Singer-songwriter Andy Grammer infiltrated the mainstream last year with his sixth-place star turn on Dancing With the Stars and his top 10 ode to monogamy, “Honey, I’m Good.” But this Monday on another popular talent show, The Voice, the woman who inspired that song – his lovely wife, Aijia Lise Grammer – didn’t fare as well as Andy did on DWTS. His honey probably wasn’t feeling all that good by the end of her Blind Audition. Because despite Aijia’s noble intention of going on The Voice to prove she’s “not just Andy Grammer’s wife,” she surprisingly turned no chairs.
And just as surprising? The revelation that Aijia was literally raised at the Anti-Club, a demi-legendarily skeevy ’80s punk-rock dive bar on Hollywood’s Melrose Ave., where bands like the Minutemen, Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr., Jane’s Addiction, and Wasted Youth used to gig on the regular. The club was owned by Aijia’s grandmother (Coolest. Grandma. Ever.), and Aijia recalled to Carson Daly: “We’d be in the office, tucked away with coloring books, while the Chili Peppers were onstage. Kind of a weird way to grow up, but that’s how we did it.” Who would have suspected that a girl with that sort of background would end up being the muse for Andy Grammer’s ode to saving oneself for marriage, “Holding Out”? I’m fairly certain that premarital abstinence wasn’t a popular lyrical topic at the Anti-Club in 1985.
Anyway, while Aijia’s cover of A Great Big World’s “Say Something” may not have been mind-blowing, it was certainly strong enough to inspire at least one coach to whack a red button. (Maybe Aijia should have covered some Red Hot Chili Peppers instead? Eh, probably not.) Christina Aguilera, the coach who seemed like the best fit for Aijia (she guested on A Great Big World’s single, after all), told Aijia she wanted “more tenderness, less power” – in what was a real pot/kettle/black comment from the often unsubtle diva.
But whatever the reason, Aijia’s screentime was brief. For now, most of America will still know her as “Andy Grammer’s wife,” although a quick skim of her website or IMDB page shows there’s a lot more to her than that. (Fun fact: She’s E.G. Daily’s niece!)
And now, on to the successful auditions of the night. Honey, some of them were pretty good.
This Nebraska preschool teacher, self-described as “super-giggly, super-goofy,” seemed like she had the potential to be, well, kind of annoying. I was hoping against hope that she wouldn’t sing a Barney or Wiggles song. But then she got onstage and did Allen Stone’s “Unaware,” and I was surprised that this sweet girl actually had some edge. She was giving me some Paloma Faith realness with her quirky soul stylings. Christina, Blake Shelton, and Pharrell Williams all had delayed reactions, but finally buzzed in when Hannah went for the money note at the end – and nailed it.
“I love the rasp. That’s what got me hooked. It sounded great, and I was just waiting for that extra push to push the button. I loved where you took it at the end,” raved Christina. But Hannah picked “smooth operator” Pharrell anyway. I think she made the right choice. Pharrell is great with jazzy soul-indie ingénues (think Mia Z., Sugar Joans), and I think he’ll steer this newbie down a cool, credible path.
MEMBER OF: TEAM PHARRELL
The son of Zimbabwean parents who journeyed to America to pursue higher education (and went on to earn 10 degrees between them!), and a worship leader himself, Brian came to The Voice with a sunny attitude and tons of poise. While Pharrell’s own “Happy” may not have been the best showcase for Brian’s vocal range, it certainly matched his spirit. Blake and of course Pharrell turned, albeit at the very last minute. (Side note: Is it just me, or does it seem this season that the coaches are waiting longer than ever, like literally until the final note of a song, to spin around? Are they doing that for suspense, or to psych the contestants out, per producers’ orders? Or are they really that indecisive, even after doing this for so many seasons?)
“I’ve got so much respect for you that I did something so humiliating as to hit my button when you’re singing [Pharrell’s] freakin’ song,” said Blake, later telling the Tulsa-based Brian, “Okies gotta stick together!” (Blake is from Oklahoma, in case you didn’t hear him mention that the other 78 times he’s played the “Okie card” on The Voice.) But then Pharrell told Brian, “Clearly, you sing [‘Happy’] much better than I do,” and he asked Brian to perform the first song that Brian ever learned at age 4, “Jesus Loves Me.” (That hymn, actually, did a much better job of showing what Brian can do with his voice than the frothy, lightweight “Happy.”) Blake’s Oklahoma pedigree meant nothing after that. And Pharrell was two-for-two.
