The Voice has more or less always been more about the celebrity coaches and slightly less about the talent... though the NBC singing competition has helped revive the careers of Adam Levine's Maroon 5, Shakira and Usher, it's done slightly less for it's contestants. QUICK... name a winner of The Voice! Six seasons in, and it's hard to do...
In come season seven, which premiered tonight (Sept. 22). Featuring new coaches Gwen Stefani and her old collaboration pal Pharrell Williams, the show still feels more like a showcase for the four big name acts (which include The Voice veterans Levine and Blake Shelton), but that doesn't mean the blind auditions didn't have some stunning new musical talent.
Whether or not these hopefuls will make it very far in both the competition or the larger world of popular music is left to be seen - though certified hit-maker Pharrell as a friend and musical acquaintance surely won't hurt their chances.
But, before we get into the bigger issues of The Voice at large, that awkward rendition of "Hella Good" from the coaches or even who may or may not win season seven, we have to look at the first round of blind auditions. Here are the best, the worst and the totally so-so singers chosen to move on from round one of The Voice.
Luke Wade, "That's How Strong My Love Is": Unlike, say, the fledging new summer singing competition Rising Star, The Voice knows how to begin and end a show strongly, and producers smartly kicked off season seven with Luke Wade. Taking on the classic Otis Redding hit "That's How Strong My Love Is," Wade had a unique, almost Levine-like tone to his voice. There was also a distinct soul to his voice, though it was filtered through a nasally timbre. Wade's heartfelt number was enough to rightfully get all four judges spinning in their chairs, though he eventually went to Team Pharrell.
James David Carter, "Nobody Knows": A big part of The Voice is the begging and banter between the coaches during the live, blind auditions, so you have to take all their hyperbolic praise with a grain of salt. But, when Blake Shelton said that James David Carter had the best country audition throughout all seven seasons of the show, it was hard not to take him for real. Smartly, The Voice ended strongly with this entry, a cover of the classic Kevin Sharpe single "Nobody Knows." With just the right amount of twang, pain and passion, Carter was an instant draw for all four coaches, but let's be real, he was always going to be Team Blake... and that is where he went.
Elyjuh Rene, "XO": You gotta give it up for those gender bending contestants, and from a blind perspective, it would have been hard to tell whether or not Elyjah Rene was a boy or a girl, with his mid-range take on Beyonce's "XO" switching between a deep throaty anthem and a youthful, hopeful higher register. All that can be said is that he was instantly intriguing, instantly full of pain and emotion... and it was pretty captivating. Only captivating enough for Adam Levine and Pharrell Williams, and he smartly went on over to Team Pharrell after tons of badgering between the two coaches.
Taylor John Williams, "Heartless": It's hard not to give accolades to a person who takes a popular song and makes it totally his own, which Taylor John Williams did with Kanye West's "Heartless." It shouldn't have been hard to see that Williams would have taken an acoustic, haunting spin on this Yeezy standard... he was equipped with a fedora hat straight out of Marcus Mumford's closet, and it shouldn't have been hard to predict that it would've worked so well. Equal parts milky smooth and raspy beautifu, Williams fittingly ended up on Team Gwen, after bids from the No Doubt frontwoman and Adam Levine.
Bryana Salaz, "Problem": When totally solid yet rusty singers like Dennis Bell don't make it past the auditions but a pitchy, breathless girl like Bryana Salaz does, it really makes you wonder what a coach is looking for in The Voice. Yes, it's basically impossible to live up to Ariana Grande's vocal range and maybe you shouldn't even try, but Salaz didn't even touch the right notes by a long shot. Mix that with some severe breath control issues, and you have one straight messy audition. She's on Team Gwen, and she won't last long.
Allison Bray, "Merry Go Round": Chalk it up to the fact that maybe I personally like Kacey Musgraves a lot, but Allison Bray's take on "Merry Go Round" left a lot to be desired. There's a notable fuzz and whisper in her voice, and not in a cool way... it just sounds like she can't really power out a note. And it's not to say that there should be a heavy Southern accent in all country music, but Bray's twang was barely there. Of course, she's on Team Blake, and with standouts like James David Carter on the same lot, she's bound to fall to the wayside.
Damien, "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye": My The Voice watch notes state that this guy has a "pretty, smooth and soft R&B style." About half an hour after the show wrapped, I can't remember anything else about this performance, so Damien really failed to emerge in the front of the pack. Team Adam.
Clara Hong, "Chuck E's In Love": Clara Hong was at least memorable, so she's slightly less so-so than her fellow category person (and Adam teammate) Damien, but she's still very middle of the group. Hong seems to come from another era, her half spoken, half soft singing voice feels very Lillith Fair '90s style, and it works decently well. Throw in a little jazzy, sweet flair and you have enough to pique the interest of Adam, Gwen and Pharrell and enough to at least get a little intrigue from the audience.
While the above mentioned singers all made it to round two for sure, some others weren't quite so lucky. Save a twist or two from the producers, Dennis Bell, Megg and Biana Espanal all went home tonight.
The Voice will continue tomorrow night (Sept. 23) at 8 p.m. EST on NBC.