Blake Shelton gives 'The Voice' his 'huge middle finger'

Blake Shelton sends a clear message during his final week of Blind Auditions on 'The Voice.' (Photo: NBC)
Blake Shelton sends a clear message during his final week of Blind Auditions on 'The Voice.' (Photo: NBC)

Monday kicked off the final week of The Voice Season 23 Blind Auditions, and — in case you missed NBC’s first 57 press releases, or the 570 or so times that original coach Blake Shelton has already mentioned it —it was also the final week of Blake’s Blind Auditions, ever, before he retires from the series for good. So far this season, whenever Blake isn’t mentioning that this is last Voice rodeo, he’s been grooming and big-upping his seeming successor, former One Direction star and new coach Niall Horan. On the season premiere, for instance, Blake boldly declared, “I feel like Niall is going to take my seat on this show.” And this week he admitted, “It's time for me to go; I can’t compete with this fresh group of coaches coming up,” gesturing to Niall and Season 23’s other rookie, Chance the Rapper (who I personally think is doing an even better job than Niall thus far, and should not be underestimated by Blake or anyone else).

By Monday, episode five of the Blinds, Niall seemed to be letting all this praise go to his towhead, sassing back to his TV “dad” when they were both attempting to woo the night’s only four-chair contestant, pop-soul chanteuse Cait Martin. When Blake’s longtime rival, Kelly Clarkson, joked that Blake was too “tired and worn-out” after 12 years and 23 seasons to be a good coach, Niall piled on and told Blake, “It’s time to pass the baton over!” — while the studio audience oohed and aahed at the youngster’s audacity.

Niall Horan gives Blake Shelton
Niall Horan gives Blake Shelton "the finger" on 'The Voice.' (Photo: NBC)
Niall Horan tells retiring 'The Voice' coach Blake Shelton that it's
Niall Horan tells retiring 'The Voice' coach Blake Shelton that it's "time to pass the baton over." (Photo: NBC)

As Blake worded it Monday, his mini-me Niall is “already stealing my finger thing,” referring to that point-at-head gesture that has always been Blake’s signature recruiting move. But as Kelly grudgingly acknowledged last week, this week Blake also stressed: “I just want everybody here to know that there’s only one King of The Voice!” And he reminded everyone of that fact while trying to persuade three-chair auditioner Kylee Dayne, by unveiling his biggest Voice sight gag yet: a “Pick Blake” foam sports-fan hand, which (accidentally, coincidentally, or perhaps subliminally) looked like a “huge middle finger.”

Blake Shelton sends a clear message during his final week of Blind Auditions on 'The Voice.' (Photo: NBC)
Blake Shelton sends a clear message during his final week of Blind Auditions on 'The Voice.' (Photo: NBC)

In the end, Kelly — the coach truly in position to fill Blake’s O.G. coaching seat — won over Cait. But Blake successfully recruited Kylee, despite that pop singer having two other options that seemed more suitable, so the “King of The Voice” obviously still has a way of wrapping contestants around his finger. Here’s how Blake’s penultimate Blind Auditions episode went:

Mariah Kalia, 17: “idontwannabeyouanymore”

Mariah cited influences like dancing queens Ciara, Aaliyah, and Janet Jackson, but Niall heard elements of “a young Amy Winehouse” during her neo-soulful cover of Billie Eilish’s ballad. One thing everyone could agree on was that Mariah is a star in the making. While I understand why she chose to focus on her vocals for her Blind Audition, I can’t wait to see this trained hip-hop/reggaeton dancer bust a move on future Voice episodes.

Who turned? Chance and Niall. Niall’s astonished and delighted face looked like a living GIF when he heard Mariah’s “flawless performance,” and Chance was “blown away” as he told her, “Your musical choices are all very mature.”

Result: Team Chance. The moment Mariah said her preferred genres were R&B and hip-hop, Niall knew he had no shot, even though he tried to convince her that “opposites attract.”

Kylee Dayne, 19: “Fallingwater”

This quirky girl had a huge voice not unlike Gossip’s Beth Ditto or that other Dayne, Taylor. (I literally Googled to see if Kylee and Taylor Dayne were related. I am still convinced that they are.) I was shocked that the judges didn’t turn for her spirited Maggie Rogers cover until the very last minute — and that fellow pop diva Kelly didn’t turn at all. Niall, who compared Kylee to Florence Welch, said, “You gave us everything,” and Chance described her as “the textbook definition of a star.”

Who turned? Blake, Chance, and Niall.

Result: Team Blake! I think indie/folk-leaning singer-songwriter Niall or genre-hopping maverick producer Chance would’ve been a better fit, but I guess Kylee was a sucker for Blake’s “big finger.” Surely she was honored when Blake told her, “I only get to use that gag one time this season… and I chose to use it on you.”

