The Voice Season 17 Battle Rounds commenced Monday, with a new set of mentors (Usher, Darius Rucker, Normani, and wil.i.am) and a new rule allowing coaches to save one contestant each from elimination. But before all that, there were a few more Blind Auditions, including one by this season’s new heartthrob, Matthew McQueen. This guy may not be related to Steve McQueen, but he had undeniable badass star power – with a pretty face, a pretty voice to match, and just the right amount of darkness and edge.
“He kind of looks like a combination of Tom Cruise and Christian Bale. You’re like a very handsome movie villain,” John Legend told Matthew. “Like a vampire. You could be in a vampire movie,” added Kelly Clarkson, who seemed a little flustered as she called the 21-year-old indie-pop crooner “so cool and sexy – I mean, not in a weird way, just like in a casual way.” Blake Shelton compared Matthew’s modern-sounding vocals to that of another heartthrob, Shawn Mendes. So I guess music really was in Matthew’s, um, blood.
“This guy is on the wrong reality show. Ship him to The Bachelorette,” tweeted one fan who clearly agreed with Kelly’s “cool and sexy” assessment. “The McQueen kid from #thevoice looks like somebody from a movie and I cannot figure it out,” posted another viewer. (UPDATE: That stumped tweeter eventually concluded that Matthew looked like Peter Facinelli.) And another fan tweeted, “I don’t wanna like Matthew McQueen, but dang, I really do.” Because everyone likes a good TV villain, I guess.
Matthew’s cover of artist-of-the-moment Lewis Capaldi’s weeper “Someone You Loved” was haunting, and not just because he looked like Lestat while singing it. And it was actually not villainous — it was sweet and aching. I was impressed by Matthew’s sense of dynamics, how he started soft and subtle and then built the song to its anguished crescendo, rather than starting at full volume. This was a sophisticated and nuanced performance. “You got better and better and you kept it classy, you kept it tasteful. When you get into that rasp — like, whew,” Kelly marveled.
It seemed like Kelly might be on her way to a third victory by scoring Matthew on her team, but unfortunately for her, Blake also turned around. And Blake made a very good case, noting that three of his past six winners were not country singers and telling Matthew, “It doesn’t matter what lane your coach is in. It’s what lane your coach can put you in.” Combine that sage slogan with the fact that Grandma McQueen had dreamed that Blake would turn for Matthew, and it was a done deal. Now Blake might win again with another non-country artist. “With his range and his pocket — this guy is a threat to this entire competition,” Blake proclaimed.
As for the other three successful auditioners of the night, they may not ultimately pose as big a threat as Mr. McQueen, but they were all good last-minute additions to the cast.Team Legend’s Zoe Upkins, a 16-year-old pop/soul singer and the goddaughter of late Christian artist Sarah Gaines, wasn’t particularly distinctive vocalist and she struggled with her overly trebly power notes, but she sounded super-mature on Monica’s “Angel of Mine” and had tons of raw potential. So did two other 16-year-olds: Team Kelly song stylist Gracee Shriver, whose rich and resonant voice on Kacey Musgraves’s “Rainbow” belied her dorky, girlish, aw-shucks personality, and rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse Caroline Reilly, whose mighty wail on Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” sounded like that of “a 35-year-old woman,” according to Caroline’s coach, Gwen Stefani.
And then, without even so much as a pause for a “Best of the Blinds” clip show… it was on the Battles!
Team Legend: Khalea Lynee vs. Zoe Upkins, “The Boy Is Mine”
Khalea, age 36, gave one of the best (four-chair) auditions of this entire season, so I thought she would positively annihilate little Zoe, a girl with literally 20 years’ less life and professional experience. I also thought it would be weird, maybe even icky, to see what looked like a mother/daughter duo having a fight over some imaginary man. But this was a surprisingly well-matched Battle. Both of them were selling the drama, bringing the attitude, and commanding the stage. I of course preferred the more seasoned and confident Khalea, but I do have to commend Zoe for not being intimidated by the situation and for mostly holding her own. Three of the coaches saw Zoe’s potential, with both Kelly and Gwen trying to steal her and John, realizing that he’d “messed up” by pairing these two in the first place, using his one Save. I was surprised that Zoe opted to stay with John (when a similar Save function was implemented in last season’s ill-fated Cross-Battles, the almost-eliminated singer usually switched teams), but he did seem sincerely contrite here.
WINNER: Khalea / SAVED: Zoe stays on Team Legend
Team Blake: Josie Jones vs. Kat Hammock, “Country Road”
The outcome of this Battle definitely shocked me. Josie was an early favorite (her auditioned was “leaked” on YouTube to generate buzz); the John Denver song choice seemed better suited for Josie’s old-school country style; and Kat’s delicate whisper was all but drowned out by Josie’s aggressive twang. I thought Kat was doomed… but the coaches all realized she was the more intriguing sleeper contestant. John liked Kat’s “weird” and “distinct” voice, and Blake, before surprisingly letting Josie go, explained, “Kat, what comes out of your mouth is just like this phenomenon. At the end of the day, there’s nobody else like you, and congratulations on that, because to be unique at this point in music is impossible.”
Team Kelly: Melinda Rodriguez vs. Shane Q, “Too Good at Goodbyes”
This power-singer pair-up closed the night in epic style, although I thought Shane overdid sometimes, shouting and showing off. Apparently he didn’t get the memo from Matthew McQueen and Kat Hammock that sometimes less is more. Maybe Kelly didn’t get that memo either, because instead of picking Melinda, whose jazzy and effortless performance had more layers to it, Kelly was dazzled by Shane’s vocal acrobatics. Kelly must have quickly realized that letting Melinda go so soon would be a big loss for her team, so she used her Save. John used his Steal, and he tried to woo Melinda by mentioning that he used to arrange music in college… but then Kelly pointed out that while John was in college, she was winning a certain rival singing show that shall not be named. Oh, snap.
WINNER: Shane / SAVED: Melinda stays on Team Kelly
Come back Tuesday, when the Battle Rounds continue apace.
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