New Coaches Niall Horan and Chance the Rapper pull out all the stops against Blake Shelton and the returning Kelly Clarkson — plus, an incredible Sam Cooke cover takes everyone to church.
In case anyone forgot, Blake Shelton said over and over again that this was his last season on “The Voice.” He did it alongside Kelly Clarkson, returning for her ninth season, and newcomers Chance the Rapper and Niall Horan.
This first night of Blind Auditions was as much about these Coaches developing their competitively playful rapport as it was about finding new talent. We were pleased with the quick camaraderie that developed between all of them, but mostly were glad to see Kelly back to spar with Blake. She’s been the best since Adam Levine at keeping him in check.
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NBC has to be sweating bullets trying to figure out how to move forward without the old man who’s been here since Day 1. He’s as much of an institution for the network as the show itself. He brings so much personality and charm … let’s just say, they better hope Kelly keeps having a good enough time to come back!
In a fun treat online (and maybe for a future episode), the new Coaches performed “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” The biggest surprise for fans online was to hear how beautiful of a tone Chance has when singing, as he doesn’t usually dip into that talent. But it also emphasized that he should not be underestimated as a rapper, producer and singer!
Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Kelly Clarkson, Chance the Rapper, Niall Horan, and Blake Shelton. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
And just for fun, I’m going to rank the performances from worst to first to see who my favorites are, and then see how they do as the season progresses.
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(“The First Cut Is the Deepest,” Rod Stewart – 22, Ada, OK) Talk about a connection with a Coach, Emily grew up in Blake’s hometown (not just state)! Alas, she hit a real sour note right off the top which actually elicited an audible groan out of us. She recovered nicely and had much better control after that, but the performance was surprisingly hesitant, like she was afraid to really belt. Honestly, it sounded like she lacked confidence in her own voice, offering shaky moments from start to finish and no real conviction in her sound. We loved that she took the rejection in stride and proceeded to bring out two gifts for her fellow Okie, Blake. She had a t-shirt signed by Ada musicians. She then revealed that he knew her grandpa, and had a recording of Blake at 13 years old after he went into a recording studio and laid down some tracks. It was actually incredibly adorable.
Results: No Chairs Turn
(“No Woman No Cry,” Bob Marley – 34, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands) A soca (soul of calypso) singer for the past several years, she now has songs on the radio throughout the Caribbean, but she’s ready to have a big break on the mainland. Despite her soca success, Star opted to go with a more straightforward take on this Bob Marley classic. It was a little timid with a hesitant, shaky vibrato in her voice. We did enjoy the subtle cry in her voice and that tone, but she didn’t really offer any moment or showcase to convince the Coaches what else she had in there. It’s such a stylized song, playing it straight like that made her a huge risk because what if she had that limited range and ability?
Results: No Chairs Turn
(“Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy,” Queen – 15/20/21, Lexington, OH) A little shaky in some of their upper range solo work, this trio of sisters brought great harmonies and some fun arrangements to a quirky track. They definitely were making a statement about how they see themselves as artists with their song choice, how they approached it and even their cute little choreography. There were also some strong solo moments sprinkled throughout, giving a lot of potential with Coaching to bring out the very best they have to offer both together and individually.
Results: Chance, Blake Turn [Team Chance]
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(“River,” Leon Bridges – 20, Colorado Springs, CO) Facing religious persecution as a Christian in Pakistan, her family fled. She got her U.S. Visa just last year and is now pursuing her dreams of making it as a singer and songwriter. We wish she’d have spent a little more time in her lower register as she has a really sweet tone down there. Instead, she started in her upper range and stayed there through so much of the song. We’d have liked a little more bluesy sound on the track, but there’s no denying she has a great instrument. If she can take guidance, she could really grow in interesting ways.
Results: Chance, Niall, Blake Turn [Team Blake]
(“Save Your Tears,” The Weeknd – 29, Los Angeles, CA) Michael’s dream was Broadway for so long. He auditioned for everything, but it never happened for him, so now he’s going a different route with his music and dream. He said he’s expanding more into pop and soul as a singer. With this song, it was all about if he was going to go for that first high note, and he was effortless climbing up there. Yes, you could hear that musical theater background in his tone, but it made for a very full sound which suited the song well. That said, he needs to work on pulling back some of those theatrical excesses to go with a more emotionally resonant connection. This made us believe he could get there, and we could not deny the control and range he has with a very clean, pure voice.
Results: Niall Turns [Team Niall]
(“Perfect,” Ed Sheeran – 25, Birmingham, AL) An unexpected vocal take on the track, there were moments of this that were — ahem — “perfect,” while others felt like he was losing the pitch a bit. It could have been nerves, but it pulled us in and out of the performance more than we liked. There is something very intriguing about his tone in that it’s a sound that feels solid, but not yet defined. It feels like D.Smooth could be chameleonic on his journey, sliding effortlessly into different styles and genres.
