The teams are filling up, the coaches are showing out, and three episodes in, the montages are finally rolling out with the swiftness of Blake’s swivel chair when he hears a quirky teenager singing a “Royals” cover. Or should I say, a “remake”? If this season’s Voice premiere was about raw talent, and the second episode was for the quirky artists, then tonight was all about the people who are willing to work for it. And apparently the coaches could hear some of that drive in their performances, because while tonight wasn’t pitch-perfect, it felt like a feeding ground for artists who could grow throughout the competition with the right coach’s help. Think last season’s The Evolution of Chris Jamison… if Chris Jamison had been really into Show Choir.
And it’s not just the auditioning hopefuls—the coaches had to work for it tonight, too. In fact, the dewy glow that Gwen Stefani leaves in her wake must just now be fading from The Voice arena because things even got a little tense between the coaches while vying for a few more notable contestants. As they should! For as much as everyone acts like this is some philanthropic effort to expose artistry to the world—tonight’s opening line: “Last week, the Emmy award-winning phenomenon returned… all with one goal: to discover and develop the best talent in the country”—they better be clamoring for these folks. The best talent in the nation, everyone:
Kelsie May, 15; “You’re Lookin’ At Country”
I couldn’t hardly take my eyes off of Kelsie May’s intricate weave of Katniss braids, but from what I heard in her intro package, she has a maturity beyond her years and a Kentucky accent that makes her say “lack” instead of “like.” It’s only appropriate then, that she’s singing Loretta Lynn. Kelsie May definitely sounds a little young (or is it a little nervous?), but Blake turns around before she even picks up steam; by the time she hits the chorus, she’s showing real potential and Christina and Pharrell have turned their chairs, too. I loved the instructional aspect of her crooning to those who turned that if their eyes were on her, they were lookin’ at country. Christina and Pharrell gave it their best, but this one was always going the classic country route: TEAM BLAKE
Kimberly Nichole, 32; “Nutbush City Limits”
Whoo! I loved everything about Kimberly Nichole. People call her “The Rock Ballerina” because she performs at an exclusive NYC club five nights a week in her own custom-made tutus—that is rock and roll. Her experience showed as she took command of the stage and took her time; the Ike and Tina number builds to its big groove, and that Kimberly took the appropriate time to do that shows restraint, and probably, that there’s a lot more in her we’re yet to hear. Blake and Pharrell know a good thing when they hear it, and as supportive as Blake was of Kimberly’s obvious artistry, much like with the country singers, this was always going to be about the soul connection… TEAM PHARRELL
Michael Leier, 20; “Last Kiss”
Michael has been in a band since high school, and it’s clear when he’s on stage that he’s not entirely comfortable being there on his own; but he wins a lot of merit for a great song choice and a solid vocal showing. Whereas Adam says he was able to cover the Pearl Jam cover/”remake” without imitating Eddie Vedder’s signature sound, I’d say it was more of a toss-up—it’s just too hard to hear that song without hearing Vedder. But I’m eager to hear Michael give something else a whirl in the Battle Rounds, and Adam and Blake were, too. Adam spends most of his critique talking about Pearl Jam, and then Blake tries to mock that, but spends most of his time talking about Adam, and it finally goes to the rightful coach when he tells Michael, “You gotta understand where someone comes from if you’re going to know where they want to go.” TEAM ADAM
Travis Ewing, 23; “Say My Name”
Our first real original arrangement of the season—here we go! Travis is a jack of all musical trades from Louisiana with a killer smile, and he hits the stage wanting to show his artistry, turning the Destiny’s Child classic into a slow motion, bluesy groove. For a while, it feels like it might never go anywhere, but then it gets a little jazzy and a little reggae with a couple of signature singing show power notes thrown in at the end, and everyone is along for the ride except Adam. Christina wants Travis badly, pointing out that she was the first one to hear the silkiness and texture in his voice, but then Pharrell says exactly what the man needs to hear: “The one thing I’m relentless about is mixing things up. I would really love a shot at assisting you in your vision.” TEAM PHARRELL
NEXT: We’re halfway there![pagebreak]
“Look for them in the Battle Rounds” MONTAGE: Teen pop singer (with another intricate Katniss ‘do) Noelle Bybee for TEAM PHARRELL; R&B artist Bre’nae DeBarge and pop vocalist James McNeice for TEAM ADAM.
Sonic, 34; “Money on My Mind”
When Sonic was 14, she was signed to a label that tried to make her into a diva in training; but she’s more of a soul rocker, and she has the partially shaved head and nose-to-ear chain to prove it. She boldly tackles Sam Smith’s electro-infused track, and while she doesn’t nail the vocals, it certainly made me sit up and pay attention. Adam turned his chair before things kind of fell apart in the middle, and it seems like he doesn’t exactly put up his best effort in fighting for her; but that’s okay, because Christina is all about Sonic’s top-to-bottom range and sees a ton of potential in her future. TEAM CHRISTINA
Jacob Rummell, 18; “Count on Me”
And another first of the season: Blake saying, “Woah, it’s a guy!” There’s nothing the Voice crew loves more than a big visual surprise when they turn their chairs—it’s kind of what got them a show, after all—and Jacob, with his male gender and high, floating tone, was serving up Pharrell jaw-drops in spades. Pharrell is kicking himself for not turning since Jacob makes it clear he wants to be a baby Bruno, but it’s a showdown between Blake and Adam. Blake says he’s jumping at the chance to work with a unique artist like Jacob, and Adam points out that he already has a million ides for him, and in the only real surprise of the night, Jacob decides to go TEAM BLAKE.
Barry Minniefield, 52; “Me and Mrs. Jones”
Now, I’m not totally confident that any of these coaches know exactly how to put a 100 percent classic soul fella’ like Barry in the pop culture landscape, but I trust Adam to do his damnedest. Barry strutted out on the stage with the confidence that only the combination of a full lifetime of experience and a backwards Kangol hat can give you. Adam was the only coach to turn for Barry’s “man voice,” but Adam and Barry both seemed perfectly content with that. TEAM ADAM
“Look for them in the Battle Rounds” MONTAGE #2: Indie-pop singer, Nicolette Mare for TEAM ADAM; pop artist Clinton Washington for TEAM CHRISTINA; and country musician Matt Snook for TEAM BLAKE.
India Carney, 21; “New York State of Mind”
India got the Carson-in-a-Nissan treatment, which meant he traveled to her UCLA campus where she’s a senior in the prestigious music program to follow her around to her opera lessons and a cappella jam sessions. Her personality, classical training, and love for music sold me on her capacity to be a pop star before she even hit the stage, dressed to kill in a leather jacket, but I’ll admit that I wasn’t quite as blown away with her vocal performance as I expected to be. There were moments though, when the richness of her voice rang out so perfectly—if those moments could only be a little more cohesive, she could be a real contender to get that contemporary career she’s dreaming of from The Voice. The coaches certainly think so, anyway: All four coaches make it clear that they love her voice and want her on their team, but India has to go with the coach that was the biggest part of her childhood: TEAM CHRISTINA
The teams are over halfway completed and the coaches’ claws are starting to come out—is the season 8 Voice winner already among the chosen, or are you still holding out for a hero?