It’s the third episode of The Voice season 9, but Gwen, Adam, Blake, and Pharrell are all still stuck in the same outfits they wore last week, because the auditions are all filmed at once. It looks like that they’ve been trapped in this NBC studio for seven days straight, subsisting off sponsored Starbucks drinks and idly spinning their chairs back and forth while awaiting freedom. We can’t let them out just yet, though: The most diverse group of singers we’ve seen so far this season definitely is about to make their captivity more enjoyable.
First to audition is 22-year-old Morgan Frazier, from Nashville, Tenn. Her thick Southern accent gives away her chosen genre before she even reveals what type of singer she’d like to be, but Morgan has a surprise for us: She performs her own arrangement of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me,” the antithesis of a country song that she manages to make entirely her own. Nine seasons in, viewers have the show’s beats down, so it’s always a pleasure when a performer gives us something we wouldn’t expect. Blake and Gwen both turn for Morgan and, after Blake points out the uniqueness of her tone, which he says is both “fragile and powerful,” there’s no doubt who she’ll chose: Morgan joins Team Blake.
Next is Amanda Ayala, a recent high school graduate from Mahopac, N.Y., and the first Voice singer who self-identifies as being “born to rock.” Amanda has played in a classic-rock cover band for years, but her rendition of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” doesn’t bring the showmanship the song requires, and she comes off a little flat. Still, Blake, Adam, and Pharrell all turn around (probably because they know Amanda could be their only chance to work with someone in this genre). They all pitch themselves, and Adam pretends, not for the first time, that Maroon 5 is a rock band. Is nothing sacred to these people? His smooth-talking works, and Amanda joins Team Adam.
After Amanda comes Jeffery Austin, a 24-year-old soul-pop artist who hasn’t performed on stage in six years. (The Voice helpfully showed us all of Jeffery’s embarrassing high school musical photos, exactly what every young professional wants broadcast to millions of viewers.) Jeffery sang Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down,” and I’ve got to give it to him: His tone matches Smith’s almost perfectly, and he nailed the song’s emotional force. I’m not sure it’s wise for a contestant to set himself up for comparisons to the male Adele — and, indeed, he doesn’t have the higher register that makes Smith truly one-of-a-kind — but his audition was enough to make Gwen a believer. She was the only coach to turn, so Jeffery becomes the newest member of Team Gwen.
Lyndsey Elm, another singer who showed off her arranging abilities as well as her voice, is next to audition. She busts out a version of Meghan Trainor’s “Lips Are Movin” that barely resembles the original — in a good way. Her funked-up take showed that, though she’s fairly new to music, she knows exactly what kind of artist she wants to be. There are a few other people this season who could out-sing her, but Lyndsey makes performing look easy and natural, while still taking risks. That combination earned her the first four-chair turn of the night, and Lyndsey joins Jeffery on Team Gwen.
The episode’s second hour starts off with Manny Cabo, a 45-year-old freelance fashion photographer from Elizabeth, N.J. If the coaches were worried Amanda Ayala might represent their one shot at nabbing a rock singer this evening, Manny is here to prove them wrong. He’s an unapologetic hair band devotee (though, as Blake points out, he has no hair), and his performance of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again,” brings down the house. Manny has huge, full voice, and he makes smart choices with it. He saves the real surprise, a high note Adam himself would be jealous of, for the very end, after all four coaches have already turned. The competition is steep, but Manny chooses Adam — which means Adam’s team will end up being at minimum 25 percent rock singers (he also has Keith Semple, from the premiere).
NEXT: It’s not “Too Late” for Pharrell’s first singer[pagebreak]
Madi Davis, a 16-year-old from McKinney, Tex., is next to take the stage. Madi sings “It’s Too Late” by Carole King (an underappreciated great). It’s a smart choice: That song will give you chills no matter who’s singing it, and it’s a great match for Madi. Her unique, breathy tone is just on the right side of nasal. It’s odd, but it really works, especially with her jazzy, flowing style. She’s like a darker version of season 7’s Jessie Pitts, and I am very into it. So are Gwen and Pharrell, who both turn. Pharrell’s obsession with “different” artists wins Madi over, and she becomes the first contestant of the night to join Team Pharrell.
Before the next person performs, Carson tells us that Pharrell also picked up soul singer Riley Biederer and pop artist Daria Jazmin, while Adam added R&B singer Cassandra Robertson to his team.
After Carson’s announcement, it’s 31-year-old Texan Chris Crump’s turn at the mic. Chris was brought up in the church, and he tells us his mother was horrified when he bought his first album by a secular band…Creed. (I’d be horrified too, though for different reasons.) Chris also mentions several times that he really needs this opportunity because he’s married now, and “in the South, we believe a man needs to provide for his wife.” So, who wants break it to this dude that a slot on a reality show probably isn’t the most secure career path? Anywho, Chris sings Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” and his soft, intimate performance delivers the third four-chair turn of the episode. The song, which started out whispery and almost indistinct, before growing to a strong finish, would probably connect even better through headphones. Chris is very ready to take on the clean-cut pop star mantle of season 9, but he surprises by going with Team Blake.
After Chris comes 21-year-old Tyler Dickerson, from Denham Springs, La. Dickerson was signed to a label and being managed by John Rich (of Big & Rich) before he entered middle school. Unfortunately, the record company went under, but Tyler comes out on the Voice stage sounding like a guy who knows a thing or two about performing country rock, and bringing the whole crowd along for the ride. His take on “Hard to Handle” has tons of energy, and it actually feels fun. In the midst of the show’s mass-produced earnestness, that’s a breath of fresh air. Blake is the only coach to turn for Tyler, but that just saves us all some time, because we already know on exactly which team Tyler belongs.
The final performance of the episode comes from a duo: country couple Jubal and Amanda. (For those keeping track at home, we haven’t seen a pair audition together since season 6, which featured both Dawn and Hawkes and Brothers Walker.) Jubal and Amanda sing “Seven Bridges Road,” which was actually written and recorded by Jubal’s father, country singer Steve Young, 11 years before the Eagles popularized it. These two sound great together: their harmonies are on point, they’re bringing the necessary emotional intensity, and they pull out some impressive notes by the end. Pharrell and Gwen both turn around (in part just to see if it was really two people singing), and the couple joins Team Pharrell. But making it on to The Voice wasn’t the only thing they had to celebrate. Blake inquires if they’re married, and Amanda answers “not yet.” Jubal decides this is the ideal moment to change that, and he pops the question right on stage. Maybe if they make it to the finale, we can all experience the very first Voice marriage. I know some coaches who’d make a pretty kickass wedding band.
Team Blake: Morgan Frazier, Chris Crump, and Tyler Dickerson (plus Blind Joe, Zach Seabaugh, Emily Ann Roberts, Nadjah Nicole, Barrett Baber)
Team Adam: Amanda Ayala, Manny Cabo, and mystery singer Cassandra Robertson (plus Regina Love, James Dupré, Keith Semple, and Jordan Smith)
Team Gwen: Jeffery Austin and Lyndsey Elm (plus Elli Lawrence, Noah Jackson, Tim Atlas, Hanna Ashbrook, Kota Wade, and Braiden Sunshine)
Team Pharrell: Madi Davis, Jubal and Amanda, and mystery singers Riley Biederer and Daria Jazmin (plus Ivonne Acero, Evan McKeel, Mark Hood, and Siahna Im)