"I want to hear someone who will blow me away. Let's do this," declared Adam Levine at the start of Monday's "Voice" episode, the penultimate Blind Auditions episode of Season 6. And his words certainly resonated with me. While the season had been filled with talent, of course, there still hadn't been that one huge breakout moment, that one jaw-dropping, watercooler-chatter audition. Adam didn't even recruit anyone last Tuesday. Would this Monday be the night when his luck — and Season 6's luck — would change?
"You gotta wait for great," Usher told Adam backstage. And Adam took that advice, scoring a valuable team player, but not until the episode's end. However, before that moment, a few other promising singers gave it a spin, so to speak. Here's how the night went:
Kat Perkins - This woman came to "The Voice" with a pretty varied CV: She portrayed a yodeling cowgirl in local theater, played in a country band with her ex-husband, then took a break from music to be a nanny. "The Voice" was her chance to return to doing what she loves most, and Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman" was a smart song to showcase her country-rock, bad-girl style. Interestingly, Blake Shelton, the one country expert on the panel, did not turn around. However, Adam convinced Kat to join his team. Was this the singer Adam had been waiting for? Maybe. "Kat was my big score, because she's really great. I mean, that girl's going to go a lot further, I think, than we realize," Adam said. I wasn't blown away by Kat, but this was a strong audition, so perhaps Adam knew what he was doing here.
MEMBER OF: Team Adam
Paula DeAnda - "The Voice" has frequently served as a relaunching pad for artists who once had record deals (past winners Javier Colon, Jermaine Paul, Cassadee Pope, and Tessanne Chin were all showbiz vets), and Paula is one of the most established also-rans to ever compete on the show. She scored a couple big pop hits in 2006, "Doing Too Much" and "Walk Away," although her career fizzled fast after that. None of the "Voice" cast seemed to recognize her (not even former "Total Request Live" host Carson Daly; #facepalm), but Shakira and Blake wanted her nonetheless. Especially Blake. "You're not afraid to try anything. I see a victory in your future," Blake said, successfully wooing Paula. I actually thought Paula's cover of Ariana Grande's "The Way" was somewhat generic, but there was no doubt that she could sing, and at only age 25, she's still young enough to make a comeback. Will Blake help Paula like he helped ex-Columbia Records artist Cassadee? We'll see, but part of me thinks she would have been better off on Shakira's team.
MEMBER OF: Team Blake
Jake Barker - On the other end of the spectrum was this guy, a stagefright sufferer who'd never sang in public before. Until going on "The Voice," his performances had been limited to his bedroom and YouTube. I think nerves caused his vocals to quaver on his cover of Bruno Mars's "When I Was Your Man," but ultimately, his sweet, Thicke-like falsetto inspired Shakira, Adam, and Usher to all spin around. "This song definitely complemented you. The girls, they love the falsetto. And I feel like you understand your tool very well…I see you as one of the greatest voices on my team," said Usher. "It's pretty astonishing that it's your first time [performing live]. That means that your level of growth is just going to be pretty astounding, and that makes me that much more excited," said Adam. Jake eventually went with Usher — a guy who knows a lot about falsetto singing, and about coaching YouTube sensations (BiebercoughBieber) — so I think Jake made the right choice.
MEMBER OF: Team Usher
Tess Boyer, Josh Murley, Austin Ellis, and Cali Tucker – Oh dear. Another montage. Of these four contestants, I wish we'd seen more of Cali, a country powerhouse who happens to be Tanya Tucker's niece. (But then again, she sang Alannah Myles's "Black Velvet," a song I never need to hear again on any singing show, so maybe Cali's lack of screentime was for the best.) Josh covered the Verve Pipe's ho-hum "The Freshmen" and Austin did another done-to-death talent-show staple, "Drift Away." Meh. Perhaps there was a good reason that these four didn't get more than 85 seconds of airtime combined. It didn't seem like any of these contestants were the breakout singers that Adam was waiting for.
MEMBERS OF: Team Usher, Team Adam, Team Adam, and Team Blake, respectively
Ria Eaton – This feisty, Xanadu-headbanded 19-year-old, who once performed with the Boston Symphony at age 9, got through nearly all of her cover of "When I'm Gone" without a single chair-turn, despite having one of the more distinctive voices of the night. But then, thankfully, Shakira and Blake pulled an Usher-like move and buzzed in at the very last minute. Shakira called Ria a "pearl in an oyster," but she got shut out again, as Ria picked Blake. "One of my favorite artists that I've got is Ria Eaton. She just doesn't sound like anybody else. And I love people that stand out. To have already developed that sound and that rasp, it's one in a million," said Blake. Perhaps Ria was the "wait for great" audition Blake was looking for. Now the "Voice" world may be his oyster.
