Coaches resort to mudslinging on 'The Voice': 'I want everybody at home to know I'm not a puppy hater'

With the teams nearly full on of The Voice Season 20, the coaches were pulling out all the stops Monday to recruit their all-important final contestants. Kelly Clarkson and Nick Jonas in particular devised new audiovisual ways to mudsling and play dirty, and the series’ usual hilarity ensued — especially when their PowerPoint presentations spectacularly backfired.

First, when Kelly was hoping to win over ’70s-style Americana warbler Jordan Matthew Young, whose cover of Keith Whitley’s “I’m No Stranger to the Rain” clearly made him seem like Team Blake material, she actually tried to use Blake Shelton’s own fiancée, Gwen Stefani, against him. Unfortunately for Kelly, her Adobe Premiere skills could use some work, as her disjointedly cobbled-together footage of Gwen seemingly campaigning for Team Kelly failed to convince the eagle-eyed Jordan. (I suppose the poorly edited jolts between Gwen’s many different hairstyles and sparkly outfits were the big tipoff there.) Interestingly, Jordan seemed more swayed by pop-singing coach Nick Jonas’s argument that choosing to join Team Jonas would be a “disruptive” move. But in the end, Blake’s comparison of Jordan to Eric Church sealed the deal, and nothing was disrupted at all. For once on the show, Blake was honest and direct, and it paid off.

But Nick was not above getting truly disruptive, later fighting for the night’s only four-chair contestant, 20-year-old sophistipop singer Anna Grace, with a slideshow of damning memes — including one depicting Blake manhandling an adorable yellow lab pound puppy with the stark white block letters “PUPPY HATER.” Explained Nick, “I broke out the memes on this one, because the internet doesn't lie!”

“Now, I'm not a puppy hater. I want everybody at home to know I'm not a puppy hater,” Blake clarified. “I just happened to have a stranglehold on that one particular puppy at that moment.” The out-of-context image was actually a screengrab from Nick’s first stint on The Voice, in Season 18, when Blake attempted to recruit 16-year-old prodigy Tate Brusa by holding up that little cream-colored fluff bundle, whose name was Snowflake, and threatening, “If you don’t choose me as your coach, this puppy is going to go straight back to the animal shelter!

An infamous Blake Shelton moment from 'The Voice' comes back as a meme. (Photo: NBC)
An infamous Blake Shelton moment from 'The Voice' comes back as a meme. (Photo: NBC)

Regular Voice viewers with steel-trap memories will recall that Blake’s dirty tactic didn’t work then. (Tate joined Team Jonas, and hopefully Snowflake eventually found a forever home.) And this week, Nick’s meme strategy also failed, with Anna happily joining Team Kelly without Kelly even having to show her an amateurishly edited Gwen blooper reel. All of this made for good TV, but I am honestly not sure if either Jordan or Anna warranted the coaches resorting to such desperate measures. Even Blake admitted that Jordan was “shaky” at the start, and Anna’s cover of Billie Eilish’s “My Future” was emotionally flat. If these are the sorts of shenanigans the coaches are getting up to now, next Monday’s final Blind Auditions episode of Season 20 is going to get crazy.

In the meantime, these were the other successful audition of this week:

Savanna Woods, 26: “Zombie”

This nomadic singer-songwriter sees herself as some sort of rock belter, but I don’t think she had a big enough voice or personality to pull this off. Savanna is no Dolores O’Riordan — or Miley Cyrus, for that matter. Even the coaches described her a "laid-back." She showcased an appealing rasp, but one more suited for less aggressive, less operatic power ballads. Kelly’s hand indecisively hovered over her red button for most of Savanna’s performance, and she later explained why: “After she got big, I wanted to hear how it would sound when she came back and got small again.”

Who turned?: Nick and, eventually, Kelly.

Result: Team Kelly. Nick played the Thunderstorm Artis card, which was not a bad strategy. (Thunderstorm was Team Jonas’s artsy finalist from Season 18, and he should have won that season.) But Kelly calling Savanna “cool as hell” and describing her as “if Patty Griffin and Nirvana had a baby” was an even more effective move.

Rachel Mac, 15: “Let Him Fly”

Rachel is a young country singer and the daughter of a worship leader, but she has also been trained in theater and marching band. And on top of all that, her voice was unexpectedly soulful tonight. There are layers to this girl! I have a feeling she could sing just about anything and it’d be interesting.

Who turned? Just Nick.

Result: Team Jonas, obviously. But it was clear that Rachel had really hoped join Team Blake. She was mainly excited just to meet Blake, trotting out her own PowerPoint presentation of a Blake Shelton report she’d done in grade school. I felt sorry for Nick that he seemed like such an afterthought to his own team member. (This might have been the time to bring out that “PUPPY HATER” meme, but it probably wouldn’t have worked.) I think Rachel and Nick could connect because of their theater backgrounds — he was on Smash, after all! — but Blake vowed to try to steal Rachel if he ever got the chance.

Lindsay Joan, 22: “Nightmare”

Another musical theater kid — one that grew up to nationally tour with a Broadway company of Kinky Boots — Lindsay tore through a very dramatic, perhaps too dramatic, rendition of a Halsey hit. She made “Nightmare” sound like a damn Melissa Manchester song. Lindsay later admitted she’d never been more nervous in her life, which might have accounted for her overzealous attack. But at least she committed fully and commanded attention, instead of becoming shy under pressure.

Who turned? Nick and Blake. Kelly quickly regretted not spinning, especially when she found out that Lindsay had done her own Kelly Clarkson school report in the fourth grade. (Lindsay got a B-plus, which is a slightly higher grade than I’d give her audition.)

Result: Team Jonas. “The important thing moving forward is going to be a combination of finding that confidence within yourself and for your voice,” said Nick. “There are so many things we could do with song selection, and I want to get the chance to do that.”

Rio Doyle, 16: “When We Were Young”

This jazzy torch singer’s vibrato was totally out of control, which is why Nick didn’t turn, and Kelly was put off by the way Rio “swallowed the words.” But she did sound shockingly mature for her age, with the sort of raw talent with which John could work wonders. “To be 16 and to take on an Adele song is always a bold, risky move, and I thought, ‘This is the kind of artist I want on my team,’” he explained.

Who turned? Just John, much to his surprise.

Result: Team Legend.

Zania Alaké, 34: “Sweet Love”

This Detroit single mom and banker by day/funk band frontwoman by night was such Team Legend material, with her silky Anita Baker cover, that I was surprised any other coach even bothered to turn. But Kelly told Zania, “Your voice is so classic and timeless, and filled with so much tone and butter and beauty. You just have one of those voices where if I didn't turn, I'd feel like an idiot!” John, who was doing “my old-man two-step in my seat,” had a delayed reaction, but explained, “I just waited through a few lines to make sure I knew that you had what it takes to sing an Anita Baker song and do it justice. And my God, for you to be able to pull that off so effortlessly was just magical.”

Who turned? John and Kelly.

Result: Team Legend, of course!

Savanna Chesnut, 25: “Hold Me Now”

I wasn’t all that wowed by this small-town Kansas girl’s limited vocal range, but I love me some Thompson Twins, and I was very impressed with how effectively she tapped into the new wave hit’s sense of melancholy and made the tune her own. “The fact that you chose to do that song and perform it that way, that shows the writer side of you. To be able to take a song and figure out how to completely flip it like that, it's really cool,” marveled Blake.

Who turned? Only Blake, but he actually seemed to know who the Thompson Twins are. That might be Gwen’s influence.

Result: Team Blake.

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