The Voice season premiere recap: Let the Blind Auditions begin!
“See ya later, sweatpants!” coach Kelly Clarkson exclaims before leaving the comforts of home and heading back to The Voice studio. The virtual competition The Voice had to pivot to in the second half of season 18 went as smoothly as possible, given the circumstances (the circumstances being the world turning into an actual dumpster fire), but dang if it isn’t nice to see Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Blake Shelton, and newly returned coach Gwen Stefani back in a glossy studio. There’s just something comforting about those giant red chairs with the power to make dreams come true, isn’t there?
A few things do look a little different: There’s a virtual audience, most of the contestants’ families have to watch auditions virtually as well, and the coaches can’t get anywhere near the performers. The coaches make the best of it: Blake has life-size cardboard cutouts of himself for his team members to take home, Kelly has her signature Team Kelly coats on standby in a closet for her contestants to take, Gwen has a Team Gwen t-shirt cannon, and John ... has a fake hand on a stick to “shake” hands with his team. That fake hand will haunt my dreams.
Other than that, season 19 of The Voice is getting as close to “back to normal” as possible, which means we should get right into the singing. Coaches have one block in play and ten spots to fill, so let’s have at it.
Tamara Jade / 30 / Bowie, Md.
“Cuz I Love You” by Lizzo
Starting season 19 with a real banger, I see. Tamara Jade’s music career seemed to be on an upswing — she performed with Lizzo at the VMAs — until the pandemic hit. This is her chance to get some of that momentum back. She chooses a Lizzo bop to do so and it is a smart choice: The song mixes rap-singing with some big ol’ power notes, so Tamara gets to easily show off her personality, her range, and her vocal control in one fell swoop. She easily gets the first four-chair turn of the season. When Kelly notes that Tamara will probably be in the finale, that’s not an exaggeration. She’s got the goods. But it’s John's praise of how Tamara is able to expertly use all of her vocal tricks that seals the deal: Tamara decides to join Team Legend.
Lauren Frihauf / 16 / Byers, Colo.
“Come To My Window” by Melissa Etheridge
As is usually the case on this show, our teenage farmer has a voice that sounds much more mature than you’d expect from a 16-year-old. She has an interesting tone, which is surely what gets both John and Gwen to turn their chairs right at the top of the performance. Gwen loves Lauren’s “wiggly vibrato” paired with the power behind her voice and John commends her for having a clear “point of view as a singer” at such a young age. Lauren decides to let girl power and sparkly leotards reign and grabs a spot on Team Gwen.
Joseph Soul / 34 / Hana, Hawaii
“Is This Love” by Bob Marley
Maybe we should all grow up in a small island town in which family outings consist of group dives into crystal blue water because Joseph Soul, a DJ-turned-singer, seems extremely relaxed as he attempts to win a place on The Voice. Both Kelly and Blake turn for Joseph's R&B-ish version of the classic Bob Marley song “Is This Love." While Blake attempts to win the Hawaiian over with a visual display of his seven wins as coach on The Voice, Kelly talks to Joseph about his actual, you know, voice — she loves that there’s both a “sweetness” and power to it and is especially moved by the “little rasp” in his falsetto. Joseph passes on Blake’s big sales pitch and goes to Team Kelly instead.
Ian Flanigan / 30 / Saugerties, N.Y.
“Colder Weather” by Zac Brown Band
What! Is! This! Man’s! Voice! It is so, so deep that the four coaches all wonder if there’s some “superhero origin story” behind it. You know, like, is Ian “gargling broken glass?” Does he have “DNA from a lion?” He honestly sounds like he’s 300 years old. But he is not, he’s just a 30-year-old country singer traveling with his family in an RV looking for gigs. Blake’s the only one who turns his chair and you can see him try to hide his excitement once he gets a look at the person this voice is coming through, lest other coaches be intrigued. It’s smart, but I’d bet Ian would be choosing Team Blake regardless of how many chairs turned.
Hailey Green / 14 / St. Martin, Miss.
