We’re not even halfway through Season 14 of “The Voice,” but as the battle round episodes continued Monday night, it became clear: The real battle this season might actually be between Kelly Clarkson and Blake Shelton. For country singers.
It worked the best for Clarkson — although she’s best known as a pop star, she has some country credibility. She has collaborated on a few hit country songs including “Because of You,” a duet with her mother-in-law, Nashville royalty Reba McEntire. So not only is Clarkson knowledgeable about the genre, but she also has connections.
Monday’s episode went all in on Clarkson and Shelton’s country singers by featuring them in three different “battles,” where the coaches pit two team members against each other. One battle showcased Justin Kilgore, certainly a contestant to watch — the Texas singer was the final audition of the premiere, a sure sign that producers wanted viewers to pay attention. All the coaches wanted him, so badly that Keys even pulled out the “block” twist to stop Shelton from even trying to add Kilgore to his team. In the end, Kilgore went with Clarkson.
For the battle, Kilgore was paired with Georgia native Molly Stevens, who also chose Clarkson over Shelton during the auditions. They delivered an impressive take on Cam’s mournful ballad, “Burning House,” and Clarkson had a difficult time choosing between them. While she loved Stevens’s gritty vocals, she recognized that Kilgore’s powerful voice could stand out. So Kilgore moved on.
The episode also featured Kaleb Lee, a father of three who once attempted a Nashville career that didn’t pan out. Both Clarkson and Shelton went after him during auditions; Lee ultimately chose Shelton, using the excuse that his kids were big fans.
This time, Lee battled blues singer Pryor Baird with a duet of Tom Petty’s “Don’t Do Me Like That.” Although Shelton loved Lee’s gravelly “Texas, red dirt” voice that would work well on country radio, he decided to go with Baird. And guess who was right there when Lee got eliminated?
“THAT’S A STEAL!” roared host Carson Daly, as Clarkson hit the button to “steal” Lee for her team before he was sent home for good.
“I love that I have a country singer like you,” Clarkson gushed, as Shelton could only hope it’s not a Miley Cyrus-Chloe Kohanski situation, in which an almost-eliminated singer wins the whole show.
Shelton also advanced Jason Wilkes (known as just “Wilkes”), a songwriter who used to play in Sam Hunt’s band. And Shelton still has Dallas Caroline, a 17-year-old country singer who wowed all the judges in her audition. She hasn’t arrived yet in the battle rounds, which conclude on Tuesday night.
But now that Clarkson has at least two country artists who are serious contenders, it’s likely this Shelton vs. Clarkson story line will heat up. As viewers know, “The Voice” finale nearly always has a country singer, courtesy of Shelton — and they have a pretty excellent shot at winning the grand prize.