Season 12 kicks off on a soulful note

By Amanda Bell
February 28, 2017 at 12:15 AM EST
Trae Patton/NBC
S12 E1
  • TV Show

And we’re back! There are no newbs in the red chairs for The Voice‘s 12th season, but this is the first time we get to see Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Alicia Keys, and Blake Shelton all together like this, and already, it’s the most jocular season yet. The coaches are here for bringing on the entertainment factor, what with Adam’s constant jabs at the Blake-hearts-Gwen dynamic, his newly minted moniker for his long-lived frenemy (“Cowboy Dimples”), and the crickets sound effect Blake somehow had lying around for the perfect moment.

Even so, this is still a show about those hopeful singers, and while the premiere episode involves some serious letdowns as a great number of auditioners failed to turn any chairs, the teams are already shaping up quite nicely and, surprisingly enough, evenly. Here’s who made it (and who didn’t) through the first series of blinds for this new season of The Voice.

Joshua “JChosen” Hunter (29 – Albany, GA)
“Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye

The first contestant of season 12 is a smooth one indeed. Hearing that an auditioner is bringing some “Sexual Healing” to the stage might ordinarily be the kinda thing to draw some major eye-rollage, but in the case of JChosen, it helps set a pitch-perfect tone for his range and personality because it’s just as bubbly and earnestly fun of a number as he is. The special education teacher obviously has a heart as big as his home state, and the fact that he’s a doting dad and has so much to show for himself on the stage makes him an almost instant fan favorite.

He certainly has the judges clamoring for his team membership. Adam is literally screaming and insisting that he’ll make a home with him, but ultimately, Gwen wins the day with her speech about traveling the world with stories of music, along with her experience as a woman who worked with so many men in her longtime band No Doubt. “I wanted to work with someone that I knew would give me that diversity, different tones, and different melodies,” JChosen explains of his decision. Even Gwen’s absolutely shocked at his coach choice, but she’s happy to be off to a good first start after two seasons away from the show.

Team: Gwen

Lauren Duski (25 – Gaylord, MI)
“You Were Meant for Me” by Jewel

Country crooner Lauren Duski has been in the business since she was 9 years old, traveling her hometown and touring while still maintaining the kind of grades to get her through a biopsychology, neuroscience, and cognition program in college. Before her audition, she’s leaning toward Team Gwen, but after her slowed-down rendition of Jewel’s breakthrough melody turns three chairs, Gwen’s included, she decides to go with the more obvious coaching fit by picking Blake.

“My heart and soul is in country music, and [Blake] is the king of country,” she says. Adam takes it the hardest because now he’s zero for two on formidable talents, and even after she leaves the stage, he’s still convinced her gifts can get her to the end of this thing. That’s high praise — and he’s been right when he said that before (see also: Alisan Porter).

Team: Blake

NEXT: Adam snags a season 11 send-off…

Johnny Hayes (29 – Mobile, AL)
“Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding

“Comeback Kid” Johnny Hayes didn’t make it through season 11’s blind auditions because, per Alicia Keys, he needed to imbue some more of his own personality into his performance. So this time, he’s back with the most personal song choice of all: the one that he fell in love with his wife over.

His energetic take on Otis Redding has Adam excited — and he remembers the guy from last year to boot — so even though Gwen does her best to pitch him with her dual-threat status as a rock star and Blake Shelton’s girlfriend, Johnny aligns with Team Adam. “Everybody loves a comeback kid,” says Adam of his first recruit.

Team: Adam

Skyler Harris (25 – Memphis, TN)
“One and Only” by Adele

It’s a major bummer that Skyler Harris wasn’t able to turn a chair because Alicia’s right: Her story is one that could save lives. Skyler reveals that she’s a domestic abuse survivor who’d been working as a dispatcher and fielding 20 calls a day from abuse victims, doling out advice that she herself didn’t take, and it was a moment alone with her own voice that helped her decide to get out of a life-or-death situation once and for all. “Music saved my life,” she admits.

Unfortunately, Skyler’s vocals are just a hair “under,” per Blake, and although Alicia’s hovering over her button with extreme interest, there are too many pitchy and disconnected moments to justify inviting her to join the team. They do unanimously agree that she should come back, and given her personal resilience in the past, it won’t be surprising when she does hone that “vulnerability” Alicia and Gwen say they need to hear from her and bring it back to this stage next season.

Team: N/A

Anatalia Villaranda (16 – Temecula, CA)
“Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars

Energy is infectious, and young Anatalia has it in spades. Her performance doesn’t grip the coaches right away, but after about the third big belt, they all start turning in sequence, and by the end of her boisterous anthem, she’s got four coaches looking to recruit her to their team. The pint-sized 16-year-old has a big, supportive family in tow, and while her audition number isn’t the greatest thing to ever happen to The Voice, she still showed off some pretty major pipes that might be well-suited for grooming by one among the quirky quartet.

Blake tries his best “I know where you’re from” routine, Adam offers the girl cake (which Blake thinks is super creepy, by the way), and Gwen even unleashes her “I’m just a girl” lyric nod early to earn her big, But ultimately, it’s Alicia who wins the day by saying, “This is more than just a voice — this is an artist unafraid to express herself.” Sold.

