It’s season 9 of The Voice, people, and Gwen Stefani is back in the coaching saddle. With one season under her belt and a season of distance from which to ponder her freshman experience in the coach’s chair, this mega experienced music producer has a blonde ambition that her colleagues/competitors — Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, and Pharrell Williams — are going to have to contend with. The gloves are off and Gwen intends to be the first female artist to take home the distinction of having mentored a winner of The Voice.
The Blind Auditions begin as a fresh crop of millionaire wannabes practice their scales and prepare for the most frightening experience of their lives. For some, it will also be the most exciting moment of their lives as they choose which coach to work with toward the goal of becoming season 9’s winner. Over the next 10 hours of programming, spanning three weeks, we will see the coaches build their teams. Then 48 hopefuls will begin their journey toward the opportunity of their lives. Let’s get started.
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The Coaches Open By Covering Each Other
Gwen takes the stage to perform Blake’s “Neon Light.” Blake does a cover of Gwen’s “Don’t Speak.” Pharrell covers Adam’s “Sugar.” Finally, Adam performs “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams. It’s a blast and a great way to kick off the season. And how appropriate that the lyrics of Pharrell’s song announce what this is all about: “We’ve come too far to give up who we are, so let’s raise the bar and our cause to the stars … we’re up all night to get lucky.”
Coach Cred is the Name of the Game
Next up is a rousing introduction of The Voice‘s ninth quad of coaches. We see snippets of the coach interactions we can expect to see later during the show. We hear the voices of some of the artists, but none of their faces. That’s being saved for the performances. But first, let’s go through the list of coach cred.
Pharrell Williams, last season’s winning coach, is described as an artist and producer with seven Grammy Awards. Adam Levine is a Grammy Award winning lead singer with two The Voice wins under his belt. Get away from his pants, ladies; I don’t mean that literally.
Blake Shelton has coached four Voice winners, which is fitting since the man has 14 #1 hits on the country music circuit. And finally, the returning sweetheart of all sweethearts, the global music and style icon with over two decades of entertainment experience and over 20 million albums sold, Ms. Gwen Stefani.
I just have to take a moment here and say that last season with Christina was a joy. At the beginning, I was sorely disappointed not to have Gwen back, but Christina won my heart 10 times over. That being said, it is an absolute thrill to see Pharrell’s Boo gracing the red swivel chair covered in sequins.
Let the Singing and Chair Swinging Begin
The first contestant is 24-year-old Mark Hood from Chicago. He warns us that he’s crazy and goofy, but he’s ready to take the world by storm. His mother, it turns out, broke her son’s Usher CD when he was younger. She didn’t like the message and decided to send her boy to agricultural school on a farm. What? How could she do that to a man whose heart belongs to music?
Mark Hood (“Use Me”)
Mark opens up by jazzing up Bill Withers’ bluesy song. Pharrell and Adam hit their buttons simultaneously. Gwen eventually hits her buzzer, followed by Blake, and we have our first four-chair artist of the season. Adam and Pharrell give Mark standing ovations. And so does Gwen. Adam says Mark high-fived the stage. Gwen loves his energy and wants him on her team. Pharrell admires the man’s crazy runs. Blake knows exactly what kind of freak of nature Mark is. Despite having predicted he would choose Blake, he goes with Pharrell.
Result: Mark chooses Pharrell
Kota Wade (“Bring It on Home to Me”)
This 23-year-old Californian from Hollywood opened a music venue called Amplyfi in Los Angeles five years ago with her parents. She and her dad manage the stage and mom handles the money. Kota has long grape wavy hair and will not be soon forgotten. She previously had a band called Bad Wolf. She tearfully explains that she wants to turn a chair to show her parents how much they mean to her.
Her voice reminds me of a less experienced Meghan Linsey, the runner-up from season 8. She seems to almost run out of breath as she performs. She’s not nearly as powerful or polished as Meghan, but immediately chairs begin to turn. Gwen, Blake and Pharrell want to coach Kota. Gwen could see Kota in her band and loves her clothing. Pharrell just loves everything overall. Blake calls her a modern day Cyndi Lauper, and then she has to choose.
Result: Kota chooses Gwen
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Keith Semple (“I’ll Be There for You”)
The 33-year-old Irish rocker has an elfy face and some leprechaun ears and an accent that is to die for. He’s been playing since he was 16. In 2006, he joined Seventh Heaven, a successful Chicago band. With Seventh Heaven, he’s opened for Bon Jovi and several other impressive names. His band has also had three #1 albums on Chicago charts, but none of that has been because of him alone. Now he’s ready to blaze his own path to provide security for his wife and 2-year-old daughter.
Keith takes the stage, guitar in hand, to deliver a Bon Jovi cover. He does a great job of it. He’s a small guy, but he’s got some admirable pipes. Adam is the first to hit his buzzer. Gwen is next. The audience flips their cookies over his accent once he speaks.
Adam tempts Keith with promises to introduce him to Bono. Gwen professes her Irish background. Pharrell asks him to make a choice, while Blake tries to sway his choice in the Stefani direction. As a fellow rocker, he really should go with Adam, though.
Result: Keith chooses Adam
Alyssa Sheridan (“I Will Remember You”)
Eighteen-year-old San Diego resident Alyssa Sheridan is an absolutely beautiful nursing student dedicating her performance to her step-father, Floyd, who was killed in Afghanistan when an IED prematurely detonated as he was disarming it.
She’s singing Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” and I know it’s gonna make me bawl. She has a lovely voice, but it’s just not as solid and on key as the coaches like in a contestant. The coaches advise her to keep singing and practicing her technical ability, and then return to The Voice and turn four chairs.
