All original judges are back! Blind auditions begin and become heated over a rugby-playing, indie-pop crooner
Season 5 of your favorite chair-turning, blind-listening, mostly diplomatic singing competition is back! In tow? An Emmy for best reality competition and the return of the original judging crew. Tonight’s Part One of the blind auditions features many a lesson in fundamentals and a very noticeable absence of crazy. No exotic pets perched on CeeLo Green’s shoulder. No eye-catching Christina headpieces. Not even a clean-shaven Adam Levine to ogle at. (Oh and there’s Blake, too. But he’s married to Miranda, so he’s doing just fine!) Not even a slew of zany competitors with supercalifragalistic names, save a for a few interesting crustacean-inspired hairdos.
So what’s left to watch? Well, the award-winning premise — hyperactive hyper-talented judges listening for the voice.
But first, a public announcement demonstrating said judges’ said excitement:
CeeLo: “I’m ready to get back in the chair!”
Blake Shelton, assuring us his head hasn’t exploded from his hat trick of wins: “[It] doesn’t mean I’ve lost any passion for nurturing these artists.”
Christina Aguilera, in a chic bob flaunting that newly svelte figure: “I want someone that wants to go to the top!”
The four judges open the show with a performance of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
“It’s like getting the original band back together and jamming one more time,” says Blake. Right, except when it’s clear when one of your members is clearly out of their element. While Christina was at home hijacking the song with her kinked-out hair, powerhouse runs, and sexy strutting, CeeLo’s vocals were totally drowned out. Blake and Adam had a little bro moment with their dueling guitars. Who knew Adam could shred?
Speaking of shredding, well, the vocal chord kind, our first blind audition comes from Kat Robichaud, 29, from North Carolina. A glam rock devotee, Kat says she loves Queen and David Bowie. She shows host Carson Daly photos from her touring days — hair all mussed-up, she oozed Ziggy Stardust vibes. Given the Bowie-gushing, you’d think Kat would go all sparkle-jumpsuit for her costume, but instead she chose a white blazer and stripey pants combo. She’s accompanied by her bespectacled husband who’s the adorkable prepster to Kat’s glam-o-rock-goddess. Kat’s father died after suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and other complications. It’s clear he’s a driving musical inspiration as she says to him before going on stage,“You’re helping me with this, right?”
Kat needed no help from above, as her rendition of “I’ve Got the Music in Me” set the judges on chair-turning fire. And I can see why; Kat’s voice is this delicious raspalicious combination of Janis Joplin with a bit of raw Alecia Moore (a.k.a. Pink) and a dose of Brandi Carlile. Adam says her name should be “Raspy McRasperson.” CeeLo, in a subdued Thriller-era Michael Jackson jacket, “You engulfed me, you set me on fire.” And Christina, in true girl form, asks:
“How did you do that kick with those big platform shoes?” (Kat doled out some impressive windmill action with those gams.) Even country crooner Blake wants to get in on Kat’s rocker rasp, asking her to teach him about David Bowie and Queen. In standard contestant form of beauty pageant judge diplomacy, Kat says, “I don’t think I could lose either way, honestly.”
And she chooses CeeLo! Which sort of makes sense? Although the only thing vaguely glam rock about him are his past outfits.
Before we cut to commercial, omniscient narrator man says up next is “The fastest four-chair turn in Voice history,” which really just sounds like revved-up aerobics day at a nursing home.
NEXT: Girls just wanna have fun with Adam Levine
Next on the musical docket is honeysuckle-sweet 17-year-old Caroline Pennell of New Jersey. She confesses that that she grew up struggling with her shyness. And even though she discovered her love of singing, “I was nervous about sharing with other people because everyone cares about what people think.” Sweet Caroline chooses to sing “Anything Could Happen,” and barely into the first verse, Blake is on it! Followed by CeeLo. Caroline’s voice, contrasting with Kat’s almost-sing-screaming, is soothing and a sprite-lier version of Norah Jones, heck throw in some Yael Naim and some chamomile. Caroline lists Florence and the Machine, Ellie Goulding, and Regina Spektor as influences. After swivelling around and seeing Caroline in a floral-patterned dress, Adam says, “You’re like the sweetest thing” (swoon) and concedes she’s a Blake-student-in-the-making. CeeLo says “I believe we’re cut from the same cloth,” (right, his red leather and her floral pattern, totally the same fabric). Blake calls her a “bad a– vocalist,” and encourages her to believe in herself.
