Night Two of The Voice Season 12 Battle Rounds – What the Heck was That?

Night two of The Voice season 12 battle rounds


Night two of The Voice season 12 battle rounds started out fine.  It really did.  The beginning patter between coaches Alicia Keys and Blake Shelton teaming up against Adam Levine was a funny bit.  (Plus, Blake and Alicia did seem to swap artists in Monday’s episode.  There actually may have been a grain of truth in that sketch!)

Still, we all know these little side skits are set up the way all of “reality” television is.  They don’t use scripts per se, it’s more like certain ideas and scenarios are decided on for filmed improv scenes.  For instance, Blake calling Adam Billy Idol like it’s a bad thing.   Logic says that if Blake knows enough to know Adam’s dyed hair is similar to Idol he know it’s really a compliment.  (Now, the later shots about “Zac” from Saved by the Bell were funny!)

However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing authentic and unplanned going on.  In particular, the reactions to the performances do happen spontaneously.  When the show isn’t live though, things can be edited out.  This leads me to a serious question: what the heck were the producers thinking for this episode?

Night Two of The Voice Season 12 Battle Rounds – What the Heck was That?

If you watched night two of The Voice season 12 battle rounds you likely already know what I’m talking about.  The incident was completely inappropriate – on a few levels.   If you didn’t see it, what happens takes place in the second battle.  (I’ll discuss the other battles  more in a separate recap because the performances we saw were all good and the chance to be seen on The Voice is a shot that these singers have worked hard for.)

For the second battle coach Alicia Keys paired two r&b guys, 18-year-old RJ Collins from Chicago, Illinois &  27-year-old Chris Blue from Knoxville, Tennessee.

Night two of The Voice Season 12 battle rounds

RJ Collins & Chris Blue
Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC

Both men have been doing music from a young age and been through tough times.  RJ’s brother was killed by the police when RJ was 10.  Since then RJ has used music to keep out of trouble and honor his brother’s memory.  Chris’s fiance is from England and battles bone marrow cancer, and had “recently flatlined” during a procedure.

The young men were thrilled to see that Alicia’s advisor was DJ Khaled.  For those not into the genre, he’s one of hottest producers of hip-hop right now, described as the Quincy Jones of hip-hop, and also a fountain of positivity and advice that first blew up on Snapchat.

In terms of the level of talent Alicia’s team members brought to the room,  DJ Khaled & Alicia compared RJ’s sound to the 90’s group Jodeci  and Chris to Marvin Gaye.  This clearly was gonna be a tough pairing and a great battle – and it was.   That’s what made what happened next so out of line.  



There was nothing “cute” about Gwen’s comments after the battle.   The instant reaction from her fellow coaches suggests everyone in the room knew just how inappropriate her statements were. (Adam’s sharp “whoa” was the most telling.)

Night two of The Voice season 12 battle rounds


That Racial Tension Thing

If the coaches looked uncomfortable in that moment, can you imagine what it was like for those men standing up there? After singing their hearts out and expecting to hear about their vocal performance they’re told Gwen wasn’t listening to their voices because she was “mesmerized” by Chris’s body.  Sure, she gets bright red with embarrassment and says she didn’t mean it “like that” – but two seconds later she’s right back on the topic about how Chris was physically so distracting!  Clearly there was some level of “like that” going on.

Now, there is nothing at all wrong with interracial attractions and relationships.  People like what they like and love who they love.  In other circumstances, at a nightclub or concert for instance, Gwen thinking Chris is hot and saying in effect, “wow, he’s the greatest dancer”  wouldn’t be a blip on my screen.

What makes Gwen’s comments plain wrong is that she’s a coach on The Voice!  She has the right to weight in on his performance as to whether he should stay or go as well as the ability to save him with a steal if necessary.   It’s the equivalent of a college professor commenting on a student in his class.

Poor Chris does his best to get through this.  Unfortunately, Blake, in trying to lighten the moment, actually made it worse. Teasing Chris as if this situation is somehow Chris’s fault isn’t funny for a young black man from Tennessee.  Notice that Chris apologizes to Blake the first time Blake makes the joke, and when it happens again actually tells Blake, “I don’t want no trouble.”

There’s an entire history of black men being accused of messing with a white guy’s woman – just for incidentally being in the same room with her.  Such things never ended well.  So being scolded because a white guy’s girlfriend expressed she thought his body was distracting – even as a joke – carries an uncurrent of possible threat.  Of course it’s not a physical one, but you certainly don’t want to upset a coach who could effect your staying on the show.  Blake was only trying to save the situation and make it entertaining, but what a mess!

Adam does manage to steer the conversation back to the musical performances, but then Gwen still has more to say!  Turning her attention to RJ  she tells him she didn’t know he was just 18 years old because he looks, “like a man.”  Watching all of this play out was the first time I have ever seen The Voice go off the rails in terms of focusing on and respecting the artists.

