The Voice premiere recap: The Blind Auditions Premiere
It’s a new season and a new crop of talent for The Voice, but “queen” Christina Aguilera is back in the house (er, Stage 12), reclaiming her red chair-slash-throne for another round of battle with the boys, Adam Levine, Pharrell Williams, and Blake Shelton.
The tenth season welcomed back its O.G. (original girl) coach to the seat previously occupied by Gwen Stefani — who’ll now serve as a Team Blake advisor — and her return, she said, was motivated by the “opportunity to give back to someone else.” And while we’ll be seeing names like Gwen, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Tori Kelly, Patti LaBelle, and Miley Cyrus on the roster for future episodes, the blind auditions opener was all about the happy hopefuls…and of course, the increasingly snippy relationship between Adam and Blake, which kicks off with Blake’s open invitation for any other member of Maroon 5 to take first chair instead. Ouch.
But enough about all their bromantic antics; let’s talk about the talent pool that had everyone racing for their buttons tonight:
Kicking things off on a strong note, literally, is Paxton Ingram, a 23-year-old student of the school of Michael Jackson, who teaches hip-hop to make ends meet while he chases his life-long dream of being a whole-package performer. He can sing; he can dance; and, apparently, he can thrill all three of the Voice fellas into giving him a shot — especially Blake Shelton. His soulful rendition of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” has Blake’s fist pounding the turn key from the first line. “Man, I don’t know that I’ve ever recognized true greatness so quickly,” Shelton explains of his enthusiastic tap. Blake’s spirited spin was enough that, even though Pharrell was the name Paxton initially checked during his pre-audition interviews and is “at a loss for words” over what he’s heard from the singer, Paxton ends up choosing Blake (whom Adam Levine lovingly refers to as “Hillbilly Shrek”) because of his rapt and rapid enthusiasm. “There is nobody that is more surprised that Paxton chose me than me,” Blake says, echoing the entire watching world, before reminding everyone that, though he’s into honky-tonk by day, he can moonlight as a budding pop star’s mentor for this guy. Fair enough.
Next up on the wowing block is Caity Peters of Long Beach, Calif., a 21-year-old who’s trying to break free of the familiar mold set by her lawyerly fam. It’s taken her a long time to convince her ‘rents that strumming her acoustic all day is an actual means of making a living, but here she is, belting out Labrinth’s “Jealous” and earning a turn-around tap from all four coaches. While Christina Aguilera tries for the go girls grab and Adam and Blake split hairs over whether she’s on the “cusp of greatness” or nah, it’s Pharrell’s praise of her show-appropriate intensity that ultimately wins her over to his team.
Then comes the heart-warmer. Nick Hagelin, 28, out of Atlanta, has been a professional ballet dancer for a decade, and thanks to a little wifely encouragement (and one cutie patootie little boy, who’s defying all the odds himself), he’s breaking out into his own “sweet beats.” And while teaching his kid to walk without the assistance of mechanics will always rank as his biggest accomplishment — sob — he’s so ready for the biz. Just not the record deal he already had which would’ve required him to pretend he was single and ready to mingle (’cause, yeah, he’s not about that life). While his performance of Adam Levine’s “Lost Stars” did not earn him a bid from its originator — who admits he just can’t get past his own version to enjoy this — he does get an early nod from Christina, followed by last-minute chime-ins by Blake and Pharrell. He joins Team Pharrell, not because Blake may or may not have inadvertently compared his work to the KFC menu with all that spice talk, but because he considers Pharrell “the Quincy Jones of our generation.” Team Pharrell’s going strong with two right off the rip, which makes him clap-along happy (had to).
Not every blind audition got a coaching bid, though. At least 17-year-old Maddie Poppe of Clarksville, Iowa is able to stay amped to have gotten her shot, fit with a hug from Blake Shelton. The giddy at-home-video-making high school senior spends most of her stage time (after belting out an admittedly pitchy variation of “Dog Days are Gone” by Florence and the Machine) soaking in the surrealism of the moment. While Pharrell offers some sage advice for how she can improve for the next round of auditions, she’s too nervous to absorb, like, a single word from the stage. So Adam pinch-hits for her and offers her his seat instead. Between now and next year, if Maddie can work out some of that “finesse” Pharrell outlines for her, she’ll be all set for a second effort.
The next two contestants have their coaches’ names written in the stars before they spit a single note. It’s actually kind of unfair how predestined these two are for their respective teams.