Despite the Blake campaigning, Sweet Caroline chooses CeeLo, which I initially turn my nose at, but it sort of makes sense as CeeLo’s genre is in that weird in-between stage between funky and Starbucks CD-rack singer-songwriter-y. And backstage, Caroline is stoked, “That is so cool OMG! I’m gonna cry. He looks like he could take care of me as a person.” Whatever that means.
The Voice better be saving the best for last, because where’s the belly-belter for Christina? The sexy rocker for Adam? The displays of secret sexual tension between Christina and Adam?!
Well, as we’re seeing, this season premiere is front-loaded with females. The next contestant is 54-year-old Donna Allen of South Florida. She used to sing with Gloria Estefan via the Miami Sound Machine. Donna is our first eccentric character of the night, and not for her goal, “I would love to be the first person over 40 to win The Voice,” but for her Boy George outfit replete with sky-high side ponytail with a swash of purple hair. Donna sings “You Are So Beautiful,” and before she can belt out the “Are,” Christina is all over that red button like a moth to an eccentrically dressed flame. Adam follows suit with a chair-turnaround (we really ought to invent a singular verb for this judging motion!) and then Christina starts gesticulating to Donna’s singing, as if she got the devil of the diva runnin’ through her! Women! Hooray, a vocalist that can match Aguilera’s powerhouse chords.
“That voice is like the heavens opening up. I was so moved,” Christina said. Blake chimes in, “It would be crazy for you not to go with someone like Christina.” Adam raises his hand like a kinetically energetic fourth grader trying to get teacher’s attention, but he’s intercepted by CeeLo. Once he gets a word in edgewise, Adam says, “I’m gonna be super bummed if you don’t pick me because I love you very much.” Donna, Christina is your singing crack-spirit-guide — don’t fall for the Adam facial symmetry Monet trick!
And in typical pre-breakup speech, Donna says, I have such great respect for you and you’re such a great artist …” And in the first WTF moment of the night, she chooses Adam.
He runs onstage and picks Donna up, her swash of purple hair spinning like a My Little Pony in first love…
“I see why you picked him now,” jokes Christina. (Girl, could ya blame her?)
But it’s also at this point that I wonder maybe the judging format should be double blind…
Adam retorts, “I don’t care what age she is. She’s freaking incredible.”
For so much female power, no artist-mentee love for Miss Genie-In-A-Bottle.
NEXT: Will a country crooner grant Christina her wish?
First guy of the night is Texan Jake Worthington, who’s got a thick Southern drawl, and is shown in a swamp full of mud with other shirtless men. He’s outdoorsy! He’s a guy! He has friends? In addition to being the first dude, he also coins the first catchphrase: “There’s not much to it, besides to do it.” Clearly he’s a man of few speaking words. Now let’s get to his singing ones! Texan Jake sings “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” and lest you think he’s right in Blake’s wheelhouse, Blake no likey. Jake’s family and friends backstage yell, “C’mon, hit the button!” But again, Blake’s hand registers zero movement. Guess he took Jake’s song seriously. His buttery country crooning didn’t impress anyone and all four chairs remained unturned. Blake speaks first, “You’re about to come here and beat me up.” He explains that Jake didn’t take any “big vocal chance.” And Jake doesn’t fight back, “I’m so happy to be here.” Christina, ever-cheerful this episode, tried to lighten the mood, “I thought it was fun! I was having a good time back here,” imitating Jake’s yodeling technique. C’mon, he yodels!
