A dog in this fight: Blake Shelton tries to bribe 'Voice' contestant with puppy

The Voice returned for its 18th season this Monday, with new coach Nick Jonas filling the fourth red chair. Incumbent coach Blake Shelton clearly was feeling threatened by all the Beatlemanical screams in the studio audience for the youngest Jonas Brother, so when the veteran and the rookie battled over 16-year-old prodigy Tate Brusa, Blake had to recruit someone even cuter and cuddlier than Nick in order to compete.

“I don’t have a dog in this fight,” noted coach John Legend, who hadn’t turned for Tate — but apparently Blake did have a dog in this fight. Literally. Out of nowhere, Blake presented an adorable yellow Lab pound puppy named Snowflake, warning Tate, “If you don’t choose me as your coach, this puppy is going to go straight back to the animal shelter!”

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It didn’t work. Even Snowflake’s cuteness could not complete with, well, the cuteness of former teenybopper Nick. Tate, a sweet-voiced and -faced teen heartthrob and self-avowed Nick Jonas fanboy who actually bore a passing resemblance to Joe Jonas, was obviously already leaning towards Nick. But when Nick hopped onstage to play guitar on Tate’s cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect,” it was a done deal — and a dog day afternoon for Blake.

Hopefully Snowflake is OK. Judging from the way Kelly Clarkson was fawning over the little cream-colored fluff bundle, she might’ve adopted him after the show. Or maybe Snowflake was shipped off to wherever original coach CeeLo Green’s Purrfect the Cat and pink cockatoo Lady ended up after their Voice retirement.

And on a related note, what is up with Blake preying upon the sympathy of pet-lovers in an attempt to win over contestants? Remember when he lied about the death of his cat “Sandy”? Sheesh. I am just waiting for NBC to issue a disclaimer saying, “No animals were harmed in the making of The Voice.”

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The claws definitely came out for Monday’s premiere, as the Blind Auditions commenced and Blake, Nick, John, and Kelly (rocking a sleek new Marilyn Monroe-esque lob and looking like the reigning champ that she is) got very competitive. Here’s what happened.

Todd Tilghman, 41: “We’ve Got Tonight”

The father of eight (yes, eight) and Pentecostal pastor was instantly likable, with a Michael McDonald/Kenny Rogers-esque voice, a passing resemblance to underrated Season 6 winner Josh Kaufman, and an irrepressible sense of joy. It was hard to believe he’d only ever publicly performed in church, because he seemed very comfortable on that secular stage.

Who turned? All four coaches.

Result: Team Blake. Blake was the one coach who didn’t mention church, and yet Todd claimed he found Blake the most “relatable.” Bribing Todd with Snowflake wasn’t even necessary.

Nelson Cade III, “Pride and Joy”

This pro musician has already jammed with Stevie Wonder, so it’s no wonder he felt so at ease performing in front of a panel of A-list musicians. While I thought his vocals were kind of pedestrian, he’s obviously already shaping up to be this season’s token bluesy guitar god (every Voice season has one).

Who turned? All four coaches — but John, who also must have been threatened, used his Block on Nick.

Result: Team Legend. John, who had Stevie Wonder play at his wedding, bribed Nelson by saying he could arrange another Stevie/Nelson duet (admittedly a better ploy than a puppy threat). But Nelson claimed he picked John because he too started out as a classically trained pianist.

Tayler Green, 27: “Issues”

The cerulean-haired, Mariah-inspired pop-star-in-training showcased a fantastically radio-ready voice and seemed like the quintessential “package artist.” The creative liberties she took with Julia Michaels’s melody were risky, but they paid off. She definitely made the song her own, as they say in the biz.

Who turned? Kelly, almost right away, followed by Nick.

Result: Team Kelly, which seems like a perfect fit.

Darious Lyles, 30: “How Do You Sleep”

Darious found out at age 18 that he was adopted, and with both of his adoptive parents now deceased, he has forged a late-in-life bond with his biological mom, who accompanied him to his audition. And he surely made her proud, flaunting a very professional, polished, can-sing-the-phone-book type of voice. He was clearly just born to do it.

Who turned? Only Kelly and John, surprisingly. But Blake later noted that he knew he had no shot.

Result: Team Legend. “It just felt like John was home,” Darious explained.

Megan Danielle, 17: “Remedy”

A waitress at her small-town family restaurant by day, Megan was poised and mature for her years, and that came out in her uniquely husky country voice and impressive vocal control.

Who turned? Only Kelly! “What is wrong with y’all?” Kelly gasped, as she scolded her clueless castmates.

Result: Team Kelly, obviously. Kelly won last season with a one-chair contestant, Jake Hoot, so I still think I think Megan could go very far. She’s in the right hands.

Todd Michael Hall, 50: “Jukebox Hero”

Todd’s rocker shtick was very Rock of Ages, a bit hokey and without a whole lot of rawness or grit, but he had the pureness and power-singer range of a Steve Perry or Adam Lambert. Adam Levine probably would have loved this dude. I think America certainly will.

Who turned? Blake and John.

Result: Team Blake. With his Heavy Metal Parking Lot-like cup-swilling act and his mentions of Whitesnake, Ted Nugent, Twisted Sister, and Ratt, Blake was ready to rock this one. He even claimed that he wished he’d gone down a rock ‘n’ roll career path instead of becoming a country artist! John didn’t stand a chance.

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Joanna Serenko, 18: “All My Loving”

Joanna’s jazzy acoustic take on the Beatles’ classic reminded me of Yebba, though 19-era Adele might be a more mainstream reference point. There was a naturalness, sultriness, and ease to Joanna’s performance. I was intrigued. She’s a real artist, and she could be Season 18’s dark horse.

Who turned? All four coaches.

Result: Team Nick. Kelly fought hard (“I’ve been here for five seasons, and I haven’t heard anyone sing like that,” she raved), but Nick fought even harder, practically begging, and he ultimately won Joanna over. Kelly was visibly dismayed; maybe she should have had a puppy at the ready.

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