MEMBER OF: Team Blake
Cierra Mickens – This Alaskan Air Force baby, church singer, and aspiring law school student had the classic dream-deferred backstory: She lives in the middle of nowhere, far away from any real showbiz opportunities; she works at a dreary office day job; and all she really wants to do is sing, sing, sing. And boy, did she ever sing this Monday! Cierra gave it her all onstage (singing Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy"; I would've loved to have witnessed CeeLo Green's reaction), and Blake, Shakira, and Usher all went crazy for her. Usher buzzed in mere nanoseconds before the song ended, infuriating Blake (who called a "technical foul"), and Shakira, desperate to score a strong player for her team after a night of being snubbed, actually walked onstage and told Cierra, pleadingly: "This is one of the most important decisions you're going to make in your entire career. I just want to tell you how much I believe in you. You are a superstar." Now it was Usher's time to cry foul, complaining: "I think it's just not fair that Shakira decided to go and have a connection with you, when I know the connection that we'll make will be so significant for your entire career." But Shakira's game-playing finally worked, and she "got a good one." However, Shakira still has to watch out for Usher, who vowed to steal Cierra in the Battle Rounds.
MEMBER OF: Team Shakira
Alaska & Madi – These 2011 champs of "American Kids" (a singing competition that a then-mulleted Blake Shelton won once) are total besties, but with the girls now living in separate cities, "The Voice" was their one chance to keep their group together. They belted a bold, twangy cover of the Civil Wars' "Barton Hollow," and Adam was impressed enough to buzz in early. But the girls already shared an "American Kids" bond, not to mention an Oklahoma state bond, with Blake. Plus, Blake compared the girls to his wife Miranda Lambert's group, Pistol Annies, and called his alliance with Alaska & Madi "meant to be," adding: "Don't disappoint your home state!" Poor Adam never stood a chance.
MEMBER OF: Team Blake
Ddendyl – A simple, adorable girl from a town where the cows outnumber the people and her dad plays the bagpipes in the middle of the street, quirky lounge singer and former opera student Ddendyl had everything to be America's next sweetheart. Her cover of "Stand By Me" was one the best auditions of the night (or the season): lush and gorgeous, the perfect balance of softness and strength. Shakira, hungry for another victory, turned quickly, and she won Ddendyl by default. I was shocked that only Shakira turned around. This wasn't the audition Adam was waiting for? Really? Well, his loss was definitely Shakira's gain. "I'm so happy you're part of my team now. I feel like we're going to do great things, and I'm sure that you'll be very successful on this show," Shakira told Ddendyl, beaming.
MEMBER OF: Team Shakira
Josh Kaufman – This cute, beardy dad looked like the type who'd sing Munford & Sons or Kings of Leon, but instead he did George Michael's "One More Try" — a symbolic song choice, given the fact that, at age 38, his time to make a mark in the music biz is running out. Well, this one last try was a valiant one. This was a brilliant, soulful audition. Adam excitedly hit his button within the first few notes, and by the song's end, the other three coaches followed suit (with Usher buzzing in last, of course). "Josh, I would love to have an artist like you, that is already so mature vocally, but that just needs some nurturing and support," said Adam. "I think that we're at a turning point in the music industry, where people just want different, they want real. They don't want gimmicks. And I think you're the real deal. I'd be devastated if you didn't pick me as your coach, because you are the artist I've been waiting for." And thus, Adam sealed the (real) deal. I guess Josh was well worth the wait.
MEMBER OF: Team Adam
So now, after five rounds of Blind Auditions, here's where things stand, as Carson Daly would say:
Team Adam comprises Kat Perkins, Josh Murley, Austin Ellis, Sam Behymer, Joshua Howard, Patrick Thompson, Delvin Choice, Cary Laine, Dawn & Hawkes, and Christina Grimmie.
Team Usher has Jake Barker, Tess Boyer, Morgan Wallen, Stevie Jo, the Brothers Walker, Tanner James, Melissa Jimenez, Madilyn Paige, T.J. Wilkins, Biff Gore, and Bria Kelly.
Team Shakira has Cierra Mickens, Ddendyl, Dani Moz, Music Box, Emily B., DeShawn Washington, Clarissa Serna, Lindsay Pagano, Deja Hall, Kristen Merlin, and Jeremy Briggs.
And finally, Team Blake has Paula DeAnda, Cali Tucker, Ria Eaton, Alaska & Madi, Megan Rüger, Ryan Whyte Maloney, Sisaundra Lewis, Lexi Luca, Audra McLaughlin, Noah Lis, and Jake Worthington.
So, with only one more Blind Auditions episode to go, which coach has the strongest team? It's a close call, but I'll say Adam still has a slight lead, with Shakira and Blake in a tie for second. But don't count out Usher — that man's got game, and maybe he's still "waiting for great." Tune in Tuesday to find out how all the team lineups end up. See you then.