Keeping the testosterone train going is now the omniscient narrator man’s promised source of the FASTEST CHAIR TURN IN HISTORY! RECORD TIME BUTTON PUSHERS! SPEEDIEST CHAIR TURNERS! (really, we need a linguist to mock up a Voice verb for us…)
On another side note do you guys ever wonder if the judges get dizzy from all that turning anyway?
Anyhoo, enter 20-year-old Matthew Schuler, of Pennsylvania. A rugby player and bagel shop worker, Matthew is a musical everything bagel. Get this, dude also sings songs to help him remember bagel sandwich ingredients. I wonder if he can make “lox, scallion cream cheese, and capers” catchy? Matthew is the son of pastors and dedicates the competition to them, “I could finally give them back a little bit of what they’ve given me.” Matthew sings an a cappella version of Young the Giant’s “Cough Syrup” and really, omniscient narrator man does not fail us, as all four judges appear to push the button at the same time. Matthew’s family goes berserk backstage. And Matthew continues to grace us with his butterscotch-smooth rendition. It sounds, and he looks, (with his glinty perma-white smile), like he was singing this for Glee, and I mean that as a compliment. If you’ve heard the original, Matthew’s version makes it a little more radio-friendly, but still sweet to the ‘ol ear canals. The judges go ga-ga. Tiny Christina stands up on her chair, clapping. Adam also stands on his chair before he switches to straddling it. Blake walks up onstage and shakes Matthew’s hand. Christina runs down to hug him. And CeeLo says, “Well hot damn, who the hell are ya?”
It’s a battle between Christina and Adam, and I’m also torn as to which of them would most benefit future Glee cast member Matthew. Christina could give him the range, Adam could… help him get girls. “I know we can do it. This the big one that I have to get,” says Adam. “Please break that cycle. Let me be the first female coach to win this thing,” begs Christina.
Matthew, grinning ear-to-ear with all the adoration, says, “I feel like my heart is telling me that…”
NEXT: Commercial breaks and youth are cruel, no?
“…that i gotta go with Christina.” Finally! Diva-in-residence gets her star pupil and rightfully so.
“I didn’t think I was gonna get him, to be very honest, she says in a side confessional interview.
Then we cut to lots of product placement — Kia cars and Starbucks beverages — and Carson Daly traveling all over, meeting potential Voices, such as what appears to be Kaley Cuoco’s personal assistant. Muy interesante, perhaps for a future episode?
Next up is Nick, 26, who describes his style as a cross between Jessie J and Amy Winehouse. He used to travel for theater performances but stopped when his step-dad left his mom and he had to go back home to help raise his little brother who suffers from seizures. To make ends meet, Nick started bartending and teaches hip hop (including twerking). “I’m here to show America something different,” he says. Nick sings Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops).” He gives it a jazzier jingle, and his raw voice almost sounds like a weaker Adam Levine actually. And Adam is the first to hit the button.
“What’s going on, handsome?” Nick says to Adam.
“Flattery will get you… everywhere,” says Adam, before he applauds Nick’s frenetic dancing. CeeLo interjects with his musical history lesson of the night, on Beyoncé: “She mastered that rapid-fire R&B style.”
But the Nick/Adam rom-com banter continues:
“I’m like the resident white boy that loves the same things that you love,” says Adam.
“I just don’t know if I’m gonna be able to focus because you’re so good-looking,” says Nick. (At least he’s an honest student, I’m looking at you Donna!) And of course he goes with Levine. Backstage he says to his little brother, “And I hit on Adam Levine, like what? That was real?”
Tonight, another theme besides utter lack of judge craziness was that younger contestants did not fare well. A montage of teenage contestants getting the boot was shown along with their criticisms: “You need more experience”; “You sounded like you’re just going through the motions”; “Show a little more range.”
But one youngin’ tried his best to capture their attention. Matthew Brea, 15, of Georgia, dedicated his performance to his deceased younger brother Jonathan, who suffered from seizures. Matthews parents came from Haiti. “This is my one shot. I wanna take it and grab it,” he said. He sang The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” And though as sweet and adorable as he was, little Matthew’s voice did not rouse the judges from their chairs. As touched as I was by his earnestness, I also became a little bored during the performance, my mind wandering off to wonder did CeeLo’s lacy head tattoo hurt? as the camera panned into his newest cranial accessory. CeeLo had his hand cupped on his button the whole time, but did not budge.
