By Amanda Bell
September 24, 2018 at 11:22 PM EDT
Trae Patton/NBC
S15 E1
  • TV Show

And we’re back!

The Voice‘s 15th (yes, fifteenth) season is upon us, with the ever-faithful Adam Levine and Blake Shelton joined by Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson in the red chair quadrant this time around. If you count JHud’s The Voice UK win, each of these four coaches is coming in with at least one victory in the bag, which means bragging rights are more at stake than ever. We can probably expect the gents to be extra spicy to one another all season long.

If tonight’s first round of blind auditions is any indication, this season should be stacked with some serious talent on Team JHud, and while we haven’t seen her throw any shoes yet, it’s just a matter of time.

Let’s take a look at tonight’s crop of contestant hopefuls.

Sarah Grace (15 – Houston, TX)
“Ball and Chain” by Janis Joplin

Let’s just assume Kelly Clarkson’s red ladies jacket offering had no bearing on Sarah Grace’s decision, even though the girl literally experiences life in color thanks to her rare synesthesia condition. It’s much more likely that Team Kelly is just a better fit for the high schooler, whose smoky voice is a surprisingly mature match for the blues genre that’s given her so much joy over the years. Sarah Grace might be very young, but her level of control shows some real sophistication — that growl! — and she’s also got a lot of natural rhythm on display in her performance. While she doesn’t choose JHud Productions to guide her through this competition, Hudson gets it right when she pegs this little lady’s voice and performance style as “sassy.”

Team: Kelly Clarkson.

Tyshawn Colquitt (23 – Cincinnati, OH)
“Like I Can” by Sam Smith

And suddenly, I’m hungry for some cake. We’ve seen a lot of song delivery guys and gals come through on this show, but Tyshawn Colquitt’s “Pound and Sound” service has gotta be the most unusual (and delicious) idea yet. Fortunately for him, he’s got a lot more going for himself than just the family business. His voice is built for that “real R&B” genre he’s looking to revive — the coaches are hearing everything from Brian McKnight to Teddy Pendergrass among his myriad tones, and both Jennifer Hudson and Blake Shelton turn around for him. Blake’s just always on the prowl for a soul singer who might break away from the obvious trajectory and give him a chance (hey, Kyla Jade), but this is a match made in JHud Productions heaven, no doubt about it. There’s a lot of work to be done to ready him for the next level; he needs to slow down a bit and dial down the choppiness, but his energy is on point and his high notes are infectious. He should be a fun one to watch.

Team: Jennifer Hudson.

Tyke James (18 – Laie, HI)
“Perfect” by Ed Sheeran

Speaking of someone worth watching, Tyke James is a full-on one-man show with all of his quirks. From climbing massive trees to eating raw coconuts, the kid is practically on a lifelong audition for the next Point Break remake, no? Even though he’s a beach bum whose biggest stage so far has been the sidewalk by a taco truck, he’s an intriguing singer with some raw potential that Adam Levine seems to think can really be something. There’s no doubt he has an achy, unique quality to his lullaby-style delivery that, if he can smooth out the kinks, might be quite lovely. His humorous sense of humility — “I do present something different as an artist, but I wonder if it’s a good difference” — will do wonders for his popularity potential if he makes it to the live rounds.

Team: Adam Levine

Ayanna Joni (29 – Yonkers, NY)
“Sorry Not Sorry” by Demi Lovato

It’s always sad when someone doesn’t get chosen during this level, especially when they’re as close to the mark as Ayanna Joni. But it’s especially gutting when the person getting cut has a kid in tow who hasn’t quite adjusted to life’s many disappointments. This former child actor-turned-teen artist has found a second life in music in the wedding singing business following an unexpected pregnancy, and now she’s ready for more. Her voice itself is strong and has hints of honey that are worth drawing out, but this song choice is so fast-paced and demanding that it makes her sound a bit too nasally and breathy. Luckily, Kelsea Ballerini has heard enough to recruit Ayanna for her “Comeback Stage” subseries, so this isn’t the last we’ve heard of the singer.