Siahna Im (“Fever”)
Siahna Im is a 15-year-old half-Korean/half-French-Canadian cutie pie with braces and a black bowler hat. Her face is as beautiful and sweet as is her voice, and she’s about as big as a minute. She says Ray Charles is her inspiration. She says some music goes in one ear and goes straight to your heart. That’s the kind of music she wants to perform. The auditions being blind is to her advantage as people usually underestimate her when they see her.
Before Siahna gets her first phrase completely out of her mouth, Gwen has smashed her buzzer and swings her chair around. Several long moments later, Pharrell and Blake turn around. Midway through their pitches, Pharrell takes the stage and hugs Siahna after saying she’s fresh and new and different. Gwen sounds like she would be perfect for Siahna based on her background alone.
Result: Siahna chooses Pharrell
Blake’s Considerable Cred Has Netted Him Nothing
At this point, Blake is the only coach without any artists on his team. You’d think his winning cred would have done better for him, but no go. Gwen already has Kota Wade. Adam has Keith Semple. Pharrell is leading with two artists, Mark Hood and Siahna Im, already on his team. Will Blake be able to convince the next artist to be the very first to join his team?
Jordan Smith (“Chandelier”)
Carson Daly challenges the audience to test their own coaching skills by listening to the next singer as blind as the judges. We hear a lovely female voice singing “Chandelier” by Sia. It’s solid and well-timed. Before too long, Blake hits his buzzer, followed by Pharrell then Gwen and finally Adam. The shocker is that this artist isn’t a lovely female, it’s a bookish man with incredible vocal power. Immediately, Gwen runs to the stage and hugs the big man.
Gwen and Pharrell say that was the trippiest Blind Audition ever. Jordan is from Harlan, KY, and has roots in his church choir. He says the confusion he faces over the sound of his voice and the way he looks is a gift to share with others, letting everyone know that it’s okay to be different.
Jordan listens while all four coaches plead with him to choose them as their mentor.
Result: Jordan chooses Adam
Dr. Paul (“Mama Tried”)
Next up is a ZZ Top-style veteran and country boy at 66 years of age who hails from Haynesville, NC. He put music aside after he married so he could get a serious job at an electrical company. Now that he’s retired, he is pursuing his first love, a love awakened in him by his father back in 1964.
Dr. Paul gives it his all, but no chairs turn.
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Nadjah Nicole (“Tightrope”)
Nadjah Nicole is a 23-year-old single mother of a 2-year-old. From New Castle, DE, this powerhouse with a blonde afro learned she could move people when she began to sing in military school. Halfway through her college career, she got pregnant and counts her daughter as her little cupcake. Now she’s a personal banker who wants her daughter to know that her mommy worked hard for her.
Adam is the first to turn around. Eventually, Blake turns as well right as the final notes are playing out. After the compliments fly, Adam asks her who he will pick and Blake’s finger starts pointing toward himself … and gets his first artist of the season.
Result: Nadjah chooses Blake
Braiden Sunshine (“The Mountains Win Again”)
Hailing from Lyme, CT, 15-year-old Braiden can’t believe how big everything is at The Voice. He’s been in a band called Silver Hammer for the past six years, but the other members are all in college now and can’t perform regularly. His voice is youthful with a rock quality when he gets to the long notes. At the very last possible moment, both Pharrell and Gwen turn their chairs. Both coaches profess that they can help him. Gwen says that if he chooses her, it will make her day. Like, majorly. Braiden can’t resist Gwen’s womanly wiles.
Result: Braiden chooses Gwen
Michael Woolery (“Say”)
From Santa Monica, CA, 25-year old Michael comes from a family of performers. His father is Chuck Woolery from Love Connection. His great grandparents were Ozzie and Harriet. Yeas, the actual Ozzie and Harriet from Ozzie and Harriet. Actor David Nelson and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Ricky Nelson are also in his family tree as well. He’s got some big footprints to follow in.
He’s joined by his 74-year-old famous father and his much younger mother. He loves to ski and trained for the Olympics until an injury ended his career. He says music is what helped him heal from his injuries. He does an okay job, but no chairs turn.
Barrett Baber (“Angel eyes”)
This 35-year-old spent some of his childhood in Africa with his parents. He began singing at 13 years old and earned a scholarship to college. While on an airplane for a choir trip, there was a tragic plane crash. Barrett finds meaning in his children and his wife. He teaches high school drama and speech. His wife says Barrett has even more to give of himself than just to her and their children.
At his second line, Adam and Blake hit their buzzers and swing around. Not long after, Gwen and Pharrell join them. Barrett gives the performance his all and you can see how out-of-this-world excited he is in the final verse of his performance.
Adam sees a little bit of all the coaches in Barrett. He says he will destroy for Barrett. But Barrett is a man who knows how to live like he was dying.
Result: Barrett chooses Blake
Each Coach Starts Off with Two Artists
The artists from the premiere didn’t blow me away in the least, but they are a good starting point. At the beginning of a season, with last season’s successes fresh in my mind, it’s easy to be disappointed in the raw, pre-coached crop. We have four more evenings of Blinds before the coaching commences and people start to improve. I, for one, can’t wait to get to that stage. I sincerely hope there is some better talent out there between now and then.
As it stand, at the end of the evening, Pharrell’s team consists of Mark Hood and Siahna Im. Adam has scored Keith Semple and Jordan Smith. Gwen is joined by Kota Wade and Braiden Sunshine. Finally, Blake has gained Nadjah Nicole and Barrett Baber to start his team. Let’s see what night two brings!
The Voice airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8pm on NBC.
(Image and videos courtesy of NBC)