The second round of singers work to stand out among the big personalities in the spinny chairs.

By Jodi Walker
Updated April 10, 2015 at 09:37 PM EDT
Credit: Tyler Golden/NBC
S8 E2

On Monday night’s premiere of The Voice, Adam couldn’t catch a break. Which, y’know, is okay, because Adam Levine has probably caught his fair share of breaks at this point, among them, getting to bro out with his main schoolyard crush, Blake Shelton for 300 days a year. As the man said himself, “I usually get most of who I want.” But not today, my friend. You may be rich, you may be famous and handsome and have gotten the most promising act of the night—wait, I got a little lost there. Are we still supposed to be feeling sorry for Adam?

Adam is going to be fine, we know this. They’ll keep bringing out street performers and people who “used music to escape the hard times” until the guy fills his team up. But the insinuation that the outside world’s perception is finally affecting the coach-choosing process is providing a delicious tension in season 8. Everyone knows what’s up by now: The less-seasoned coaches could be ripe for a win; Adam is the coach that gets people to the final; Blake is the coach that takes one and wins. And, indeed, Adam is getting the singers who seem like they’re ready to dig in and work, Blake is getting the acts that stand out early, Pharrell is getting the soulful vets and spirited newcomers, and Christina… well, I don’t really know how to classify the people who end up going Xtina’s way, but I do enjoy listening to Carson Daly describe her as some variation of “The Original Voice Power House” every single night.

Idol may be able to nab a star every once in a while, but The Voice has figured out how to give a singing show a narrative: It somehow turns singing into a sport, where the sport is four very rich people collecting humans who stand the best chance of nailing an “Uptown Funk/Stay With Me” mashup in Week 9. It’s all very normal television. Tonight, the coaches have expanded menageries to include…

Anthony Riley, 27; “I Got You (I Feel Good)”

Anthony is a street performer like many who make their way through the blazing red gates of The Voice, but Anthony is decorated: He was named Best of Philly’s Top Street Performer! Now, I don’t know if the first note of his James Brown cover warranted the fastest four-chair turn in Voice history—truly, Carson is the Chris Harrison of NBC—but the man knew exactly what he was doing onstage and it was all topnotch stuff. His footwork was fancy, his falsetto on point, the audience was his, and every level of his voice was nice… like sugar and spice, you might say. Blake tells him that choosing the others would be “like mixing water with water, but would be like putting whiskey in your water,” but shockingly, that doesn’t work and Anthony goes with his soul brother in R&B and hydration: TEAM PHARRELL

Gabriel Wolfchild, 26; “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright”

I could hardly listen to Wolfchild sing because I kind of just wanted to watch him… be him. In his family, choosing a name is a rite of passage and he chose wisely with Wolfchild. His voice is rich and gave a sort of casual affect to his Bob Dylan cover, but it never went gimmicky even though it could have very easily. Blake, Adam, and Christina battle it out for him, and even though Blake tells him he “doesn’t sing into people’s ear, he sings into their soul,” I kid you not, this mesmerizing hippie went TEAM CHRISTINA.

Brooke Adee, 16; “Skinny Love”

Brooke is a 16-year-old with hippie headwear who somehow makes things like talking about humidity and her curly hair being “kind of a bummer” sound endearing. Because despite her impressive stage presence and strong voice, she has a very kid-like appeal, which is nice for a 16-year-old. She sings the Birdy version of “Skinny Love” that’s been popularized by singing show auditions, but keeps some of the conviction that grounds Bon Iver’s original. Blake and Adam turn around almost immediately. Adam gives it his best effort, but you just can’t overcome Blake’s track record with the youngsters (or his illegal coaching of the Voice audience to chant his name if it came down to him and Adam). TEAM BLAKE

Tonya Boyd-Cannon, 35; “Happy”

Tonya has a beautiful, bald head, killer fashion sense, grew up singing in church, and now works with a prison choir… that’s what Voice dreams are made of, right there. Tonya gives a sneakily subtle performance of “Happy”—is that even possible?—that builds and builds until she’s firing on all cylinders by the end, earning Adam’s chair right from the start, and Christina and Pharrell right at the end. I don’t think this performance showed near what Tonya can really do, but showing off her strong lower range and spunky spirit was a calculated risk that paid off. Adam does some bizarre sales pitch where he tells Tonya there’s no reason she should go with him over the other two coaches, but this is opposite-season, and it works. Finally: TEAM ADAM

Joe Tolo, 21; “To Love Somebody”

Joe is the youngest of eight and it shows in his soft-spoken but bubbly manner. That quality ends up translating to something surprisingly sweet and rich onstage that almost makes me want to hear him get down on some Righteous Brothers or something. Christina is the first to turn and Blake follows after Joe nails a pitch-perfect high note. And that was no accident, as Christina makes him repeat the note three different times, and hits him with and even higher harmony on the third, and confidently says, “Right?” Adam and Pharrell throw their weight behind The Voice’s O.G. powerhouse, and it was all over: TEAM CHRISTINA

Mia Z, 15; “The Thrill Is Gone”

At 15, Mia has already been in band with her family—on lead vocals, no less—for seven years, and she steps out on that stage with the confidence, vocal maneuvers, and excellent music taste to prove it. I found her enunciation difficult to understand, but it didn’t seem to bother the coaches. Her voice has all the right moves, now it’s just a question of which coach can best sharpen her raw talent; Adam and Blake show their truest coach colors when Adam says he would want to help her eliminate some of that “special sauce” affectation that lots of people use these days, and Blake says he would just drizzle more on. But Mia is a blues girl to her core and the winning coach tells her he wants to help her take that genre to the next level: TEAM PHARRELL

Blaze Johnson, 23; “How to Save a Life”

Blaze moved from Jamaica to Ohio when he was a kid for his father (Blaze Sr.!) to be able to go college; he’s got the islands in his soul, but his sound is a little more… well, I don’t want to say “Ohio,” but Blaze will tell you himself that his voice doesn’t really match his look. He even comes with a tagline: “I’m a big guy with a big voice with a big dream.” He does have a big voice, and it covers The Fray well, turning Adam and Blake’s chairs, but I felt like he wasn’t committing to his bigger notes. There’s a lot to love about Blaze though and Adam takes a note from Pharrell and tells Blaze he wants to work with him because he exists outside the box. TEAM ADAM

Deanna Johnson, 18; “All I Want”

I remember Deanna from season 5, but I don’t remember her sounding anything like the unique showing she gave tonight. Mostly, of course, I remember her Georgia accent and the delightful way she ignores the last “g” in all of her gerunds. But Deanna is much more than that now: She’s 18, spirited, beautiful, and most importantly, has put in the work to figure out how to use her husky tone. I’m not sure that the Kodaline cover was the best showcase of her unique voice, but she certainly got the gist out there: This low range that sounds like Dolly Parton and Florence Welch got together is something special. Deanna went from zero chairs to four chairs in the matter of a few seasons, and while new coach Pharrell swears he would have had her back if he’d been around, and even makes it all the way up to the stage, it’s Adam’s promise to work to make her even better that sways this go-getter. TEAM ADAM

The Voice’s third and fourth hours (Four hours! A week!) didn’t have as many standout performances as the premiere, but it very potentially holds one or two diamonds in the rough. What did you think of the night? Did Adam end up with a few of the best after waiting so long? Or will this slump really hurt his chances to churn out a winner this year? Who were your favorites of the night?

Episode Recaps

The Voice

A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.

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