Results: Kelly, Niall Turn [Team Kelly]
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(“Mississippi Girl,” Faith Hill – 22, Meridian, MS) At just 10 years old, Holly got to perform on the first big stage she’d ever been on — and it was to open for Blake. She was rooting for him to turn around before she even hit the stage. She competed in Miss America last year, as well, pushing her music through the pageant circuit for nearly a decade. Now, she put her voice forward for this opportunity and ironically, Blake was the only chair she didn’t turn. She missed just a few notes and tried to shake her pretty singing to find a little more grit. She also showed some impressive falsetto moments (and even whistle notes), a strong vibrato and a lot of range that hints at the same kind of crossover success Faith Hill enjoyed. It’s a very commercial sound in any genre.
Results: Kelly, Chance, Niall Turn [Team Kelly]
(“Help Me Make It Through the Night,” Sammi Smith – 43, Indian Rocks Beach, FL) This Engishman plays music for a living, but said that it’s kind of soul-destroying singing in the background of people’s days and nobody cares about you or what you’re doing. He’s got that weathered texture in his voice that sounds special even when he’s singing mellow as he gets through a verse. When he let loose just a fraction on the chorus, that grit we knew was in there came out, but so did a great little cry. It’s a great instrument that he has, and one we think would be hard to ignore playing live. His experience shines through and creates an overall package we could see people really rooting for.
Results: Chance, Blake Turn [Team Blake]
(“Honky Tonk Blues,” Hank Williams Jr. – 34, St. Louis, MO) Neil could have just given a straightforward honky tonk rendition of this, but instead he put some special flare on this performance that pushed him from throwback country sound to someone really interesting. That raspy twang-break got Chance to turn around immediately and revealed that there’s an artist in there who knows how to stand out. On top of that, it was just a solid vocal throughout with good pitch and a great, laid back energy. We fully believed in him when he said country music is just one of the “wells he drinks from.”
Results: 4-Chair Turn (Blake Blocks Kelly) [Team Blake]
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(“Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Keith Urban – 33, McCloud, OK) Ross set aside his burgeoning music career to focus more on family, taking a more traditional 9-5 to pay the bills and be able to stay home more. Now, he said it’s been nearly five years since he’s really performed at all, but with the kids a little older, his wife kept urging him, “Take a chance.” Right off the bat, we believed him, which is so important for storytelling. You could tell he’s a seasoned vet, and you could not tell he’s taken any time away from gigging. The texture of his voice fit like a warm blanket at night, with just a hint of ragged around the edges. Add to that a few moments where he went high and proved he could to that long, sustained note that impressed everyone, and Ross is a real threat on this show. He’s authentic and incredibly talented and so ready.
Results: 4-Chair Turn [Team Niall]
Savion “NOIVAS” Wright
(“A Change Is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke – 30, Hutto, TX) His father and grandfather were on the frontlines in the fight for racial equality, so the message of this song really hits home for NOIVAS. Before he even showed us the full church of his voice, all four chairs had turned and Blake was Blocked by Chance. He was taking no chances (heh) that the cowboy might come in and swoop up this incredibly special artist. The pain and weight that he carries as an ambassador for the fight and for the culture and for his people was incredible. You could hear it from the first note; it was a performance filled with such passion and commitment. It just got better from the first note, with power and grit and stank. Every choice he made served the message and the performance, leaving everyone breathless.
Results: 4-Chair Turn (Chance Blocks Blake) [Team Chance]
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- “Blake won Season 22 because I wasn’t there. But, I came back to beat him for his last season.” –Kelly
- “I feel a father-son bond with Niall, mostly because he disappoints me a lot.” –Blake
- “Blake blocked me.” –Kelly (on the first artist, too)
- “I don’t remember doing it.” –Blake
- “I’m a little nervous that Blake is leaving. It’s like, they can’t fire him, so what’s he gonna do?” –Kelly
- “This is my last season. And I’m sure from a fan point, they’re hoping it’s your last season, too.” –Blake (to Kelly)
- “What are you doing turning around, Chance? This is embarrassing.” –Blake (for Sorelle)
- “What is wrong with you?” –Kelly (to Blake after he didn’t turn for Holly)
- “I actually have a really cool story. I brought something I wanted to show you.” –Holly (to Blake, with the photo of her and Blake)
- “Is this an Ancestry.com test?” –Blake
- “Hello. I’m Niall, your Coach. I’ve got no one on my team, this is my first season, and you’re the best one that’s come out here.” –Niall (to Holly)
- “Fighting Irish, my a–.” –Blake (after beating Niall for Tasha)
- “If I don’t get a team member, will you come and sing for me?” –Niall (to Blake, struggling to get anyone on his team)
- “Your house is gonna get egged.” –Kelly (to Blake after he didn’t turn for Ada native Emily)
- “I hope no one from my hometown shows up. Too many stories.” –Niall
- “He called me ‘mate.’ I thought that was an Australian thing?” –Blake (about Alex)
- “Have you ever left this country?” –Niall (to Blake)
- “No, it’s so weird.” –Kelly
- “That’s why I’m retiring, you guys?” –Blake
- “You’re not going anywhere but your ranch.” –Kelly
“The Voice” continues Mondays at 8 p.m. ET and Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.