by Lyn Jensen
“Turn around,” says the eighties’ hit about “A Total Eclipse of the Heart” but “turn around” is what contestants want The Voice judges to do. Three nights of auditions have been packed into the first week of Season 12, and there’ll be two more nights next week. We don’t know how many slots there are on this season’s teams, but we could be well into the battle rounds and perhaps even to the knockout rounds before March is over. So besides Adam’s blue-and-ecru striped sweater and Gwen’s sparkling fringed dress, what was there to to see Thursday night?
1. Ashley Levin is looking for her big break as a country singer-songwriter in Nashville. She’s shows she’s got a big, bluesy voice with plenty of range. Blake and Gwen glance at each other and turn their chairs together, but Alicia joins in on the final lines. Gwen likes the contestant’s vibrato and sweetness. Adam suggests picking Alicia so Gwen and Blake don’t have to blame each other for losing a contestant. However, Levin picks Blake anyway, saying, “I’ve listened to you my whole life!”
2. Brandon Royal, 31, is from the Virgin Islands but now lives in Florida. In college he was in a musical group, Dem Island Boys. His audition is the first time he’s sung on a stage in five years–he’s been working as a firefighter between college and now. He sings an island-flavored Stevie Wonder song. Gwen turns around about halfway through the audition, Blake joins her after a few more lines. Gwen points out that her group No Doubt got started playing ska. Royal picks Gwen. She says she’s glad to get him because, “We have similar tastes in music.”
3. Julien Martinez, a boyish-looking teacher’s aide from Oxnard, California, says in his pre-audition interview that he has ADHD. He sings–and shouts–some classic blues-rock. Just when it looks like none of the judges is going to be suitably impressed, Blake and Adam both turn at the last note. Adam says he half-expected to see some giant biker still on his Harley, and “that last note sounded like the birth of Satan!” Blake says he’d like a manly-man rocker on his team. Martinez picks Adam. If Blake wants a manly-man rocker on his team, he may have to steal one. Adam says of his latest team member, “When he let that devil’s roar out, I just had to push [the button and turn around].”
4. I hope I get this young black man’s name right: Quizz Swaningan. He’s only 13, and he’s performed in Michael Jackson tribute shows. Singing a Jackson song, he shows off the falsetto (and boy-soprano) style associated with Jackson–and many other legendary R&B male vocalists. The judges take their time, but Alicia turns at the last minute, Gwen at the last second. The guys sit back and watch the women compete. The young man picks Alicia, and she calls him, “my little Michael Jackson.” We’ll see.
5. This season appears to be heavy on young country singers looking for their big break in Nashville. Cassie Joy is another one. She sings “Blue” in a rich, full voice, perhaps well enough to overshadow the Leann Rhimes version. Gwen likes the first notes and turns her chair in about two seconds. Alicia joins the bidding before the audition’s half over. Blake takes his time but turns at the final lines. Adam turns as the song ends, but then goes off to pout about how he doesn’t get the contestants he wants. The girls put forth their best arguments, but after all that Joy picks Blake anyway. Blake thinks she can win this thing, and he may be right.
The teams so far:
Alicia: Lilly Passero, Autumn Turner, Felicia “Keys” Temple, Anatalia Villaranda, Quizz Swaningan.
Gwen: Savannah Leyton, J Chosen, Stephanie Rice, Brandon Royal.
Blake: Allaya Moulden, Brennley Brown, Lauren Dusky, Cassie Joy, Ashley Levin.
Adam: Jesse Larson, Johnny Hayes, Mark Isiah, Julien Martinez.