The Voice opened up its seventh season with some smooth salesmanship, some Beyoncé, and some chair-climbing antics. The season premiere marked the first appearances for new coaches Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams, who did not hesitate to get competitive with The Voice stalwarts Blake Shelton and (a very eager) Adam Levine. The coaches pulled out all the stops. They dropped names, they flattered, Gwen even sang a bit of “Just a Girl” to show just how impressive her stage presence can be. It was impressive. Here are the highlights:
Look, it’s understandable that the coaches went nuts for James David Carter’s rendition “Nobody Knows.” Carter after all, is a professional. He even opened for Blake once. All in all, however, none of the performances in this episode really blew me away. I will, however, say that the most exciting moment of the night came from braces-clad 18-year-old Elyjuh René, who belted out his rendition of Beyoncé’s “XO.” Perhaps its because I never really expect anyone to come close to Beyoncé when singing a Beyoncé song, but Elyjuh did it justice.
Best contestant-to-coach line
The coaches spend a lot of time trying to butter up the contestants on this show, but it’s always pleasant when the tables turn. Runner-up has to go to Clara Hong, who seemed to have a Freudian slip when dealing with Pharrell. “Where do I begin with that tone? That tone is like silk,” Pharrell told her, to which Hong blurted out: “You’re silk!” Hong tried to clarify by saying, “your voice,” but we know where your head was at Clara, and we appreciate it. Still, first place goes to James David Carter, the country singer the coaches went nuts for at the end of the show. After all four coaches turned around for him, he said, “Miss Gwen, thank you for teaching me how to spell bananas, I appreciate that.” Okay, he probably had that one in his back pocket, but it doesn’t mean it’s not charming.
Most convincing coach
Both Gwen and Pharrell established themselves as great additions to the show, but Pharrell proved that he’s got the best lines of anyone out there. Right off the bat, Pharrell won the first contestant of the night, Luke Wade, a soul singer from Texas, by telling him, “I know a thing or two about blue-eyed soul. You can ask Justin. You can ask Robin.” Now this is probably the only instance where advertising your friendship with Robin Thicke gets you points, but I’m inclined to believe Pharrell when he says, “I know what to do with that voice.” When he went about convincing Elyjuh René to join his team, Pharrell said, “The first word that came to my mind when I heard your voice was ‘anointed.'” That’s some good salesmanship, right there. Even when he wasn’t shilling for himself, Pharrell just seemed to know the right thing to say. He must have helped Taylor John Williams, a singer-songwriter type who covered Kanye’s “Heartless,” choose Gwen, by explaining that Adam “understands [his] voice,” but Gwen “understands [his] future.” All the while, his words to Bianca Espinal, who didn’t get picked by any coach, were both tough but comforting, telling her when she said she thought she could do better, “What you didn’t feel, we didn’t feel,” telling her to have a good time for herself, and then giving her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek.
We’ll come out and say it: Team Pharrell.
Most desperate coach
Adam, Adam, Adam. Yes, you’ve been at this for a long time, but you don’t need to hurt yourself to get teammates. Adam ended the evening by scaling his chair, something he foreshadowed during the very first singer, and had a general air of desperation about him throughout the entire episode. He wrote Clara Hong a “love poem.” (Luckily she fell for his rhymes.) He kept declaring that The Voice was his “house.”
Best sartorial incentive
If you join Gwen’s team, you get a black and gold “Team Gwen” T-shirt right off the bat. She should begin advertising that.
Most emotional moments
There were two moments this episode that stood out. It was understandable that the coaches didn’t turn their chairs for 52-year-old country singer Dennis Bell, but it was nonetheless heartbreaking. Bell gave up his dreams of singing after his father died of a heart attack and he had to take over his family business and hadn’t been on stage in 22 years. So it was hard not to root for him, even though he clearly wasn’t particularly up to the coaches’ standards.
His performance was followed by one from 35-year-old Damien, a TSA agent who was present during the 2013 shooting at LAX and sang at the funeral of the victim of that shooting. He sang “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” almost immediately getting the attention of three of the coaches, with his understated performance that powerfully built. After all four coaches turned their chairs for him—Blake was the lone original hold out—Damien broke down in tears. Gwen got up to hug him. “I’ve just been told no so many times, it just feels good to see you guys turn around for me,” Damien said.
Moment that belongs on a Portlandia sketch
Taylor John Williams, from Portland, works at Sniff, a dog hotel. Need we say more?
Please visit the EW Community to read season 2 semifinalist Katrina Parker’s take on The Voice.