When the judges did their collective swivel, they were shocked at the kid staring back at them. “Whoa!” said Blake. “How old are you? Oh my God, you’re like a child prodigy. I thought it was somebody 40 years old singing this song,” said CeeLo. Is that why you didn’t turn around?
“Where did you get that voice from?” asks Adam.
“God,” Matthew replied.
Christina asked him for a hug and CeeLo encouraged him to never give up. The judges were definitely remorseful for letting this one go. So much so that CeeLo went backstage to share his own story of familial loss: “I can relate to your pain.”
NEXT: Pageantry and Platonic Ideal of Voices
Shelbie Z., 21 is a hair stylist and part-time pageant coach. She herself has been competing in beauty contests since she was 3 years old, but stopped around 10 because girls told me I wasn’t pretty because I am a bigger girl.” Shelbie’s husband shares that the first time he heard her sing, “She was just beautiful and I loved her from that point forward.” Shelbie sang Gretchen Wilson’s “Here For The Party,” bringing down the house with her supercharged vocals. Christina was first, then CeeLo, and then Blake, surprisingly. “You’re such a powerhouse,” said Christina. Adam said, “Just pick anyone other than Blake.” But if you wanna be a country superstar, you ought to go with the thrice winner, and she does.
So to tally up the judges’ wares so far: CeeLo has two contestants, and everyone else is one apiece.
Now it’s time for the alterna-rocker. Josh Logan, 33, has double piercings and wears all black. He shares that at age 16 he and his girlfriend had a baby boy and “didn’t handle it well at first.” They are no longer together, but his son was there to support him. Singing “Too Close,” Josh’s voice also sounded like an Adam mach II, but maybe with more One Republic mixed in with a dash of diva runs. Blake jumped the gun first, followed by Christina. Adam was third.
“I have a man crush on you,” said Blake. “I’m not sure how to take that, thank you,” said Josh.
There’s been lots o’ embracing tonight and somehow we see Blake and Adam hugging it out.
“You would be different for me to experiment with,” says Christina, which should have been accompanied by an evil scientist hand gesture.
And her vaguely suggestive statement gets her the guy! Josh chooses Christina, prompting Carson to ask, “Why?” “She was very serious in her demeanor,” explains Josh.
Our penultimate contestant wins already for most interesting name: Delvin Choice, 24. He calls himself a tall, sexy glass of water, and wears a fauxhawk-bun called “the lobster.” He works at Starbucks (ad-content synchronization!) and actually sings his orders. He’s The Singing Barista! Wearing black-rimmed glasses and a red scarf, he sang Ne-Yo’s “Closer,” sounding very John-Legend-y. I guess no one likes soy-latte melodies, because no judges turned around. They enjoyed his charming personality and encouraged him to come back next time.
The final blind audition of the night came from James Wolpert, 22, lookin’ straight out of a Williamsburg-based startup, wearing horned-rim glasses, a mauve t-shirt and a maroon cardigan, though he hails from Pittsburgh, PA. He likes tech and illustration, and dropped out of college and works at the Apple Store. He sang a spectacularly soulful take on Jack White’s “Love Interruption,” impressing the judges with his unique vibrato and eclectic singing style. “You’re like the complete vocalist,” said Blake. “I didn’t expect to see you, that’s what I love about this show so much.” Blake wins for most idiosyncratic voice of the night. I couldn’t pin down a genre, nor the judge he should go with. Of course there was a Christina-Adam quibble, but Adam won this battle. As if they’ve been hearing my accusations of their sexual tension, Christina yells “Bend over! Bend Over!” and whacks Adam’s behind with what might have been her purse.
Check back tomorrow for more blind audition fun. Here’s the count so far:
CeeLo has Kat and sweet Caroline, Blake has Shelbie Z., Adam has Donna, Nick, and James, and Christina has Matthew and Josh.