Spoilers below for the first night of Battle Rounds on The Voice, Season 20.
As The Voice kicked off Season 20's first night of Battles, the contestants performing duets weren’t the only ones hoping to make a big splash. Country star Kelsea Ballerini was subbing in for Voice regular Kelly Clarkson, as the daytime talk show host was sick the week the Battle Round performances were taped. Ballerini’s temporary turn in the big red chair made for some great moments, like when she told Blake Shelton he looked like her dad. In fact, I think Ballerini proved it’s time to let her step into her own spotlight and lead a team in Season 21.
It wasn’t Kelsea Ballerini’s first experience with The Voice, as she served as Kelly Clarkson’s advisor in Season 16 and was dubbed the fifth coach on Season 15’s Comeback Stage, which offered a second chance to artists who didn’t get a chair turned during Blind Auditions. But it was the first time Ballerini seemingly had a say in the makeup of the teams and the contestants’ journeys on the show — a big ask, since she wasn’t a part of picking the team’s contestants in the first place. Ballerini has earned her stripes, and it’s time to make it official.
All said, Kelsea Ballerini kind of got off easy on Team Kelly’s first Battle. Kelly Clarkson was present for rehearsals, as Gene Garcia and Ryleigh Modig were chosen to pair up for Ariana Grande’s “POV,” so Ballerini got to pass the buck as the other coaches predictably expressed disbelief that those two talents were paired together. The “Love Me Like You Mean It” singer also got to “phone a friend,” and get Clarkson’s opinions, as the ailing superstar was watching from home, and while Clarkson didn’t tell her who to choose, it was a pretty sure bet that the loser of the Battle was going to be stolen (he was).
After the Team Kelly Battle, Kelsea Ballerini even got to use a Steal, nabbing Avery Roberson, a Four-Chair Turn from Blake Shelton’s team. But Ballerini’s admission that Kelly Clarkson advised her to make the Steal makes me think it’s very important to The Voice producers that Clarkson still appears to be in full control of her team — understandable if you think of what’s at stake for the contestants.
But Kelsea Ballerini is capable of hitting boss mode if she had true ownership of a team that she got to choose, which I think she proved when she leant her opinion to the other Battles. She offered a lot of compliments (admitting she sometimes just enjoyed the show and forgot she was supposed to be judging), but also some constructive criticism. She made notes on pitch and advised contestants to shake off the nerves and get out of their heads.
Another point in favor of full-time Kelsea Ballerini is that I’m still pulling for an all-female panel one of these seasons. It’s unlikely we’d see Christina Aguilera again in that scenario, but of all the women who have graced the Voice coaches’ chairs, it would be a blast to see them carry the show (Alicia Keys, where are you?!). Kelsea Ballerini would fit right in. In fact, with no Blake Shelton in this hypothetical scenario, Ballerini would be vital to the show as someone to fight with Kelly Clarkson for the country singers.
Kelsea Ballerini is no stranger to The Voice, but she’s never fully been given the chance to show what she can do, and I think it’s time to let her shine as a real full-time coach. Catch Ballerini in action next week to see if you agree; she’s filling in for Kelly Clarkson throughout the Battle Round, so tune in next Monday, when the Battles continue at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.