by Lyn Jensen
Who’s going to win The Voice this season? Will it be whoever best reps hardcore straight-up country on Team Blake, or somebody else? Will we see a new star be born, or someone whose name’ll be forgotten come 2018? Whatever happens, let’s tune in and enjoy the singing contest, or at least some more bickering and wisecracking from returning judges/coaches Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, and Alicia Keys.
Eight people who auditioned on the premiere, 2/27/17, got at least one judge to turn around:
1. J Chosen, R&B singer (his day job is special ed. teacher) who can channel Marvin Gaye’s presence on “Sexual Healing.” (He even makes Alicia blush.) Adam likes him right away, but so do Alicia, Blake, and Gwen. They’re all passionate about him now, but will he survive until the live rounds? I think if he continues at this level, he may even be the first R&B winner in several seasons. He must really like Gwen, because he picks her.
2. Hey, Blake, here’s your first country singer! Lauren Dusky is chasing that neon rainbow–to quote an Alan Jackson song–in Nashville. She sings Jewel’s “You Were Meant for Me” (but if she stays long, which she looks like she will, I’ll request Jackson’s “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow” for her). She’s got Adam’s attention after about five seconds, Blake gets interested when he hears a note he likes. Just when it looks like we’ve got an Adam-Blake showdown, Gwen pulls a buzzer-beater. (That’s usually what Blake does.) Blake thinks she can win–and I’ll say–she’s a country singer, she’s on Team Blake, her odds are good. Gwen and Adam argue she can cross genres but Blake gets his first country singer of the season.
3. Returning contestant Johnny Hayes sings an energetic “Try a Little Tenderness” but I’m already measuring the field against the first two contestants, and I don’t think he’s on their level. Gwen and Adam both turn around on the first line. Adam says, “I feel the energy” and gets his first team member. It’s possible Gwen may steal this guy if she gets a chance.
4. Anatalia Villaranda is a sixteen-year-old Filipino-American from Temecula, California, but her voice is much more mature than her age and size (4-foot-9) may indicate. She’s an alto and she rocks so well she gets a four-chair turn. Alicia and Blake turn around on a particularly showy note, Adam and Gwen on the last line. Adam thinks she can win, but I’m not sure. Young girl rockers usually go out early. Blake likes her energy and personality. Alicia calls her an artist unafraid to express herself. She picks Alicia.
5. Stephanie Rice, the first Texan of the season, wears a black hat, and she’s gay. She’s got her fiancee Jan along. She’s got the kind of rich heartfelt voice (like Crystal Bowersox) that could take her deep into the season. She sings Kelly Clarkson’s “Piece by Piece” (another vocalist she has a slight resemblance to). Blake and Gwen both want her, so it’s a boyfriend-girlfriend fight. Gwen compliments the contestant, “You can only sing like that if you’ve lived it.” After the singer picks Gwen, the judge adds, “Something in her voice told her story.” Blake threatens to steal if he gets a chance.
6. Mark Isiah, 19, has won a Justin Bieber soundalike contest, and that’s all you need to know. He’s teen idol material, and even though teen-idol types don’t often get to the end of the season, they make things interesting for the female audience along the way. Even Carson Daly says, “That kid’s a star!” Gwen and Adam fiercely compete for him–leading Gwen to point out Adam used to come to her shows–but Isiah picks Adam.
7. Brennley Brown is only 14, but her aspirate voice can hit big notes. She’s a teenage country singer from Apple Valley, California, and she sings a Keith Urban song. (Jackson’s “Chasing That Neon Rainbow” might be a good song for her, too.) She attracts interest from Blake and Alicia but of course she picks Blake.
8. Felicia Temple, a young nurse who’s survived cancer, says her nickname is “Felicia Keys” because her singing resembles Alicia’s. I think she sounds strained compared to the real thing, but she and Alicia sing together and everybody agrees she sounds just like Alicia. Gwen and Blake want her, too, but of course she picks Alicia.
Now for the second night of auditions, 2/28/17, when five singers were lucky enough to advance:
A. Autumn Turner is a black skating coach who used to be in a typical R&B girl group. She picks “Last Dance,” which won an Oscar in 1979 for Best Song from the disco movie Thank God It’s Friday but nowadays sounds dated. (In fact it sounded dated in 1979.) Nevertheless, she gets a four-chair turn. Adam likes her right away, Gwen soon follows, Alicia turns on the last line and Blake pulls one of his buzzer-beaters. Adam thinks she can win, but I’m thinking the R&B field is going to be a stiff one–as always–this season. She likes the way Alicia sounds like a coach (“she said stuff I say to my students”) so she picks Alicia.
B. Jesse Larson has been a guitarist for season 4 contestant Judith Hill. (She sang in Michael Jackson’s show, and was featured in Twenty Feet from Stardom.). He’s got glasses, a bald head, and a red beard and has spent fifteen years playing gigs (shades of Laith Al-Saadi in season 10). Like Al-Saadi, he thrives on soulful old-time blues-rock. He sings John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and attracts Adam. It’s a one-chair turn, so Jesse Larson is on Team Adam. This could be a winning combination, given that Adam coached Al-Saadi to second place in season 10.
C. Allaya Moulden (I probably didn’t get her name right, sorry) has a yuuge blues-shouting voice, and she’s only 15. She rips through “Hound Dog” like the blues song it was before Elvis rocked it. Her late father was black, her mother is Mexican-American, and she’s from La Habra, California. Before she sings, she says she’d like to be coached by Alicia. She attracts Blake, Alicia, and Gwen. Blake points out his success working with young girl contestants, and maybe he’s persuasive, because she picks Blake. (She probably likes those cowboy dimples, too.) Maybe Alicia will get a chance to steal her, but Blake may be reluctant to let her go.
D. Savannah Leyton is a southern small-town girl of 17, but she sings Katy Perry’s “Unconditional.” Even though she’s definitely not country, Blake wants her. Problem: his girlfriend Gwen does, too. Gwen and Blake argue and argue how they’ll coach her, leading Adam to suggest calling it like a sporting event. (“Blake takes the lead but may be sleeping on the couch tonight!”) Savannah’s reduced to giggles but she picks Gwen, saying later, “girl power.” Anything Blake touches tends to turn country, anyway, so Gwen’s probably a better match.
E. Lilly Passero is living the Hollywood “LA LA Land” dream–she’s a waitress from Studio City, California, who’s trying to get her break as an actress and singer. She’s got a showy Broadway voice, but she says her influences are Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. For about half the song, the judges think it over. Then Blake turns. Alicia thinks a little longer, then turns, and so does Gwen. Alicia goes so far as to channel her Aretha Franklin voice and sing her pitch to the contestant. (I’m thinking Alicia’s little jam-rap may have been a little–pre-planned.) Of course Lilly’s going to pick Alicia after all that work Alicia put into her pitch.
The teams so far:
Alicia: Lilly Passero, Autumn Turner, Felicia “Keys” Temple, Anatalia Villaranda. All girls!
Gwen: Savannah Leyton, J Chosen, Stephanie Rice. Gwen said something about diversity, and she’s getting some.
Blake: Allaya Moulden, Brennley Brown, Lauren Dusky. He notes how his team is all girls so far, too.
Adam: Jesse Larson, Johnny Hayes, Mark Isiah. So far it’s all guys that in one way or another rock.