'Stop, I don't like that': John Legend keeps it real on 'The Voice'

It takes a lot to tick off the cucumber-coolest, calmest, and most collected coach on The Voice, John Legend. But every once in a while, he’ll practice some Adam Levine-like tough love. Voice diehards may recall that time when a contestant screwed up the words to one of his songs, back when he was an adviser in 2017, and he was none too pleased. And this Monday, as Season 16’s new full-time cast member, a stankfaced John wasn’t afraid to call out two of his team members when he wasn’t feeling the magic during their Battle Rounds rehearsal of a popular Police song.

Young contestants Jacob Maxwell and Talon Cardon were understandably intimidated by their EGOT-winning coach and his team adviser, five-time Grammy nominee Khalid, and they became even more nervous when John halted them halfway through their “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” run-through and barked, “Stop! I don’t like that harmony choice. I don’t think it works.”

On a coddling show like The Voice, which has historically eschewed reality TV’s typical Simon Cowell-style approach for an enabling, everybody-gets-a-cookie, feelgood vibe, John’s bluntness was admittedly refreshing. But he should have taken some responsibility for this Battle’s failure — because it was his song choice. Why the Police? Because both Jacob and Talon are the sons of cops? Well, they’re both waiters, too — why not have them do Billy Joel’s “Scenes From Italian Restaurant” while they’re at it? John explained that he wanted to see how these guys would fare on a more uptempo tune, but Sting is a very specific stylist and not easy to emulate.

In the ring, the guys worked out their wonky harmonies, for the most part, aside from Talon’s one unfortunate voice-crack. My attention gravitated towards Jacob, who radiated a Harry Stylish star quality, although John claimed he ultimately went for Jacob because of that singer’s rounder, fuller tone. Whatever the reason for John’s verdict, I do think Jacob, who is two years older than Talon, benefited more from John’s constructive criticism. And I still think he could be Season 16’s heartthrob. But I also don’t think he should do any more Police songs.

These were other Battles of the night:

Team Legend: Betsy Ade vs. Lisa Ramey, “The Joke”

Brandi Carlile is an exquisite singer, so these ladies had their work cut out for them taking on the Grammy darling’s poignant protest ballad. I wasn’t expecting much from Lisa, who had unsuccessfully auditioned for the show before and, frankly, hadn’t impressed me much during her second try this season. But she did surprise me here. Still, I thought Betsy, despite one flubbed note, better captured the song’s essence with her more fiery approach, which reminded me of the Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan. After John picked Lisa, I figured Betsy was doomed due to her error … but then a forgiving Kelly Clarkson swooped in for the Steal, and it all made sense. Team Kelly is really where Betsy belonged from the start.

Winner: Lisa / Steal: Betsy moves to Team Kelly

Team Adam: Mari vs. Anthony Oritz, “I Like Me Better When I’m With You”

It was no surprise that “little superstar” Mari, whom Adam’s adviser Charlie Puth compared to Esperanza Spalding, won this Battle. As John put it, the spunky singer “took ownership” of the song with her sparkling vocals, plus her adorkable stage presence was delightful. Meanwhile, Anthony’s energy lagged throughout, and his nerves clearly got the better of him. I liked Mari better when she was without Anthony — to loosely quote this Lauv song — and Adam liked her better, too.

Winner: Mari

Team Blake: Hannah Kay vs. Andrew Sevener, “Tequila”

It’s probably not a good sign for this Battle’s victor, Andrew, that this performance did not air in full. But even from what little was shown, it was obvious that Andrew’s robust voice was much better suited for this ACM-winning Dan + Shay song. Was Hannah intimidated because of the crush she’d had on her coach, Blake Shelton, since she was 6 years old? She simply wasn’t ready for prime time. But Andrew probably isn’t ready either, based on this brutal edit. I doubt he will make it to the Live Playoffs.

Winner: Andrew

Team Kelly: Abby Kasch vs. Jackson Marlow, “Bring on the Rain”

This was another montaged Battle, so we can all assume that Abby and Jackson were not exactly at a Jo Dee Messina/Tim McGraw level. I did think Jackson had the stronger, more professional, and more recordable voice, although Abby showcased some interesting, inventive runs. I would have gone with Jackson — and I was surprised Kelly didn’t, considering her boldly proclaimed, season-long mission to win The Voice with a male country artist. I guess she just didn’t think Jackson was the male country artist who could get her to the winner’s circle.

Winner: Abby

Team Kelly: David Owens vs. Rebecca Howell, “Unchained Melody”

Simon Cowell would probably blanch to hear his old American Idol Season 1 protégé Kelly refer to one of his favorite songs as being by LeAnn Rimes, not by the Righteous Brothers. But I digress. In general, this was a smart middle-ground song choice for country singer Rebecca and soulman David. I liked what Blake called the distinctive “Joe Cocker rattle” in David’s voice, but there was no denying Rebecca’s sheer lung power. “I love a big, powerful female, especially in country music. … Those are the women I grew up listening to,” said Kelly. Thankfully, there was a space waiting for David on the Island of Misfit Toys, a.k.a. the online-only Comeback Stage overseen by fifth coach Bebe Rexha. Read on for more about that.

Winner: Rebecca / Steal: David moves to Team Bebe

Team Adam: Jimmy Mowery vs. Kalvin Jarvis, “U Got It Bad”

As usual, the episode saved its most epic Battle for last. Kalvin had a big, booming, bodacious voice, but Jimmy’s crisp, stylized tone was never overpowered during this evenly matched performance. And both men exhibited tons of swag on this Usher ballad. (That sexy shoutout to Kelly was a nice touch, and she was loving it.) I had it bad for both of them, but I preferred the more charismatic Kalvin, as did Adam. Still, I knew from the start that neither of these guys would be going home tonight.

Winner: Kalvin / Steal: Jimmy moves to Team Legend

Team Bebe: David Owens vs. Kanard Thomas

But wait, Kalvin vs. Jimmy wasn’t the final Battle of the night! Over in the Lay’s Recording Lounge on YouTube, there was still some business to take care of. Powerhouse David went with an old-school bluesy take on Eric Hutchinson’s “OK, It’s Alright With Me,” and he gave Bebe goosebumps. Cruise ship crooner Kanard went the sexy route with another Usher hit, “Burn,” and he once again showed a lot more promise than he had during his dull Blind Audition. Still, I was genuinely shocked that Bebe went with Kanard, because I thought David had the more special voice. But I probably shouldn’t have be so shocked, since I’ve rarely agreed with Bebe’s Comeback Stage decisions this season. Maybe the alcohol content in those Beer & Cheese-flavored Lay’s potato chips have clouded Bebe’s judgment.

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