Mary Sarah, a Nashville native who already has a country classic duet album with Dolly Parton and a slew of other grassroots alumni under her twangy belt (which she probably got at the Boot Barn where she works, by the way), worships Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and was just otherwise cut from the Team Blake cloth. See, Blake actually knows who the Oak Ridge Boys are and why her recent collaboration with them was so important — heck, he says he may have even heard of her in particular before because he guesses she’s from Houston. So, her throwback performance of Connie Francis’ “Where the Boys Are” is basically just a seal on the deal on their working relash, which is a match made in classic country heaven. Next stop? The Grand Ole Opry, ya’ll. (Team Adam and Team Christina are looking a little skimpy at nearly the halfway mark, which Blake is just eating up, by the way.)
Meanwhile, Mike Schiavo, a 21-year-old New Jersey native who headed out West in search of his spotlight ambition, is an unabashed Maroon 5 fanboy, so when his stripped-down version of Tove Lo’s “Talking Body” earns him bids (and a standing O) from all the boys, his pick is a no-brainer. Sure, Pharrell and Blake make nice little throwaway pitches about branching out from his comfort zone — or, as Pharrell puts it, avoiding being “marooned” — but this kid has been Team Adam since before he stepped foot in the building.
Another of the night’s no-votes goes to Queen Sessi of the Bronx, whose voice just isn’t hitting the right notes for any of the judges in her performance of Sam Feldt’s “Show Me Love.” She’s got some soulful moments and even more potential, but she needs a little more nuance and definitely a different song choice next time.
Three-quarters of the show pass before Team Christina finally gets her first recruit by way of Brooklyn native Bryan Bautista, who just so happens to be a send-off from season 9 who refuses to fold. The once-viral phenom has since invested in one-on-one vocal lessons and sticks to his sound with The Weeknd’s “The Hills,” earning a turn from both Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton. Adam recognizes Bryan and gives him major props for improvement — passing only due to “a stylistic thing” — but Blake doesn’t remember him. That comes back to bite Blake in the sweet spot because, when choosing his team, Bryan pulls a fake-out revenge move that Adam dubs the “greatest moment in show history” and picks Aguilera with the promise that the two will do a duet of “Fire and Desire” by Rick James and Teena Marie. Needless to say, she’s into it.
Next up is Abby Celso, a 20-year-old Rochester, N.Y., native who sings in a hometown band and waitresses by day but whose recently deceased mother (yes, another tear jerker for tonight) always thought she should try out for the show. Her rendition of “Should’ve Been Us” by Tori Kelly has Adam and Pharrell swooning (which is appropriate because her family band is called The Swooners). In fact, Adam kind of resorts to a hands-and-knees-and-please recruiting tactic, saying “If I don’t get you that will be the song that I will be singing for the rest of my life.” Groveling doesn’t get him very far, though, because Pharrell’s got a major success story to point to in the form of season 8 winner Sawyer Fredericks. Adam’s bummed to lose this gal to Team Pharrell, but shrug.
Team Adam quickly recovers when 23-year-old rockabilly blues artist John Gilman boldly blasts Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” in a rad print top and slacks combo that hearkens back to his missed generation. John, who lives in a log cabin without Wi-Fi (gasp) and fancies himself a doo-wop aficionado when he’s not out scooping ice cream and fixing blimps and such, catches Adam’s attention right off the riff. Adam’s been talking about wanting a unique sound after all, and here he’s got just that.
Then comes along the big finale with Alisan Porter, who makes that whole “last but not least” concept truer than ever. The 34-year-old stay-at-home mom looks a lot different now, but when she was a wee one, she had one of the most memorable faces in Hollywood from having played the titular Curly Sue and thrown up on Steve Martin in Parenthood. Fast forward a few decades, including eight years of sobriety, and here she is finally pursuing her actual passion of singing. While she might have put Curly Sue in the past for her Voice audition, she definitely waxes her old character’s “Put a sock in it, I know what I’m doing” moxie and slays everyone with her ridiculously beautiful performance of Linda Ronstadt’s version of “Blue Bayou.” She literally brings Christina Aguilera to the floor in worship, and Adam is pretty much just putty in her hand (OK, he just gives her a paw peck, but still). And while Adam laps endless praise on her — calling the performance only the “most beautiful, flawless, passionate, pitch-perfect thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life” — and her fam wants her to go with him or Blake, Alisan rolls with Team Christina because she felt their connection. Which isn’t too surprising since they both were on Star Search a thousand years ago. Team Christina might’ve struggled at the start, but this contestant coup has Adam conceding victory already thanks to Alisan’s “impossible gift.”
Team Adam: Mike Schiavo and John Gilman
Team Pharrell: Caity Peters, Nick Hagelin, and Abby Celso
Team Christina: Bryan Bautista and Alisan Porter
Team Blake: Paxton Ingram and Mary Sarah
A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.