Gina Miles, 18: “The One That Got Away”

This sweet, shy girl, who looked a bit like Dua Lipa, sounded a lot like Jennifer Tilly or Georgette from The Mary Tyler Moore Show when she spoke in her baby chipmunk voice. But in a classic Voice twist, when she sang, she unexpectedly emitted the rich, sultry, vibrato-heavy mezzo-soprano of a full-grown woman. Niall praised Gina's “character” and “proper control,” assuring her, “You’re going to grow into this competition. I feel like you have so much more to give.”

Who turned? Kelly and Niall.

Result: Team Niall. Kelly was a “big fan” of Gina’s vocals, but admitted that she’s not skilled at coaching nerves. Actually, she only admitted that after sneaky Blake passed Niall a note, urging Niall to bring that up. Anyway, shady gameplay aside, I think wallflower Gina will ultimately be better off with Niall, who overcame his own stage fright as a teenager on The X Factor.

Kason Lester, 32: “It’s Not Over”

This strawberry farmer by day/rocker by night tried out for American Idol in 2019, and he stuck to his Idol roots this week by covering Chris Daughtry on The Voice. Kason was better on Idol, to be honest, and I suspect that he was under the weather this week, because his vocals were hoarse and his performance lacked intensity. I’m not surprised only one coach turned for him.

Who turned? Just Blake, who “saw the potential” and predicted that the other panelists would soon regret letting Kason slip away.

Result: Team Blake. Blake vowed to assign this Hutchence-haired “straight-up rocker” some ’80s rock, so if we get a Loverboy or Whitesnake power ballad this season, I’ll be glad that Blake kept Kason in the game.

JB Somers, 31: “A Case of You”

This Nashville singer-songwriter dedicated his heartfelt, melancholy Joni Mitchell cover to his older sister and role model, a dancer who became addicted to the opioids after an injury and eventually died as a result. Kelly told him, “You exude so much empathy and emotion. … It is a beautiful gift that you’ve been given.”

Who turned? Kelly and Chance. Chance turned much later, because he was waiting to hear JB’s higher register, but he told JB, “You were just dramatically showing your different ranges, and your approach was really strategic.”

Result: Team Kelly. Even Chance name-dropping that other “JB” who once covered this Joni classic, his pal James Blake, couldn’t tip the odds in his favor.

Ray Uriel, 24: “Glimpse of Us”

This was a shaky and nervous performance. Kelly kept “waiting for him to sail and open up towards the end, go for some bigger notes and sustain them,” and she was right. Ray never quite got to where he needed to go, despite what Chance called his “unforgettable tone and texture.”

Who turned? Only Chance… when Ray only had a “millisecond” left before his time was up. “If you hadn’t held out that [final] note, [Chance’s] button might not have worked,” host Carson Daly said of the suspenseful moment.

Result: Team Chance. Chance said Ray sounded like a legitimate “recording artist” with “certain intricacies” to his voice and “the potential to kill any song,” so we shall see.

Alyssa Lazar, 20: “Maybe I’m Amazed”

This was a montaged performance — the first and only montage of Season 23 so far — but Chance with the “unique ear” did hit his button right away for Alyssa. So, maybe he really was amazed by this piano woman with the mellow-gold sound. I really wish I could have heard more than a few milliseconds from her.

Who turned? Just Chance.

Result: Team Chance.

Rachel Christine, 22: “Uninvited”

This second-generation alt-rocker, whose parents used to play in a hard rock bar band called Madfact, picked a very challenging, operatic Alanis ballad. But she mostly pulled it off, reminding me at times of Season 5 powerhouse and crowd-surfer Kat Robichaud. Kelly thought Rachel needed to “attack certain parts a little bit stronger and a little more wild,” but the raw power was definitely there, ready to be harnessed with the proper coaching.

Who turned? Chance, followed by Kelly at the very end.

Result: Team Kelly. Chance claimed he could take Rachel all the way to the winner’s circle, but this longtime Kelly fangirl just had to accept Kelly’s invitation.

Cait Martin, 32: “As It Was”

This bubbly voiceover artist and cruise ship singer delivered a spectacular, cabaret-style remake of Niall’s ex-bandmate’s big Harry’s House hit. “That is what wins this show — when you do something people are not expecting,” raved Kelly, dabbing a tear from her eye and giving Cait a standing ovation. Niall literally begged Cait to join his team, promising her, “I’ve got the tools to break hearts with you.”

Who turned? All four coaches.

Result: Team Kelly. I guess Niall got his heart broken on this one.

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