Team: N/A

Mercedes Ferreira-Dias (17 – Miami, FL)
“She Used to Be Mine” by Sara Bareilles

An entirely different kind of comeback kid arrives next by way of Mercedes Ferreira-Dias, who was this close to earning a place on Team Kelly Clarkson last season but fell just a tiny bit short of earning a turn. Instead of giving up, she went home and worked on her voice and returned this year with a soft, yearning sound that’s completely affecting. She has clearly honed her song selection skills as well because as this number crests to its bustling chorus, her voice builds up right along with the instrumentals, ultimately demanding that the coaches give her a chance to see it through to the next round. This time, Clarkson does turn her chair, but then so does Blake Shelton, and even though he wasn’t one of the people who encouraged her return, she’s not ready to forgive Kelly just yet. Considering how well Blake worked with Chloe Kohanski, though, maybe this isn’t such a bad move on her part after all!

Team: Blake Shelton

Radha (19 – Jersey City, NJ)
“Mamma Knows Best” by Jessie J

Every season needs a powerhouse, and this time, it looks like Radha is ready for the job. From her first note, the girl is giving the roof supports some trouble, and while she does slow it down around the halfway point, her energy never wavers. It’s… a lot, but Adam, Blake, and Jennifer are interested enough in her sprawling style to turn, and Adam’s even willing to go so far as to use his sole block to keep Jennifer out of the running, so he wins her over. Let’s see if he can find a few songs that might showcase some more of her nuance next time, though, deal?

Team: Adam Levine

Kameron Marlowe (29 – Kannapolis, NC)
“One Number Away” by Luke Combs

Nobody knows what to do with a steely country rocker like Blake Shelton, so it’s hardly a surprise when this guy shows up and goes right to the fatherland, despite Kelly Clarkson’s valiant effort to recruit him to her side of Nashville (which is equally stacked with icons and producers, fwiw). Karmon Marlowe’s delivery is bolstered by the fact that the two judges love his song choice, and it bodes well for his good guy with guitar vibe. He does need some grooming — his whole song seems to fall apart around the halfway point — but if there’s anyone who can do it, it’s Blake “The Cowboy” Shelton, right?

Team: Blake Shelton

Mikele Buck (39 – Big Chimney, WV)
“She Used to Be Mine” by Brooks & Dunn

Meanwhile, Kelly Clarkson is successful in recruiting another country music gent; this time, he’s a legitimate war hero who made it through his service by playing the guitar with a late friend. This guy wears his heart on his sleeve tattoo, and while his voice has a shaky quality that leaves the coaches questioning whether they’d like to recruit him ’til the very end, his audible and intangible appeal is undeniable. He wins over Kelly and Blake, who duke it out until Kelly’s enthusiasm (and talkativeness) wins him over.

Team: Kelly Clarkson

Sam Hastings (23 – Portland, ME)
“Angela” by The Lumineers

Welp. Sam Hastings might have a genuine singer-songwriter quality to him that has the judges interested, but he keeps his performance squarely in the safe zone and thus fails to surprise anyone. The good news is that the coaches enjoyed his earthy vocal tone and said they just need to hear a little more dynamism to be convinced to tamp those buttons. Maybe next time?

Team: N/A

Patrique Fortson (38 – Atlanta, GA)
“Get Here” by Oleta Adams

Now we’re talking. Patrique Fortson got his first gospel recording deal when he was still single digits in age, so there’s no doubt he’s a trained pro and it shows. Like others we’ve heard tonight, he has some natural power, but the difference is he knows how to use it effectively. His sentimental jazz aesthetic is fulfilling, and yet, the end of the song comes way too soon. Jennifer Hudson really feels his style, too, and nods along like he’s giving an instructional up there with every lyric. Somehow, the song gets even more exciting as it goes, and if he can keep that big mood flowing through his music moving forward, he might make it pretty far here.

Team: Jennifer Hudson

Kennedy Holmes (13 – Kansas City, MO)
“Turning Tables” by Adele

This is what you call a closer. Yes, yes, yes ma’am, Kennedy Holmes. She may be only 13, but she’s already the most impressive singer of the season — granted, it’s early, but there’s a lot to like about this one. Where others seem to always butcher Adele in the auditions, she absolutely owns it with her tempered, lovely tones. She’s got the right pitch, control, stage presence, and attitude. She’s the total package already. On top of it all, she manages to hold her own in an instant duet with Jennifer Hudson. The coaches have been a lot less fast and loose with the four-chair turns this season so far, but this one is certainly well-deserved. Count on this girl to stick around just as long as Blake’s Canadian tuxedo, ya’ll.

Team: Jennifer Hudson

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Addison Agen as Blake Shelton’s former teammate.

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