“Soulshine” by The Allman Brothers Band
You know what? This little 14-year-old has a lot going for her: She plays football and loves it, she has a mom who is beyond proud of her, and she has a very cool, low range for a child. It would almost just be too much if she also secured a spot on The Voice. Hailey gets no chair turns — mostly because she lacked vocal control and is light on the artistry — but gets a lot of encouragement from the coaches, who all basically tell her that she needs some more time to hone her skills but then she should definitely make a return to The Voice stage.
Jim Ranger / 38 / Bakersfield, Calif.
“Blue Ain’t Your Color” by Keith Urban
Pastor Jim here does his thing on stage and it turns out his thing is a little country mixed with soul. It’s the latter part that has Mr. John Legend turn his chair around immediately upon hearing his voice. Gwen says she turned because of the passion in his vocals. Blake turns after Jim works his vocals up to a great wailing section at the end. The performance does have some nice dynamics to it. Even though John calls Jim a “great musician” and the end of his song “a revelation” and EVEN THOUGH John shows a political ad parody exposing Blake as a liar on the show (in good fun), the pull of Team Blake is too strong. Jim takes the second spot in Shelton-land.
Eli Zamora / 25 / El Paso, Tex.
“Ya Lo Sé Que Tú Te Vas” by Juan Gabriel
The grass is green, the sky is blue, Kelly Clarkson wants musicians who sing in Spanish on her team. It seems the other coaches have caught on to this indisputable fact because Kelly is the only one who turns for Eli. She just can’t help herself once she hears his “romantic” and “rich tone.” Gwen describes the performance as “a movie” — there was so much heartbreak in his voice. Eli will feel at home on Team Kelly.
Payge Turner / 27 / Trinidad and Tobago
“Call Out My Name” by The Weeknd
It’s our first real blind of the season! It’s immediately clear that Payge has an insane range — those low notes, you guys. It’s surprising that only Blake and Gwen turn their chairs. Payge has a great vibe — she describes her sound as “alt-indie-soul-rock” which is, um, a lot — and Blake’s right when he notes that Kelly and John missed out on some top-notch performance value. He’s a fan, he says. Gwen praises Payge’s vocal control, and John calls her “a real artist.” She ends up on Team Gwen, which feels like a huge get for our ska queen.
Corey Ward / 34 / Hartsville, S.C.
“Way Down We Go” by Kaleo
Have we learned nothing, The Voice? It’s 2020 and I can’t take hearing someone’s heartbreaking story only to have their dreams crushed when zero chairs turn during their audition. This, unfortunately, is exactly what happens to Corey, who tells us about how his mother, who has stage 4 cancer, is a big fan of the show and he’s doing this for her, before failing to win over a coach. Gwen thought the performance “felt a little linear” and John noted some “control issues.” Corey takes the rejection better than anyone else, including the coaches.
Marisa Corvo / 33 / Staten Island, N.Y.
“Perfect” by Pink
Honestly, if a contestant tells a coach “I’ll make you sauce” with zero prompting, they should get an automatic bye to the Knockouts. Sorry, it’s 2020 and everyone should be as excited about pasta sauce as Marisa Corvo is. Marisa comes from a big Italian family, so this all tracks. Her family opens up about how they didn't accept her when she came out in her twenties, but it seems like they've since healed and now Marisa’s father is on national television crying about how proud he is of his daughter. It's a lot to fit into a pre-audition package. There's also some singing: Marisa has a powerful pop-ready voice, so when she ends up on Team Kelly, it makes a lot of sense.
John Holiday / 35 / Rosenberg, Tex.
“Misty” by Johnny Mathis
The final audition of our premiere night is another true blind audition — and this one might really throw you. John’s range is insane and Kelly Clarkson admits she assumed it was a woman singing upon first hearing him. John’s always had a higher voice, and he turned that talent into a successful opera career. He’s looking to move into more of a jazz and gospel sound, and he succeeds in doing that here. Gwen, who turned her chair, calls his voice “retro in a great way” and applauds him for knowing exactly who he is as an artist. Kelly is obsessed with John’s voice but was blocked by John Legend, who turned his chair the moment John began to sing. The two Johns unite — this is an easy Team Legend win.
Team Kelly: Joseph Soul, Eli Zamora, Marisa Corvo
Team Gwen: Lauren Frihauf, Payge Turner
Team Legend: Tamara Jade, John Holiday
Team Blake: Ian Flanigan, Jim Ranger
A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.