Team: Alicia

Stephanie Rice (27 – Texarkana, TX)
“Piece by Piece” by Kelly Clarkson

Man, the feels are being punched left and right tonight, right?! Stephanie reveals that she’s going through one of the happiest times in her life — an impending wedding with her fiancée, Jan — without the support of her family, who disowned her when she was 18 for coming out to them and refusing to be counseled for her sexual orientation. They haven’t talked to her since.

She went on to earn a degree in biology and professional esteem as a medical researcher, but music has been her coping mechanism for all the heartache, and her vulnerability and palpable connection with the message of this song has Blake and Gwen both gunning for her. Adam and Alicia are both touched by the automatic empathy and optimism Gwen has for her. And while Blake does seem to have the edge here, since she’s got the cowgirl ambiance in her wardrobe, Stephanie ultimately goes for her namesake (that is, Stefani). But Blake’s not convinced his time to shine with Stephanie is up just yet — he hopes to steal her if and when the opportunity arises.

Team: Gwen

NEXT: Alicia’s first superfan emerges…

Branden Martin (25 – Owingsville, KY)
“Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)” by Travis Tritt

After Sundance Head proved that the down-home grit vibes can win this thing last season, Branden Martin seems to have a pretty good shot at getting a chair turn from the show’s residence Southern superstar. After all, Branden’s a dead ringer for Travis Tritt in some notes and seems to have plenty of competence and confidence on the stage. But his performance is a little pitchy and has some sharp moments that don’t quite strike a chord with Blake, or anyone else for that matter, so he doesn’t get a bid this time. However, they do think he’s good enough to give ‘er another try next season, which, surprisingly enough, isn’t just something they say to everybody.

Team: N/A

Mark Isaiah (19 – Mount Pocono, PA)
“Mercy” by Shawn Mendes

Pop stars in the making are at a premium tonight, and Mark Isaiah is no exception. It’s not surprising that he went to and won a Justin Bieber concert contest a few years back because, in some moments, that’s exactly who he sounds like. Adam’s into his playful tones, but it’s Gwen who’s positively mesmerized. He’s someone she can totally imagine on the radio — in fact, she’s surprised he’s not already — so she pulls out some serious digs at Adam to make the boy’s Team Gwen allegiance happen, including pointing out that her career is the most long lasting of the entire coaching crew. Despite her best digs, though, Mark chooses Adam, who thinks he’s “a star” and will become a frenzied fan favorite by the end of this thing.

Team: Adam

Brennley Brown (14 – Apple Valley, CA)
“Stupid Boy” by Keith Urban

Kids, kids, and yep, more kids! This time, we’re setting a new record with a 14-year-old whose saccharine tones grab the attention of two coaches in her blind audition. Her talent is still raw and a bit shaken with nerves, but there’s still some strength beneath all those sweet soprano notes, which brings us to the first Blake-Alicia showdown of the season.

Alicia’s been saying she wants a country artist on her team this time because she’s all about not putting people in boxes and the harmoniousness of the soul and country music genres. But Brennley here’s a country girl through and through — she even tends to horses on her family’s ranch as part of her weekly chores — so it’s all Blake, all day for her.

Team: Blake

Shaun ChrisJohn (31 – Philadelphia, PA)
“You Are the Best Thing” by Ray LaMontagne

As adorable as Shaun ChrisJohn is, what with sacrificing his dreams to take care of his ailing grandmother and all, his enthusiastic rendition of this tune just didn’t catch the kind of attention he needed to go further in the show this time. He’s definitely got some gusto, and Alicia thinks his voice is “beautiful” and “emotional,” but where the coaches are concerend, there’s some growth to be done on the technical aspects of his voice before he can be ready for the next level.

Team: N/A

Felicia Temple (29 – Teaneck, NJ)
“All I Could Do Was Cry” by Etta James

Blake might be a shoo-in for the country folk who come up on this stage, but it seems Alicia has courted more than her fair share of fans as well. Remember in season 11 when she got to her hear her own hit song performed by auditioner and unabashed Alicia stan Lauren Diaz? It’s the same idea tonight with Felicia Temple, a cancer-conquering nurse who, in her long-lived fandemonium for the legendary songstress, once went by Felicia Keys.

After she performs her piece with ample power, silkiness, and range, she earns the chair turns of Alicia, Blake, and Gwen, though the latter two know they don’t have a shot at recruiting her. “Should I just turn my chair back around?” Blake jokes about the obviousness of her impending selection. Gwen and Blake don’t even bother making their usual spiels and instead just let it happen when Alicia joins Felicia onstage for a pretty impressive little duet of “If I Ain’t Got You.” Done and done.

Team: Alicia


  • Team Adam: Johnny Hayes, Mark Isaiah
  • Team Gwen: Joshua “JChosen” Hunter, Stephanie Rice
  • Team Alicia: Anatalia Villaranda, Felicia Temple
  • Team Blake: Lauren Duski, Brennley Brown

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