Casey Muessigmann, Carson Daly and Terry McDermott on "The Voice." (Tyler Golden / NBC )
Push your button if you love "the steal." Yeah, me too. "The Voice's" new battle round gimmick is the best thing to happen to the show since, well, since I honestly don't know when.
Any fears that the competition's new twist would make the show feel drawn-out and dull were instantly scuttled when this season's battle round began Monday night. As before, each coach would pick two members of his or her team to sing a song of that coach's choosing, going head to head – toe to toe – on a boxing-ring-like stage. Each coach would rehearse with the contestants, offering guidance to shape the performances with the help of a famous-musician guest mentor: Team Adam had Mary J. Blige; Team Blake, Michael Buble; Team Cee Lo, Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas; and Team Christina, Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, pre-onstage-meltdown and rehab.
In past seasons, after the singers performed, the other coaches would give sort of halfhearted responses and the coach in the hot seat would pick one contestant to keep and one to send home. This year, the other coaches can snap up a contestant who has been sent home by another coach in order to fill two spare slots on each team. If more than one coach wants a discarded contestant, the contestant gets to pick the coach whose team he or she will join, just like in the blind auditions.
Sounds simple enough – and certainly we knew it would feel good to see talented singers given a second chance. But I, personally, hadn't predicted how much it would juice up the proceedings. While in the past, coaches sometimes seemed to be strategically holding back their praise for other coaches' team members, now they are motivated to praise talented performers in hopes of "stealing" them for their own team.
That meant we got to see Adam Levine stand on his chair, Cee Lo Green fret and worry that he may have just given away an eventual winner, and all four of the coaches battering the heck out of those poor "steal" buttons. At some point, I think Christina Aguilera even beat hers with a folding fan.
In other words, these battle rounds were unexpectedly exciting. Add to that the elimination of the tedious scenes in which a coach sits around with his or her entire team and pairs team members off one by one, you got one tight and tense two hours.
Here's who battled:
Pairing: Casey Muessigmann, unflatteringly described as a "former overweight wrestler," versus Terry McDermott, a veteran musician from Scotland who had some success with the band Driveblind before it broke up
The song: Kansas, "Carry on Wayward Son"
Thoughts going in: Despite the show's attempt to build suspense by underscoring Muessigmann's potential for growth and scrappy fighter instinct, it was hard to see how McDermott – by far the more appealing and experienced singer – would not take this round, though I did appreciate Muessigmann's enthusiastic butt-spank (a habit Shelton said he found most endearing during blind auditions) on the way in.
The performances: Muessigmann gave it his all, and he wasn't bad, but McDermott looked like a star.
The response: The other coaches praised both contestants, calling Shelton's decision tough. It really didn't seem that tough for Shelton, though. McDermott, he said, knew his voice a bit better than Muessigmann and so won the battle.
Winner: Terry McDermott
Pairing: Bryan Keith, offspring of a Grammy-winning musician, versus Collin McLoughlin, NYU grad-school dropout
The song: Sublime, "Santeria"
Thoughts going in: Levine complimented McLoughlin's "razor-sharp" pitch but noted that he needed more "danger." The song seemed much more in Keith's comfort zone.
The performances: The singers were a lesson in contrasts: McLoughlin was all crisp, bouncy enthusiastic and Keith all gritty, laid-back cool.
The response: Shelton, at least, said he would have picked McLoughlin, but Levine preferred Keith's interpretation.
Winner: Bryan Keith
Steal? Yes! Green and Shelton vied for the steal, but given that Green had named Keith the battle round winner, McLoughlin decided Shelton was the new coach for him.
Team Cee Lo
Pairing: Rough-around-the-edges Peruvian hottie Diego Val versus cute, polished Alaskan YouTube star J.R. Aquino
The song: Rick Springfield, "Jessie's Girl"
Thoughts going in: Val seemed to have his work cut out for him, struggling to learn a song he'd never heard before in a language that is not his native tongue.
The performances: These guys came ready to battle, psyching each other out and trying to upstage each other. As expected, Aquino was cleaner, but Val had done his homework, arrived ready and was the more interesting performer to watch.
The response: The coaches differed on which contender took it, but Green said he thought Val had more for him to work with and was a truer "extension" of his tastes.
Winner: Diego Val