Racial Issues, Not Racist Ones

At this point, someone is thinking to themselves, “is she calling Gwen Stefani a racist?”  No, I’m not.  What I am talking about is the white privilege of being able to believe race doesn’t matter.  After our most recent election, it’s more important than ever to be able to talk about race, its myths, assumptions, and the times where those things can affect our judgement.  Not discussing them is how situations like the statement below can occur.

In a misguided attempt to appreciate other cultures, many socially progressive folks end up exoticizing and, as a result, dehumanizing people of different cultures.

That’s what it felt like watching this unfold.  It was an “exoticizing” of Chris and to a lesser extent, RJ.  However, there have been far worse examples of this.  For instance,  this was far from being a Lena Dunham/Odell Beckham, Jr. level disaster.  Gwen certainly wasn’t making assumptions about Chris’s thoughts and projecting her personal insecurities on him.  She had no expectations of him reciprocating anything with her.  Nevertheless, some of the discussions around that incident do fit the uncomfortable energy that leaped off the screen.

Part of Dunham’s apology was about ignoring the long history  regarding “the over-sexualization of Black male bodies.”   In truth she didn’t ignore it so much as not even consciously think about it.  The scenario was all about her thoughts and feelings about Beckham, not about how her statements could make him uncomfortable or where her projections were coming from.  The same could be said about Gwen’s responses.

The Difference Between Saying Something is Sexy and Sexualizing a Performance

None of this commentary is suggesting a coach speaking about a performer’s looks or dance moves are to be avoided.  Looks, stage presence, charisma, being able to move and use the stage well –  the packaging is always going to matter in show business.  In fact in a later battle, Blake talks about how he could hear the young girls squealing for Dawson Cole.  

Night two of The Voice season 12 battles - Dawson Colyle

Dawson Coyle during his battle performance
(Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC)

Adam said Dawson looked like “a young Russell Crowe.  When (spoiler alert)  Alicia steals him from team Blake she lists three factors that had her steal him: the tones within his voice, she didn’t have anyone in his musical lane on her team, and she could tell the girls were going to love him!

Other example of appreciating the performers overall.  Adam calling Sammie Zonana from team Gwen “bad*ss” in her leather jacket.  The most notable example is during the first day of the blind auditions. Alicia was having a whole bunch of reactions to the tall, dark and handsome JChosen. What’s the difference? Those reactions started before she even turned her chair around!  That’s because it was his voice singing the Marvin Gaye classic song “Sexual Healing” that got to her.   The feelings evoked start with the music and vocals and those are the focus of her evaluation.

In contrast, what Gwen did was make Chris’s vocal performance irrelevant.  If the genders were reversed – say it was Blake commenting like that about a woman – there would be nothing okay about it.  People would say he was discounting the woman’s talent and comparing him to our 45th president’s infamous commentary about women.

The Wrap Up: The Voice Season 12 has a Problem

This editorial started out talking about the reality TV aspect of what we see on The Voice.  The reason for that was to remind us that what is aired – unless it’s live – is chosen for viewers to see.  Night two of The Voice season 12 battle rounds weren’t live.  Irregardless of how Gwen reacted in the actual filming we didn’t have to see it.  We saw it because someone decided it would be a good idea to air that painfully awkward feedback.  It wasn’t. Doing so took the focus from the performers and actual battle.

They could have edited the worst out from that battle’s aftermath.  The lost time could have been made up by adding to one of the montages of other battles.  Instead the segment about RJ’s and Chris’s battle became about Gwen Stefani, her relationship with Blake Shelton, and the uncomfortableness that permeated the air. The choice made about this is indicative of what’s dragging down the season.

Here’s the Problem with The Voice season 12

Night two of The Voice season 12 battle rounds has shown that harping on the fact that Gwen and Blake are in a romantic relationship, does nothing but disrupt the purpose of the show.  There’s a certain irony in that last season people worried about the controversial Miley Cyrus.  That season went off without a hitch.  It’s this season that feels less “family friendly.”

With Miley, the show actually increased its attention to the artists and the music.  Whatever her history outside the show, on The Voice she proved to be an injection of renewed passion for exploring genres of music and working with new artists.  The producers decision to drop the competition’s age limit to 13, perhaps in an attempt to hold the younger audience that returned in season 11, can’t create that.  Miley, as well as Alicia Keys, brought in the understanding of the younger crowd’s cultural aesthetics musically – as well as with certain world views. Those things influenced their choices as coaches – which impacted the show.  It had nothing to do with the age of the contestants.

From the beginning The Voice distinguished itself from other vocal competitions by having: an atmosphere of genuine respect for the artists, a real interest in helping the artists blossom, a fun and friendly competition to win the game.  The show still has these elements at its core.  However, this season these values are being obscured by trying to highlight the connection between Gwen and Blake.  As the season moves forward The Voice will hopefully drop this and become more consistent with what has always worked.


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