'I'm on Blake’s last team and all I got was this lousy T-shirt': Shelton bids farewell to 'The Voice,' takes on new coaches Chance the Rapper and Niall Horan
Since The Voice debuted in 2011, every season has offered some sort of unofficial drinking game. Take a sip every time every time Adam Levine wears a holey T-shirt; or Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, or Camilla Cabello say they were on an unnamed “singing competition like this one”; or Gwen Stefani claims she’s a country music artist now… and you’ll be tipsy by the end of the season premiere. This year, reach for your glass every time Blake Shelton mentions that this is his final season… and you’ll be passed out before the Season 23 premiere’s first commercial break.
The four original Voice coaches were Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, and CeeLo Green, but one by one, the coaches vacated their big red chairs, leaving Blake as the last coach standing (or, um, sitting). Since then, the country superstar has shared the stage and playfully sparred with rotating coaches Shakira, Usher, Pharrell Williams, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keys, Nick Jonas, John Legend, Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello, Kelly Clarkson, and his own wife Gwen (who he met-cute on the set), but he’s always remained the panel’s most popular and successful coach, guiding nine contestants to the winner’s circle.
But that era ends now — and if Monday’s premiere is any indication, Blake is going milk his last season for all it’s worth. (“I’ve got to win!” he declared during the show’s cold open. “I’m going out with a bang.”) Throughout the two-hour episode, Blake lured contestants by constantly saying, “I’d be honored for you to be on the last Team Blake” and even offering them limited-edition commemorative shirts that read, “I’m on Blake’s last team and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”
Blake mentioned that this was his final season so often, in fact, that new coach Niall Horan actually accused him of crying wolf and just staging a publicity stunt, joking to Blake, “Yeah, it’s your last season… unless NBC pays you more money to come back next year, and this is like a fake retirement!”
It is hard to imagine The Voice, billed Monday as the “Home of BS,” without Blake, but the man seemed serious — and already seemed to be passing the torch to his successor. While back in 2017, when Yahoo Entertainment asked Blake to suggest his replacement, he said David Lee Roth (which you know would be must-see TV), this week he was “grooming” Niall for the role. By the episode’s end, an alliance had seemingly formed, with Niall calling Blake “Dad” and imitating that pointing-to-head gesture that has always been the incumbent coach’s signature recruiting move.
Niall’s first team recruit was actually a four-chair country singer, Ross Clayton, and the One Direction heartthrob pulled out allthe drinking-game-worthy stops for Ross. The former X Factor U.K. star pointed out that he’d competed on another “show like this”; he shouted out his devoted, ready-to-vote boy-band fanbase and had the girls in the studio audience scream for him on command; he got on his knees and begged; and in case none of that worked, he even hit the other three coaches’ buttons to make their red chairs swivel back around, so he and Ross could have a “private” chat. When Ross eventually, surprisingly picked Niall over Blake, Blake just said, “I’m happy for Niall. I feel like Niall is gonna take my seat on this show [in future seasons] by playing those dirty tricks.” Blake even shook Niall’s hand, in a good-sportsmanlike, game-recognizing-game moment.
Blake and The Voice may be positioning Niall as the new coach to watch/beat, but there are two new panelists this season — a development that returning coach Kelly Clarkson called a “game-changer” — and new cast member Chance the Rapper should not be underestimated. “Chance has come into this thing fearless. When he gets excited about somebody, he goes all-in,” Blake admitted.
While Chance described himself as “pretty chill,” he was anything but; a fierce competitor, he proved that Niall isn’t the only coach of this “rookie season” who can play “dirty tricks.” He actually used his one Block on Blake for another four-chair contestant, NOIVAS, and even orchestrated some sort of secret production sorcery to switch the illuminated names on the stage floor in front of the coaches’ chairs to all spell out his name in big capital letters. He also lured harmonic sister trio Sorelle away from Blake by — as Blake put it — “producing a record live” with them “before our eyes. Once that happened, I knew it was over for me.”
But it ain’t over until the winning Season 23 contestant sings. Will that singer coached by Blake and get a whole lot more than a lousy T-shirt? Will Niall or Chance pull off an upset? Or will the show’s other veteran, Kelly, who’s now in her ninth Voice season, win for a fifth time? Perhaps the series’ 23rd champion will be one of Monday’s Blind Auditioners, listed below.
Neil Salisch, 34: “Honky Tonk Blues”
Kelly dug this affable St. Louis journeyman’s “cool vibe”; Blake loved his old-school yodel; Chance was impressed by Neil’s texture, tone, and range; and Niall, who pointed out the connection between American roots music and traditional Irish folk (other unofficial season 23 drinking game so far), called Neil a “seasoned” storyteller. To be honest, I didn’t think Neil was good enough to turn four chairs and kick off this entire important season, but maybe he sounded better in the room.
Who turned? All four coaches — but Blake wasted no time with his gameplay, blocking fellow country fan Kelly.
Result: Team Blake, of course. I agreed with Chance that it would’ve made for “interesting” TV if a bar-band dude who covered Hank Williams Sr. had picked Chance, who admitted he’s no country expert. (“Hey, why not?” said Chance, which an amused Kelly said was her favorite pitch in Voice history.) But we all knew that wasn’t going to happen.
Sorelle, “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”
This sister trio of self-described social media influencers (3.2 million TikTok followers) was unique in so many ways. They went with a left-field Queen cover, and while their performance started off a bit barbershop/Good Ship Lollipop, as it progressed, it got into some pleasingly Beach Boys/Mika/Jellyfish territory. Their arrangement was creative and theatrical, and while their intricate, dissonant harmonies were initially off-putting to Chance, once he realized those harmonies were intentional, he was intrigued and called Sorelle “dope.” Putting on his producer hat, he asked
them to trill a few lines of “What Would I Do” from The Wiz — and the result was unexpectedly magical. I feel Chance could be a chance-taking whiz of a coach this season. “I’ve got a vision!” he declared.
