The Voice season premiere recap: Ariana Grande takes her first spin in the big red chairs
It's season 21 of The Voice, and everyone has that new coach feeling going on. That's right, this season, Voice stalwarts Blake Shelton, John Legend, and Kelly Clarkson are joined by a newbie you may have heard of: Ariana Grande. I'm happy to report that she not only seems to fit in with the group almost immediately, but she also knows how to sell herself to win artists over to her team — not everyone can! Time will tell how she does as a coach, but based on the fact that she's made it very clear up front that she's mainly concerned with proper vocal technique and building real career longevity, it seems like she'll be more than okay. Plus, she has a handy-dandy "thank u, next" button to cut off her fellow coaches when they're bugging her. Personally, I'd like one of those buttons for my day-to-day life, but that's a discussion for another day! Right now, we have a whole new crop of vocalists competing for spots on our four coaches' teams, and all coaches have their blocks in play. After the four coaches perform a fun little mash-up of "Hold On, I'm Comin'" and "Respect" (more of these four singing together, please), it's time to dive into the singing.
Girl Named Tom / Pettisville, Ohio
"Helplessly Hoping" by Crosby, Stills & Nash
Season 21 starts things off with a trio. But not just any trio, a sibling trio. You know Kelly Clarkson can't resist those sweet, sweet family harmonies. She turns her chair around almost immediately and is followed pretty quickly by John Legend. Brothers Joshua and Caleb and their sister Bekah (the boys used to call her 'Tom' growing up, hence... you get it) have some gorgeous, precise harmonies here, and even if it's not the most exciting performance, they're really nailing that folksy acoustic sound. They seem polished — which is probably why both Blake and Ariana end up turning too. It's a four-chair turn to start things off, friends! John, who reminds them that arranging harmonies is his thing, wants to get their sound on some Sufjan Stevens and Bon Iver songs. Kelly thinks it would be great to push them out of their comfort zone à la Johnny Cash taking on Trent Reznor. The siblings seem torn but ultimately decide to join Team Kelly.
Katie Rae / 35 / Sacramento, Calif.
"The Bones" by Maren Morris
Katie Rae didn't start gigging in earnest until she was in her 30s, and while she tends to perform more soul and R&B, she was inspired by Maren Morris's music while dealing with postpartum depression after her son's birth. That kind of emotional connection helps her performance, and paired with the raspiness in her voice and her big vibrato, it's not hard to see why Kelly, John, and Ariana all turn for Katie. Everyone loves her runs, and Kelly calls her lower register "magical," like "sizzling butter," which is certainly something. But in the end, it's Ariana's "I love a strong powerhouse bad bitch vocalist" that really appeals to Katie Rae. She winds up becoming the inaugural member of Team Ariana.
Peedy Chavis / 19 / Lawrenceville, Ga.
"Heartbreak Hotel" by Elvis Presley
Peedy here is giving the backs of those red chairs his best Elvis interpretation — swinging hips and flopping hair all over the place — and both John Legend and Blake Shelton eat it up. Both coaches turn early on, probably because they wanted to see the show. Blake says that he had to turn because those Elvis-like vocals had him "fired the hell up," and John tells Peedy that the kid was "singing [his] butt off" — he was won over by Peedy's tone and big range. Peedy says that he typically sticks to old school doo-wop, soul, funk, and rock & roll, so it'll be interesting to see what kind of song selections this self-proclaimed Elvis-obsessive will go with moving forward in the competition. He joins Team Blake.
Jonathan Mouton / 30 / Los Angeles, Calif.
"Leave the Door Open" by Silk Sonic
Oooooh, Jonathan sounds so smooth on this song. It's not wholly surprising since he comes from a musical family: His mother used to sing background for Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye (those are some credits). Jonathan had to press pause on his burgeoning music career when he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, but he's healthy now and ready to get back into it. Both John and Ariana turn around, tempted by some well-timed runs and professional-level vocal control. John compares Jonathan to Peabo Bryson and Luther Vandross, and honestly, how could you not pick him after those compliments? Jonathan finds a home and a new boxing robe (John Legend's gift to his team this season) over on Team Legend.
Marco Salvador / 15 / Miami, Fla.
"Bailamos" by Enrique Iglesias
He's cute, and The Voice typically has a few Latin music performers each season, but Marco's age and inexperience get the better of him here. He has some major pitch issues, which Ariana calls out after Marco fails to turn any chairs. Kelly thought the sections in Marco's higher range where he's belting were stellar, but overall it needs some work. She wants him to come back. He's so young! He has time!
