Eight hours into this season’s Blind Auditions, and I think we can all rattle off the coaches’ speeches by heart. Gwen will tell you that she’s “just a girl,” but also a nurturing mother who’s been in a band since she was 17. Adam will “fight for you,” and, oh, he’s been on The Voice for nine seasons. Pharrell won last year, and he thinks your voice is truly unique and “other.” And Blake, well, he might not be the obvious choice, but he can introduce you around Nashville.
This show’s format may be running out of steam, but many of tonight’s contestants were a breath of fresh air.
First at the mic is Darius Scott, a 23-year-old from Dallas, Texas, who’s already self-funded and produced his own album. He pulls no punches when explaining how hard it is to make it as an independent artist. This is no sob story, though. I immediately like Darius, because he comes off as one of the few contestants who isn’t selling the made-for-TV version of himself. Also, his take on Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna…” is sexy-smooth perfection. He doesn’t need to pull out any tricks — though he’s certainly capable of hitting any note he wants to hit, as Adam puts it. Everyone but Blake turns for him, and Darius goes with fellow producer Pharrell.
If Darius is totally real, then the next singer up to bat, 20-year-old Korin Bukowski, is his complete opposite. “Hello, Earthlings” she announces in a Wednesday Addams dress. Her take on Andrew McMahon’s “Cecilia and the Satellite” shows off what Gwen calls her “character voice” — Korin has a wide range and a bright tone, though she elongates her vowels in such a way that it almost sounds like she’s singing with a British accent. Whatever she’s doing, it works for her: Gwen was the only coach to turn, but one turn is all she needs.
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After Korin comes another totally different artist. Krista Hughes, from Coal City, W.Va., is the type of classic country singer who’ll make you forget people even wrote this type of music after 1975. She has a rich, deep tone that pairs perfectly with Bonnie Raitt’s “Angel from Montgomery.” All four coaches turn and, once she’s done, Gwen shouts “Thank you for being good!” and all but falls to her knees in supplication. Krista’s sound would complement any of the teams, and they all fight for her; but she’s a country singer, and therefore contractually obligated by both The Voice and the ghost of George Jones to join Team Blake. It’s become increasingly obvious as the Blinds continue that Blake is competing on Country Idol this season, while the rest of the coaches fight among themselves for everyone else.
Up next is 15-year-old Chance Peña. Chance is just a sophomore in high school, but he’s already playing bars and restaurants up to eight times a month. His take on Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire” is obviously well practiced: He has a powerful tone, and he hits each note with precision. There wasn’t a whole lot of emotional resonance behind his performance, but apparently enough to make Adam Levine turn his chair.
Following Chance, it’s 31-year-old Viktor Király’s time to shine. Viktor was born in New York, but he’s spent the past 16 years living in Budapest, Hungary, where he’s already a bona fide pop star. Viktor came to fame through another singing competition: He won Hungary’s version of American Idol, Megasztár, in 2008 and even has a single featuring D.M.C. Viktor doesn’t just talk a big game. His take on Donny Hathaway’s version of “What’s Going On” has Adam pressing his button before Viktor even finishes the first line. All the other coaches quickly follow. When Blake gets to see who’s singing, he exclaims, “That guy is white?!” Everyone puts up a solid fight, but Viktor chooses his first champion, and joins Team Adam.
NEXT: Blake bonds with the children[pagebreak]
Cole Criske, of Temecula, Calif., (home of Xenia from season 1) is next to perform. He sings “Dreaming with a Broken Heart,” by John Mayer, and the song shows off his high, pure tone quite nicely. Gwen, Blake, and Pharrell all want Cole, but Gwen scares him away by commenting that, despite his youth, “You could lock eyes with me and be that brave,” as though Cole is Perseus come to behead Medusa. Blake wins Cole over, mostly by reminding the singer that he still hangs out with Xenia, and that he’s been to the Temecula balloon festival. “Kids love balloons,” Blake nods knowingly.
After Cole comes 22-year-old Alex Kandel from Nashville, Tenn. Like Viktor, Alex is another singer who’s already had plenty of professional success. Her band, Sleeper Agent, put out two albums, and performed on both The Tonight Show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Sleeper Agent disbanded last year, though, and now Alex is trying to make it as a solo act. Her performance of Echosmith’s “Bright” is full of personality and little funky riffs and quirks. Her husky voice can tell a story, even if her audition isn’t as smooth as others we’ve seen. Adam and Gwen both fall for her unique pop sound, but Gwen gets the girl once again.
Celeste Betton, one of the few true gospel singers we’ve heard so far, performs next. Though gospel is often thought of as big, belting, tear-the-house-down music, Celeste’s take on Jennifer Hudson’s “Love You I Do” is light and refreshing. She starts off sweet, but don’t underestimate her: At the turn of a switch, she’s able to bring out the big guns and give us that roar we’re waiting for. Celeste does have some pitch issues, and she doesn’t exhibit the technical precision that’s necessary to perfectly execute the song, but her passion is enough to get her on to Team Pharrell, the only judge to turn.
The final audition of the night is another duo: identical twins Andi & Alex, from Green Bay, Wis. Their matching, husky tones are a great fit for Dido’s “Thank You,” which they give a slightly eerie edge. Unlike last night’s Jubal and Amanda, the Doublemint Twins are also clever enough to showcase their individual voices during the performance, as well as their flawless harmony. These girls have pretty voices, and they know how to work them. They earn the third four-chair turn of the episode. For a moment it seems Blake may have them in his clutches, but it’s Team Adam who wins the day.
That’s it for week two. With just one more night of Blind Auditions to go, here’s how the teams look so far. All the coaches have just two slots left to fill.
Team Pharrell: Darius Scott and Celeste Betton (plus Madi Davis, Jubal and Amanda, Riley Biederer, Daria Jazmin, Ivonne Acero, Evan McKeel, Mark Hood, and Siahna Im)
Team Gwen: Korin Bukowski and Alex Kandel (plus Jeffery Austin, Lyndsey Elm, Elli Lawrence, Noah Jackson, Tim Atlas, Hanna Ashbrook, Kota Wade, and Braiden Sunshine)
Team Blake: Krista Hughes and Cole Criske (plus Morgan Frazier, Chris Crump, Tyler Dickerson, Blind Joe, Zach Seabaugh, Emily Ann Roberts, Nadjah Nicole, and Barrett Baber)
Team Adam: Chance Peña, Viktor Király, and Andi & Alex (plus Amanda Ayala, Manny Cabo, Cassandra Robertson, Regina Love, James Dupré, Keith Semple, and Jordan Smith)