Who turned? Blake and Chance.
Result: Team Chance. OK, this will be interesting TV!
Holly Brand, 22, “Mississippi Girl”
This pageant girl with the big voice and big dreams opened for Blake at age 10 — a moment that changed her life and set her on her career path. I’m sure she came to The Voice hoping to join Team Blake, but the other coaches had other plans for her. Niall compared Holly to his “good friend” Maren Morris; Kelly described Holly as a cross between Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood; and Chance told her, “That whistle note took me out!… You have a crazy control of your vocal range.”
Who turned? Kelly (right away), Niall, and Chance… but not Blake, surprisingly. “What is wrong with you?” gasped Kelly — although she was clearly thrilled to not have to compete with Blake for this particular country contestant. As for the other two coaches in the running, Kelly didn’t really have to compete with them. “I definitely know a helluva more about country than these two,” Kelly smugly told Holly.
Result: Team Kelly, of course.
Tasha Jessen, 20, “River”
This ethereal songbird was born in Pakistan, but fled that country due to religious persecution (her family practices Christianity, not Islam) and moved to Thailand. Now living in Colorado with her church-musician husband, Tasha is finally pursuing her musical passion and finding her true voice. She sounded nervous at first — but as Blake noted, as her performance went on, she relaxed into it. I’m sure it helped her confidence grow when she turned three chairs.
Who turned? Blake, Niall, and Chance. Kelly really liked Tasha’s Leon Bridges song choice, so I was surprised she refrained.
Result: Team Blake! Even host Carson Daly seemed shocked by Tasha’s decision. Niall played two smart cards here, pointing out that he has “the kind of fanbase that would absolutely love” Tasha and even offering to write with this aspiring songsmith, and Chance was actually one of the first rappers that superfan Tasha ever heard and loved. But 23 seasons in, there was still no overestimating the power of Blake Shelton. Sorry, Niall.
Ross Clayton, 33: “Blue Ain‘t Your Color”
This swaggy, Shooter Jennings-esque dude looked more like a ‘70s action movie/porn/rock star than an Oklahoma farm-dwelling dad of three with a corporate day job, but Ross put his musical dreams on hold for years to focus on family. It definitely seemed like now is Ross’s time to shine. And it seemed like Niall’s time, too. While Chance just said “why not?” again (there’s another drinking game for ya), and Blake just played the Okie card, Niall played all his cards, as outlined above.
Who turned? All four coaches. All right, this four-chair turn I definitely understood. As Kelly put it, Ross is rad.
Result: Team Niall, finally! Blake didn’t even seen disappointed to lose such a promising country contestant, realizing that he’d taught his new mini-me well.
Michael B., 29: “Save Your Tears”
This former high school theater kid moved to New York with hopes of making it on Broadway, but things didn’t pan out. Now living in Los Angeles and working behind the scenes in entertainment, he still dreams of being in front of the camera and on a stage — where he clearly belongs. I loved his torchy cabaret version of the Weeknd’s hit, as did Niall, who turned as soon as he heard Michael’s pure, pretty falsetto. “Now that’s a voice,” said Niall. “I feel like you could throw any type of big song at him and he’ll be able to sing it.”
Who turned? Only Niall, astonishingly.
Result: Team Niall. Broadway totally slept on this guy, and so did the other coaches. Their loss! “Michael is going to shock a lot of people,” Niall predicted.
D. Smooth, 25: “Perfect”
This old-school soul belter from Alabama didn’t give a perfect performance — Chance pointed out some “sour notes” in the beginning — but the raw talent was there. “His runs were just very on-point. I’m very excited to see what he wants to do on the show,” said Kelly.
Who turned? Kelly and Niall — the latter at the very last minute.
Result: Team Kelly. I think with an experienced coach like Kelly, Mr. Smooth could do well.
Alex Whalen, 43: “Help Me Make It Through the Night”
This was a classic face-doesn’t-match-the-vocals Voice reveal, when we heard Londoner Alex’s British-accented narration as he spoke about his former day job on the Tube… and then we saw a Ted Nugent-esque outlaw rocker wearing a leather cowboy hat and braided Willie Nelson/Scott Ian beard. Earlier in the episode, Blake had noted that Niall doesn’t sing with an Irish brogue, and similarly, Alex sounded like an all-American country-rocker doing this Sammi Smith classic.
Who turned? Blake and Chance.
Result: Team Blake. “In all these years, I’ve never had a chance to work with a country singer from London,” Blake quipped. Well, finally, after 12 years on The Voice, Blake is getting that opportunity. But I do think it would’ve been more interesting if Alex had ended up on Team Chance.
NOIVAS, 30: “A Change Is Gonna Come”
Longtime American Idol viewers might remember NOIVAS as Savion Wright, who appeared on Idol Seasons 13 and 14; his Hollywood Week elimination the first time around stirred outrage among Idol fans, who felt he was robbed, and when he returned a year later, he made it to the top 24 before getting cut yet again. Perhaps The Voice is more Wright’s speed. His fiery acoustic Sam Cooke cover had Chance calling him “an incomparable talent” and “a voice-of-a-generation that deserves to be heard,” and Niall even described NOIVAS’s performance as “Stevie Wonder stuff” (not to be confused with British college-rock band the Wonder Stuff, of course).
Who turned? All four coaches — except Chance blocked Blake! Well-played, Chance. Well-played.
Result: Team Chance. While NOIVAS admitted, “Blake, I really hate that you got blocked, because I going to choose you,” he had to go with his gut — and go with the coach who’d fought so hard for him.
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