The Voice premiere recap: 'The Blind Auditions Premiere, Part 1'
The chairs are turning again
And we’re back!
Joining Adam Levine and Blake Shelton for The Voice‘s 13th season are season 11 returnee Miley Cyrus — whose wardrobe is a lot tamer this time around so far — and The Voice UK transplant Jennifer Hudson.
And while Adam and Blake have promised to try to dial down the barbs this year (both knowing they won’t be able to play nice for too long), Miley’s on a mission to win it all, while Jennifer is coming in strong with some solid advice for the auditioners. She’s not throwing out sticky hyperboles just yet, which is a refreshing change of pace from last season already.
Let’s take a look at how the first night of blind auditions shook out.
Chris Weaver (29 — Long Island, New York)
“Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding
Kicking things off on an exciting note is Chris Weaver, whose history of being a worship leader and a drag queen performer makes him very eager to establish his own stage identity. He comes into the night with an interest in working with Jennifer Hudson — who once threw a shoe at him (as a sign of respect) during a performance at a party for her theatrical run in The Color Purple — but he’s also intrigued by the idea of working with Adam Levine, since Adam can help drum up his falsetto skills. What earns him all four chair turns, however, isn’t his background but his strong vocals.
Chris’ voice is solid enough to fill a room but also has a decadent rasp to compliment his to-the-floor low tones. It’s a no-brainer that he’ll go with “J. Hud,” but the other coaches make their usual pitches as well: Adam is willing to strip down and throw clothing items, if that’s what it takes; Miley is a unique butterfly he can totally trust to respect his vision; and Blake Shelton’s won a bunch of times before, so it’s really just a game of averages. But all Jennifer Hudson has to do to snag this recruit is throw a new shoe, and it’s done.
Mitchell Lee (29 — Charleston, South Carolina)
“Hold My Hand” by Hootie & the Blowfish
This guy might only get three chair turns, but he’s off to a rock solid start on The Voice. He’s handsome, has a delightful drawl, and knows exactly what kinds of songs will work with his metallic country rock sound…almost too well, considering he could easily run a one-man Hootie & the Blowfish cover band, but it’s too soon to call him a one-trick pony just yet.
Adam is sincerely interested in courting him, but it’s clear from Adam’s inability to name-drop the artist whose music Mitchell has sung — that is, Darius Rucker, who just so happens to live in the same town as Mitchell — that Blake is a much better fit for his genre ambitions.
Janice Freeman (32 — Compton, California)
“Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons
There are some contestants you can’t help but root for, and Janice Freeman is one of them. After surviving cervical cancer, the loss of her daughter’s father, and the first two years of her new marriage, Janice is ready to tear down the house with her massive voice, and that’s exactly what she does.
It’s not the most predictable song choice for her sound, but she does manage to imbue her delivery with a lot of authority and authenticity — even if it’s not the cleanest performance to ever hit the audition stage, it’s still clear she has talent and promise. From the breadth of her baritone to her ability to hold her breath through exceptionally long notes, there’s a lot to work with beyond this clunky number. But kudos to her for choosing it because obviously it made the coaches listen up, and extra snaps for choosing Team Miley, where she can continue to challenge expectations.
Xaris (17 — Gulf Breeze, Florida)
“Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” By Bob Dylan
The first letdown of the evening comes by way of this teenager, whose taste in music scales the generations to some old-school folk songs. Xaris has some supreme flower power, which might make her seem like a good match for Team Miley. But her saccharine tones are a little too unpolished to earn a chair turn. To her credit, she sounds like Cyndi Lauper without the synth-pop sound, so there’s definitely a place for her to carve out if she’s serious about sticking with it. But tonight was just not her night to advance.
Shi’Ann Jones (15 — Bowling Green, Kentucky)
“Drown In My Own Tears” by Ray Charles
Jennifer Hudson might have broken a Voice record with how quickly she turned for this young lady. Shi’Ann is hardly through the first note before she’s secured an invite to Team Jennifer. Her massive voice and deep tones are convincing from the first breath, and Jennifer even goes so far as to call her a “mini-me” for all the similarities in their strengths.
Blake gives it the old college try by leaning on his encyclopedic knowledge of city attractions and pointing out that he knows a thing or two about bringing home the W and whatnot. But it’s a no-brainer that Shi’Ann belongs on Team Jennifer.
Dave Crosby (30 — Seattle, Washington)
“I’ll Follow You into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie
We’ve got it all here tonight, folks. The viral sensation of the evening is this guy, who managed to blow up on YouTube by recording his daughter singing the Toy Story theme song and found that it reinvigorated his own long-lost passion for performance.
