Shelton shades original ‘Voice’ rival during final Battle Rounds

Blake Shelton on ‘The Voice.’ (Photo: Tyler Golden/NBC via Getty Images)

The final Battle Rounds of The Voice Season 23 — and Blake Shelton’s final Battle Rounds ever — took place Tuesday, but one of the performances wasn’t much of a “battle” at all.

Midway through the episode, host Carson Daly announced that Alex Whalen, the bearded British country crooner who’d memorably auditioned with “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” had not made it to this particular night: He’d mysteriously dropped out, seemingly at the last minute. The contestant who was supposed to be Alex’s Battle partner, Neil Salsich, therefore performed solo — and advanced to the Knockout Rounds by default.

“Man, if you lose this Battle, it will be the worst fail in history! I mean, this will be some Adam Levine-level failure stuff,” Blake joked to Neil — a funny full-circle moment, as Blake seized possibly his last opportunity to throw shade at the fellow original coach that he’d regularly teased and mocked during his first 16 seasons on The Voice.

In some past seasons when a Voice contestant left the show between the Blind Auditions and Live Playoffs, producers solved the problem by staging a three-way Battle or Knockout. There was only one other time in the series’ history when a singer automatically advanced to the next round after their partner withdrew, and that was in Season 14. At press time, representatives for The Voice had not yet responded to Yahoo Entertainment’s request for comment about Alex’s disappearance, and Alex had not posted anything on social media in two weeks. However, Blake commented Tuesday: “Alex had personal reasons that he had to bow out of the competition. It’s never easy to see artists going home.”

But while Alex Whalen surely would have had fun doing Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” even a short snippet of Tuesday’s one-man Battle performance made it clear that that he would not have beat Neil — a four-chair contestant with “a ton of charisma” who, even solo, still performed like he was fighting for a spot in the Knockouts. As Blake put it, Neil “really did own the moment. He blew the coaches away.” I am sure even Adam Levine would agree.

Tuesday’s other two-way Battles all went according to plan, but there was another surprise in store — this time, a happy one — when Niall Horan’s contestant 

Talia Smith made a special announcement right after being eliminated. Read on for more about that and the night’s other performances.

TEAM NIALL: Jerome Godwin III vs. Talia Smith, “Like I Can”

Both of these singers, despite being Team Niall’s “two big voices,” struggled with this song; Jerome even hit one Peter “Time to Change” Brady-esque bum note while rehearsing. Sam Smith is never easy to emulate, of course — so Niall just advised them to not even try and instead adapt the song to their own styles with some creative inflections and melody changes. After the duo’s actual performance, Niall admitted that there were “pitch issues across the board,” but he ultimately rewarded Jerome for improving since rehearsals. However, Talia, who’d suffered a miscarriage shortly before going on The Voice, took her defeat well, turning it into a sweet and triumphant moment. “This whole journey started with a sad story, and now I’m standing here and my whole life has changed, so I’m just grateful. … I want my future baby to look onstage and be like, ‘That was my mommy,’” Talia said, grinning and rubbing her belly like Beyoncé at the 2011 VMAs or Rihanna at this year’s Super Bowl. Kelly Clarkson gasped, “Did she say ‘baby’?” — to which Niall exclaimed, “I think she just announced that!”

WINNER: Jerome Godwin III

TEAM KELLY: JB Somers vs. Rachel Christine, “Light On”

These strong singers were equally matched on Maggie Rogers’s Americana ballad; their harmonies were so pretty that Kelly even told them, “Y’all should form a group!” However, Rachel’s syrupy, sultry tone was more unique (and more suited to the tune). Chance the Rapper, who’d turned for both contestants in the Blinds, even declared Rachel the “clear winner” of this Battle who could eventually “win the whole show.” I was hoping that Blake, the only coach with a Steal left in play, would save JB, since Kelly admitted that she’d never envisioned that JB would exit the show this early. But that just illustrates what a competitive season this is.

WINNER: Rachel Christine

TEAM CHANCE: NOIVAS vs. Ray Uriel, “Jealous Guy”

Doing the Donny Hathaway version of the John Lennon classic (one of the first songs Chance ever sampled), these soul stylists were so supercool, it was obvious that this Battle would end in a Steal — and not just because this was the final Battle of Season 23, there were only 10 minutes left in the episode, and Blake still hadn’t used his Steal. But anyway, it all worked out. Blake nabbed not only the on-brand contestant wearing the cowboy hat and rodeo belt buckle, but the four-chair contestant that Chance had prevented him from recruiting during the Blind Auditions. “I didn’t steal him; I just brought him back home. If Chance hadn’t used that stupid Block earlier, this would have never happened,” Blake said smugly.

WINNER: Ray Uriel / STOLEN: NOIVAS moves to Team Blake.

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