It's baaaaaack... The Voice season 9 premiered on Monday night (Sept. 21) and the show is coming swinging from the "Chandelier." With drama surrounding some of the coaches this year, it was a wonder: would that overshadow the singers?
As usual, the answer is yes. The antics from coaches Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Pharrell Williams are as irritating as ever. How many times do we have to hear Stefani name check her own songs? How many times are we reminded that Levine has a falsetto, that Pharrell is ~other~, that Shelton is the token country guy? A lot. I don't know... I'm here for the singers.
The show kicked off with Stefani, Shelton, Levine and Pharrell performing each other's hits. At first, it seemed as though the show was just playing off all of those hookup and divorce rumors. Shelton and Stefani sang each other's songs, and they just so happened to be break up anthems ("Neon Light" and "Don't Speak").
Yep... here we go. But for now, let's get to the meat of the show: the talent!
Barrett Baber, "Angel Eyes": Blake Shelton and Barrett Baber are clearly a match made in heaven. Baber is so in tune with what's in in country music right now, and it doesn't get much bigger than Shelton either. His twang is present, but not overpowering and his vocal is emotional and gripping. Country singers have always fared well on this show and Baber clearly could be the next winner and star. All four coaches know this and that's why they all turned. But, let's be real, the lovefest between Baber and Shelton was inevitable. Team Blake, obvi.
Jordan Smith, "Chandelier": For this blind audition, The Voice decided to try something new and let us pretend to be the judges by disguising the singer before the first chair turns. It's a cheesy ploy and for some reason, the producers decided it was THE NEXT BIG THING on this show even though it felt like a pretty obvious twist. Sia's "Chandelier" is an incredibly overdone song on talent shows but Smith actually pulled it off, an impressive feat for a male vocalist. His four-chair turn spawned a LOT of fawning from all the coaches, when it was declared that he's a very special snowflake. Because he's a male with a massive range, he smartly went for Team Adam.
Mark Hood, "Use Me": Mark Hood was a smart play for The Voice to go first. He's a personable guy (he played Dead Man at Nightclub on Chicago Fire!), he's cute and his blend of soul, jazz, rock and funk is the sort of fodder that is pretty much perfect for every Voice coach (minus Shelton, though Hood chose him as his first-choice coach). This guy isn't just a singer, he's a performer and his buttery vocals helped to break through the heavy drums of this cut and land him a spot on the always-coveted Team Pharrell after a four-chair turn.
Braiden Sunshine, "The Mountains Win Again": Maybe the average viewer of The Voice doesn't retain the winners but for little Braiden Sunshine, seeing Sawyer Fredericks take the win on season 8 was a huge inspiration to come on to the show. Sunshine (on his birth certificate!) clearly comes from the same sort of school as Fredericks, with a blues-inspired sound and too much soul for his teenage years. But, he could use a little more strength behind his voice and more of the grit and gusto that can only come from life experience. He has a lot of work to do if he hopes to make it in this competition and he's going to do it on Team Gwen.
Kota Wade, "Bring It On Home to Me": Kota Wade, a 23-year-old girl from Hollywood, seems to be a little bit of everything but the kitchen sink. She's got some soul, she has an artistic wolf-themed rock band (or something), she had a grit and even a little bit of a twang. For her version of Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home to Me," Kota brought a ton of gravel in her voice and sang the crap out of it. She's by no means a bad singer but when compared to last season's Meghan Linsey, who does the same sort of thing, she just doesn't hold a candle. Because she's a fashion-minded girl, of course she's Team Gwen.
Siahna Im, "Fever": It's crazy just how young a 15-year-old can look even when she pulls off a saucy song such as this. Little Siahna Im was a doll in her bowler hat and braces. Her speaking voice is something straight out of a toddler's mouth but her singing voice has plenty of whispered touch to it and its mature far beyond her years. However, she still has plenty of a childish touch to her voice and it seems as though she'll be better with some artist development and she could get semi-far on this show. Team Pharrell (or Grand Master Skater P).
Keith Semple, "I'll Be There for You": Keith Semple's band, 7th Heaven, has been an apparent staple in the Chicago music scene for years, but now that he's a father he needs real money to support his family and is looking to move to the next step. On his cover of Bon Jovi's "I'll Be There for You," he cut straight to the melody with a strong, on the nose vocal with very little decorum. Semple is the kind of singer who will fare well on The Voice but not reach much beyond the show. He's a solid singer but just so off trend on both the rock charts and pop charts, which is to say, he's a little bland. After Gwen and Adam argued about who knows Bono better, Keith went for his fellow straight dude "rocker" on Team Adam.
Nadjah Nicole, "Tightrope": Janelle Monae's song "Tightrope" is a magnificent track in and of itself, but it's not necessarily the best song for The Voice because it's got a loud instrumental to it and a ton of short, fast phrases. So, it seems as though Nadjah Nicole has a lot more to show than she gave off here, so it will be interesting to see her grow as a singer on this show. Nicole hit some big, long and powerful notes, decorating the song with things that weren't originally there, and it worked in her favor even if the rest of her performance was a little stiff. Blame it on the nerves. She got a midway turn from Adam and a last minute turn from Blake. She surprised everyone by going with the latter, becoming the first member of Team Blake.
Alyssa Sheridan, whose father died will serving in the military overseas, couldn't cut it with her whiny take on "I Will Remember You," and she got left behind. Dr. Paul was 66-year-old who lives in the mountains! He's a Vietnam War veteran! He literally goes by Dr. Paul! This guy has a fascinating story but he couldn't cut it for a chair turn either. Michael Woolery, whose father is game show host Chuck Woolery, and well, let's say television talent does not quite run in the family...