The Voice premiere recap: 'Blind Auditions Premiere, Part 1'
The blind auditions kick off a brand new coaching rivalry
Annnnd we’re back! The Voice‘s 14th (!!) season is upon us, with Alicia Keys back in her red chair and Kelly Clarkson joining in on the coaching fun for the first time as well.
Tonight’s first round of blind auditions is already packed with drama, from Blake Shelton pouncing on Adam Levine’s shirt choice and Kelly quickly developing a rivalry all her own with the self-proclaimed “Mayor of Countrytown.” In the midst of all that are contestants with talent, ambition, and, of course, backstories that simultaneously break and lift all the hearts.
Let’s take it from the top.
Britton Buchanan (17 — Sanford, North Caroline)
“Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne
Kicking off this season’s blind auditions is Britton Buchanan, a young Southern gent who ditched his baseball glove for a guitar and hasn’t looked back — well, except to steal a few glances at the mirror to make sure his ’90s Matt Damon doppelganger status still checks out (it does). His performance isn’t earth shattering, and it doesn’t even draw a chair turn from nascent Voice judge Kelly Clarkson.
However, his voice is mostly smooth and has a soft rock station-ready jam-band aesthetic that earns button taps from Blake Shelton, Alicia Keys, and Adam Levine. Blake even spends his one and only block (also a new feature of the season) to stop Adam from winning him over. The move is wise, since Britton here is an Adam Levine fan going way back, but it’s also ultimately fruitless, as Britton is easily wooed by Alicia’s poetic plea that she heard “honesty” in his voice and was driven by her “emotion” to pick him. Compared to Blake’s strange comment that Britton just seemed “angry” at the song, well, it’d be a pretty easy pick for anyone.
Team: Alicia Keys
Brynn Cartelli (14 — Long Meadow, Massachusetts)
“Beneath Your Beautiful” by Labrinth
Looks like this season will be stacked with young’uns again because even though she’s 14, Brynn Cartelli has pipes. For a girl who has to squeeze her music routines into a day already packed with school, sports, and everything else, she exhibits an impressive amount of poise.
Her delivery is tempered, although she does have the same whimpering undertones that made Addison Agen’s voice so intriguing last season. Kelly and Blake end up engaging in their first major spat of the season over whom she’ll choose — it’s basically a case of the rookie versus the veteran — but Kelly wins her over because (1) Brynn’s been a lifelong fan of Kelly’s, and (2) Kelly promises to be her strategic partner. And since she’s got experience taking a stay on one of these shows to the next level, well, that’s a good resource indeed.
Team: Kelly Clarkson
Rayshun LaMarr (33 — Fort Washington, Maryland)
“Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey
Credit to Adam for prepreparing this man’s hashtag before he even agreed to join his team — #RayshunNation does have a nice ring to it — but that doesn’t seem to be the reason he’s opted for Team Adam. Rayshun LaMarr here has been through a lot, including surviving a very touch-and-go battle with cancer that cost him both his voice and part of his hearing, and now that he’s well enough to pursue his passion for music again, he wants people to “feel” him, instead of just hear him.
And that’s exactly what Adam seems to do. Alicia, too, is tapped into his inner moxie and assures him that she understands he’s the kind of guy who won’t let anything stand in his way, but Adam wants to be the guy who won’t quit on his behalf. With Rayshun’s full, soulful sound and obvious energy, and Adam’s willingness to point out those aspects of his performance that do need some improvement, it’s a solid match.
Team: Adam Levine
Kyla Jade (33 — Nashville, Tennessee)
“Seesaw” by Aretha Franklin
Could someone even have a more auspicious start to this blind auditioning process than Kyla Jade? Her most recent gig has been to sing backup vocals for Jennifer Hudson for the past three years, so she’s just gotta have the skinny on how the process works, what the coaches are looking for, and whom to choose if and when she does get a bid.
If not, it’s just a massive coincidence that her song choice is smack dab within her gospel-diva-soul-singer wheelhouse without being the same one you hear every single season ad nauseam. And it’s just pure chance that she roundly ramps up the power notes at key times to reassert her authority over the room and recapture everyone’s attention. And the fact that she goes for the show’s most proven winner as a coach, with whom she’ll likely be able to stand out among the country flock that will follow, is just beginner’s intuition. My money’s on Jennifer having given her some key pointers for how to sail through this stage, rather than her simply equating him with Wynonna Judd, who first gave her a shot.
Team: Blake Shelton
(Recap continues on Page 2)
Blaise Raccuglia (25 — Austin, Texas)
“Wanted” by Hunter Hayes
Welp, we can’t have a full night of this competition without someone getting let down, and this time it’s Blaise Raccuglia, a pool tech-slash-preacher who is ready to dry off from so much time in the water and spend a little time in the sun instead. To his credit, Blaise does have a great attitude and there’s some pretty texture to his voice, but he’s just pitchy and flat in too many places to get a bid from any of the four coaches.
