwhile, has a thinner more reedy voice, but one with lots of runs and tricks to add nuance and texture. At one point, it felt he overdid the runs just a bit, overshadowing the palpable emotion of their performance. And for that one very minor issue, we’d give Awari the slightest edge.

Result: Jose wins

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COACHES BANTER

  • “I was just gonna say that I like this show better already with you here Kelsea, instead of Kelly, but I take it back.” –Blake
  • “If I can give you any advice, don’t trust Blake.” –Kelly (to Kelsea)
  • “Kelsea, if you’re really going to be like Kelly, you have to talk a lot.” –John
  • “Maybe that’s why she’s not here … maybe she realized what a horrible mistake she made and didn’t want to deal with this decision.” –Blake (about Gean and Ryleigh being paired together)
  • “I was looking at this and realized I didn’t turn for either of you, and started questioning myself as a human being. Like, am I doing this right?’ –John (to Gean and Ryleigh)
  • “Since I’m keeping the seat warm for Kelly, I’m going to call her.” –Kelsea
  • “I didn’t know you could phone a friend!” –Nick
  • “This is my second season.” –Nick
  • “I won on my first season, but that’s neither here nor there.” –John
  • “You know I had to steal for you / Kelly didn’t even show up for you.” –John (to Gean after stealing him)
  • “I still think I would have been better for ‘10,000’ hours than Justin Bieber.” –Blake (to Dan + Shay)
  • “You never hit us back, man.” –Dan
  • “It would have been great to get even an email.” –Shay
  • “I don’t think I have your phone numbers … on purpose.” –Blake
  • “I hate to say this, but that song was perfect, Blake.” –Kelsea (about Connor vs Aaron)
  • “It was an accident.” –Blake
  • “You stumbled into greatness.” –Nick
  • “You are just a reflection of how terrible of a Coach Kelly is.” –Blake (to Kelsea)
  • “If you need a sub, like I’ll just put a wig [on], I can be Kevin or Joe.” –Darren
  • “I think you could pass as a Kevin.” –Nick
  • “My mom was like, ‘Who are you Battling?’ And I was like, ‘Aretha Franklin.’” –Devan (talking about Dana)
  • “I hate being around Blake, because I’m 6’2”. TV is incredible.” –Shay
  • “It’s not that hard to make me look stupid.” –Blake (to Ethan and Avery)

“The Voice” continues Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

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