Katherine Ann Mohler / 22 / Memphis, Tenn.
"We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" by Ella Eyre
Katherine is a big Ariana Grande fan, as signified by her long-ass ponytail. It seems like a foregone conclusion that if Ariana turns around, Katherine's going with her. The song choice here… isn't my favorite, but I have no say in the matter, regardless of what I yell at my television. Both Ariana and Blake turn their chairs at the very end of the song. Ariana says she could tell Katherine was nervous in parts but thinks both the technique and tone are spot on, so there's room to grow. Blake can pitch all he wants, but Katherine dressed up as Ariana for Halloween one year, so the guy has no shot. Katherine Ann Mohler grabs the next spot on Team Ariana.
Jack Rogan / 18 / Rochester, N.Y.
"House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals
It seems like we have a lot of newbies performing tonight, no? Jack has only performed for friends and family up to this point (there's a great video of family members hearing his voice for the first time, jaws-dropped), so this is a huge leap for him. He seems understandably nervous, and it would be great if he could enunciate a bit more, but Jack has such a cool, moody, and surprisingly mature voice. As soon as he hits the first few notes, Kelly and John press their buttons. John tells him it was because of the "gravity and beauty of your tone" and that his voice is imbued with emotion. He thinks Jack is a real storyteller. Kelly says the performance "got better and better" and compares him to some iconic voices — Johnny Cash and Ray LaMontagne. Jack picks Team Legend.
Kinsey Rose / 35 / Nashville, Tenn.
"Cowboy Take Me Away" by the Chicks
Oh, you thought Kelly and Blake's rivalry for country artists would be played out by now? You're so very, very wrong. Usually, it takes a few more country performances for Kelly to pull out her block to prevent Blake from using his country charms, but not in season 21. She hears Kinsey Rose's crisp, clear country voice and presses her button while blocking Blake. Blake still turns but isn't surprised to learn he won't be winning this one. It's certainly not the most confident performance of the evening, but it sounds like there could be some powerful vocals behind the nerves. Kinsey Rose could do well after some coaching from Team Kelly.
Vaughn Mugol / 27 / Beaumont, Tex.
"The A Team" by Ed Sheeran
Vaughn is a nurse in an oncology unit who sings to his patients and has the perfect voice for poppy R&B music. He seems pretty nervous ahead of his Blind Audition, which makes it all the more surprising when he pulls off a super confident vocal performance. It's a great song choice for him, showing off some smart runs while also revealing some power and personality. John and Kelly, who have seemed in sync all night, turn quickly at the same time, and Ariana follows not long after. John praises how comfortable and professional Vaughn sounds, Kelly loves that Vaughn is an emotional singer, and Ariana loves the "little break" in his voice. She also gives one hell of a sales pitch about helping him keep his instrument healthy and putting in the "real work" for a long-lasting career. Ariana knows how to sell, baby! Vaughn is Team Ariana all the way.
Gracie Nourbash / 18 / Glenview, Ill.
"Control" by Zoe Wees
Well, at least Gracie gets to show Ariana Grande pictures the two of them took together during one of Ariana's tours years ago, right? The 18-year-old doesn't win any chair turns — she has some pitch and, ironically, vocal control issues — but the coaches do compliment her vibrato and big range. It just never really comes together in a compelling way. Ariana does kiss one of those photos for Gracie to keep, so there's that.
Wendy Moten / 56 / Nashville, Tenn.
"We Can Work It Out" by the Beatles
We love a comeback story! Wendy Moten has been around the music industry block before, releasing the hit single "Come in Out of the Rain" in the '90s before becoming a background vocalist for some major acts including Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Julio Iglesias, and Wynonna. She says things like "being here is winning" and that she just wants to enjoy it all, and honestly guys, that is an outlook that only comes with life experience, and am I tearing up? I mean, maybe! Oh yes, the singing. Wendy has pipes. And more than pipes, she has incredible vocal control over them. She is a pro, of course. All four coaches turn and she gets a standing ovation at the end. Everyone's fighting for this one and Ariana sort of sums up all of their feelings by telling Wendy that it is a privilege to hear her sing. Although Wendy sings the Stevie Wonder version of this song and her own song was on the R&B charts, she does seem to have a lot of experience working with country artists, which must explain why she decides to join Team Blake. Right??
TEAM KELLY: Girl Named Tom, Kinsey Rose
TEAM LEGEND: Jonathan Mouton, Jack Rogan
TEAM ARIANA: Katie Rae, Katherine Ann Mohler, Vaughn Mugol
TEAM BLAKE: Peedy Chavis, Wendy Moten