Kelsea Johnson (21 — Newark, Delaware)
“Like I’m Gonna Lose You” by Meghan Trainor
Considering her backstory of having a “Papa” who encouraged her to pursue this opportunity even when he was very sick, it’s easy to root for Kelsea Johnson. The fact that she’s got some very nice gravity and full, warm tones going on makes it even easier.
Granted, she’s definitely got some raw points in her performance, but overall, she’s got the talent, presence, and confidence to make it work. Her decision to join Alicia’s team is also wise because the coach promises to help bring out her head voice and more intimate vocal moments, which would definitely help to elevate her past “pure power singer” status.
Team: Alicia Keys
Drew Cole (25 — Los Angeles, California)
“Sex and Candy” by Marcy Playground
OKAY, Drew Cole. For a guy whose biggest claim to fame is a viral video about serenading a friend’s dog, this man definitely has some swagger to work with. His voice is so flexible and well rounded, which means he’s able to bounce to and from his falsetto range without losing an ounce of strength in the process. He also has great instincts and a nice, wholesome tone that makes this ordinarily dry song all his own.
Of course, he may have drawn some inspiration from Adam on that front because he, too, covered this song with a more pop-friendly vibe once upon a time, and Drew is happy to give that credit where it’s due. Their style similarities in general — namely, the ability to run in any octave without compromising even an ounce of punch — make Kelly Clarkson rightly point out that their back-and-forth complimenting is basically a pair of pats on their own backs. It’s an absolute no-brainer for Drew to join Team Adam, and you know what? Maybe this is the guy Adam needs, too.
Team: Adam Levine
“Believer” by Imagine Dragons
We don’t get to learn much about him, but what D.R. King (no relation to the late, great MLK Jr.) does bring us is a stunning little sound that falls somewhere between Shawn Mendes and R. Kelly in the best way. His rich, church-ready runs and yelps are enough to get Kelly and Blake’s attention, and they have quite the pitch war over him. Much to Kelly’s chagrin, her attempt to prop him up for being a schoolteacher comes much too enthusiastically before she realizes he was a teacher, past tense, and that he basically hated that job. But even though Blake tells him his voice is “explosive,” he decides to sign up for Team Kelly.
Team: Kelly Clarkson
Kaleb Lee (31 — Ormond Beach, Florida)
“Never Wanted Nothing More” by Kenny Chesney
Another heartwarming story gets matched with a very pleasant sound by way of Kaleb Lee, a father of three who’s pressed pause on his own ambition to raise his two biological daughters and adoptive son. Now that they’re growing up, he’s got the blessing of his family to circle back on his singing goals, and, yep, he’s still got it.
At first, his voice sounds a little too raspy and unrefined, but he smartly throws in some rangier notes to showcase a fuller, less whispery tone that Kelly and Blake can get on board with. Although Kelly assures him she knows a thing or two about the country music scene and even goes so far as to serenade him with “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” his kids are fans of Blake’s, and that’s that.
Team: Blake Shelton
Mackenzie Thomas (19 — Wallingford, Kentucky)
“Redbone” by Childish Gambino
Here’s another bummer moment. Mackenzie Thomas has been subverting expectations since she was a kid, and tonight, she shocks all the coaches again. None of them turn around for her, since she’s too shaky to maintain the gospel-R&B tones that do work, but when they do, they give her kudos for sticking to what she likes, no matter what people might think.
Justin Kilgore (30 — Austin, Texas)
“Tomorrow” by Chris Young
Last but definitely not least for this evening is our first four-chair turn of the competition, Justin Kilgore. Like many of the auditioners who’ve made it through tonight, he’s got his own story to tell, and it’s a deeply personal one. Through music, he’s been able to find his voice and live authentically as an openly gay man for the first time in his life.
Apart from not having to hide anymore, the other good news is that he can sing. Justin has a deep, resounding voice that matches perfectly with his song choice. He’s got some serious country persuasion on display, but there are some pop-rock moments coming through in his belts as well. He might just be more versatile than he thinks, so maybe it’s a good thing that Alicia’s chosen to use her one block on Blake to convince him to try for another squad. Despite some impassioned pleas from Adam and Alicia, Kelly refuses to let him get away, and lucky for him, she might just be the genre-bending artist he needs coaching him.
Team: Kelly Clarkson
Team Adam: Rayshun LaMarr, Drew Cole
Team Alicia: Britton Buchanan, Kelsea Johnson, Justin Kilgore
Team Kelly: Brynn Cartelli, D.R. King
Team Blake: Kyla Jade, Kaleb Lee