There’s something a little too on the nose about his rendition of Death Cab’s song here, but it’s still pleasant enough to get the attention of Blake, Miley, and Adam. But it’s Adam who knows his prior work — he was even sent the link to Dave and Claire’s video shortly after the birth of his own daughter. Miley might have experience being in Claire’s seat, taking notes and music cues from her dear old dad, but Adam’s got the energy and enthusiasm to win the bid. Too bad Claire can’t keep coming on the show to elevate her dad’s game because if she could, this season would already be over.
Odiseas (20 — Brooklyn, New York)
“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” by James Brown
It seems like every year there’s at least one blind auditioner who’s been here before and comes back having learned a thing or two about how to succeed. For Odiseas, however, third time will have to be the charm. He doesn’t do quite enough to convince the judges in season 13 any more than he did in season 3. The coaches point to his attempt at full-package entertainment and say it may have drawn some of his own attention away from his vocals, but Jennifer Hudson is a little more direct (and honest) with him, calling it an “over-characterized” version of the number. There are definitely some diction and clarity issues he’ll have to sort out before he comes back for another try, but his falsetto reach is pretty killer as it is, even if this was not the song to showcase that quite as well as he needed.
Esera Tuaolo (48 — Minneapolis, Minnesota)
“Rise Up” by Andra Day
It’s probably not in the retirement plan for most former NFL players to try out for a singing competition, but that’s what Esera Tuaolo wants to do with his time off the field. The man has been through a lot in recent years — retiring his jerseys (but not his championship ring), coming out as gay to his children, and reviving his long-dormant passion for singing.
The good news is that there’s much more to him than a nice narrative. He’s also equipped with a staggering set of pipes. Between his soft tones and supple crescendos, there’s a lot happening with his voice. There’s some polishing to be done, but with Esera’s football fanatic coach Blake Shelton in play and his experience committing to long hours of practice, he should be an interesting one to watch this season.
Brandon Showell (26 — Virginia Beach, Virginia)
“There’s Nothin’ Holding Me Back” by Shawn Mendes
Chris Blue pulled out the W last season thanks in part to how wonderfully unpredictable his tones became when he was feeling it, and we’re getting an inkling of that this year with Brandon Showell. Brandon is a well-liked middle school teacher who’s about to begin his journey to the altar, but he’s ready to trade in grading papers for some time on the stage.
When he first breaks into this pop number, his voice is a little shaky, but by the chorus, he’s cool and collected and has a rich tone that should be extra delightful with a slow number. He and Jennifer Hudson have something in common, what with their history of singing on cruise ships and all, but it’s Adam Levine he chooses to guide him into strengthening his stage presence and consistency at the mic.
Lucas Holliday (26 — Lansing, Michigan)
“This Woman’s Work” by Maxwell
Our first one-chair turn of the evening comes for Lucas Holliday, a store clerk whose voice and appearance aren’t what you’d traditionally associate with one another. His audition is a little wonky — perhaps he’s trying to present both Kate Bush and Maxwell’s versions of this number at once. But on either side of the octave spectrum, there’s still a sincere confidence and fluidity to his sound that convinces Jennifer Hudson to give him a chance.
Judging by the hymnal they choose to duet on after the audition is done, she much prefers him in the lower range, but we’ll see how dynamic he gets to be going forward…’cause those high notes were no joke either.
Brooke Simpson (26 — Hollister, North Carolina)
“Stone Cold” by Demi Lovato
Annnd here we have Adam Levine’s early pick for the winner of this whole shebang (note: He’s often right about these instincts, too). Brooke lives in a small town among her Native American tribe and only has experience singing in public by way of her family’s traveling ministry.
But her lack of practice on the stage doesn’t hurt her much, because the woman is definitely a natural. Not only does she pack a punch with her rendition of this song, but she makes it look pretty easy, too. All four coaches are overwhelmed by what they’ve just heard — Jennifer Hudson even compliments her to say, “I thought I knew music until you just came out here and did that.” But Miley’s courtship approach — to have the woman actually feel her racing heartbeat — is what wins the day, strangely enough. Despite losing his chance to coach her, Adam predicts, “That girl’s going to win the whole thing.”
- Team Adam: Dave Crosby, Brandon Showell
- Team Miley: Janice Freeman, Brooke Simpson
- Team Jennifer: Chris Weaver, Shi-Ann Jones, Lucas Holliday
- Team Blake: Mitchell Lee, Esera Tuaolo