MEMBER OF: TEAM PHARRELL
One of many Voice hopefuls slogging it out on the Nashville circuit, this 26-year-old Berklee grad charmed with her pleasing, gentle cover of Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough.” At first I thought Christina was throwing some shade at her Season 7 and 9 replacement coach when she said, “Is that Gwen Stefani?” – but then I realized that couldn’t be the case, because Brittany was really good. Her voice was warm and plaintive, her delivery earnest and unforced. She definitely had something special – and, yes, in parts I did hear a certain Stefani-style vibrato.
“Brittany and Gwen – two girls I like!” joked Blake, after he turned. (Pharrell turned, too – at the very last minute. Of course.) “Your voice is magical,” Blake told Brittany. Then he found out that Brittany sometimes writes with (Oklahoma-born) country singer Buddy Owens – who Blake knows, natch. This time, Blake playing the Oklahoma card, and the Nashville card, totally worked.
MEMBER OF: TEAM BLAKE
One of this season’s returning rejects, Natalie seemed deeply emotionally scarred from her Season 9 experience. Just talking about it with Carson got her all riled up. I think this affected her performance on Monday. Doing Kelly Clarkson’s “Mr. Know-It-All” – admittedly a tough song to sing, as all Kelly songs are – she came across as desperate and manic, practically shouting the song, as if the sheer volume of her vocals would will the chairs to hydraulically pivot forward. There were no dynamics, no nuances, no subtlety of any kind.
Last season, Natalie didn’t turn a single chair. This time, she did turn a single chair, literally: Adam Levine’s. (Christina actually tried to push her button, but it was too late. See? All this dramatic last-minute spinning has its downside.) But that was it. One chair. Maybe now that she’s finally on a team, Natalie can finally put her Season 9 PTSD aside and just focus on delivering better performances in Season 10. The girl clearly has powerful pipes, but she doesn’t have to try so damn hard anymore.
MEMBER OF: TEAM ADAM
OK, this kid had some swag! This was a perfect case of not trying too hard. Performing clearly comes naturally to Malik, right down to his non-irritating ad-libs. His cover of Nick Jonas’s “Chains” was soulful and slightly Michael Jackson-esque, but also very current. Christina and Pharrell were both eager to have this guy on their teams, and a real fight ensued, with both coaches bragging about their very different but impressive credentials.
Christina mentioned that she’s been performing since she was 9 years old, and that she’s known one of Malik’s idols, Justin Timberlake, since the Mickey Mouse Club days. Pharrell went in for the hard sell, saying: “I’ve been making records since I was 18. I didn’t grow up in the public eye – but I worked with Justin when he was your age.”
Pharrell had a good point. He probably could have worked wonders with Malik. But surprisingly, for once smooth operator Pharrell’s oratory skills didn’t seal the deal. I don’t know if Malik made the right decision here, but I bet he made Christina very happy.
MEMBER OF: TEAM XTINA
This cheerleader-turned-Nashville guitar-slinger was pretty good, but I really didn’t understand all the three-chair fanfare for her sleepy coffeehouse cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” I didn’t think she changed up the song very much – the reason Adam gave for why he held out – and her voice was merely pleasant. Peyton Parker is no Stevie Nicks. But the coaches went wild for her.
Of course, neither Pharrell nor Christina ever really had a chance. “Don’t waste your time being an experiment. Come on home. Come where it makes sense,” asserted Blake. “I feel like this is gonna get turned into coaches trying to take a country artist away from me, and you not doing what you know you need to do!” Then Blake compared Peyton to Ashley Monroe, and it truly was a done deal. Team Blake was always Peyton’s place. We didn’t need 11 minutes of inter-coach squabbling to figure that out.
MEMBER OF: TEAM BLAKE
Seriously, if the producers didn’t devote so much time to these pointless and practically predetermined face-offs between the coaches (or, come to think of it, failed auditions by famous pop-star wives), there’d be a lot more time for the contestants, and they wouldn’t have to show so many montages…
Gina Castanzo and Trey O’Dell
Oh, snap. I spoke too soon. These two hapless Team Blake also-rans got only 27 seconds of screentime between them – much of which consisted of Blake commentary or Carson voiceovers. So I have no idea if their respective performances of Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness’s “Cecilia and the Satellite” and Sheppard’s “Geronimo” were any good, though I admired the song choices.
Sorry, kids. See you in the Battle Rounds – for probably about 27 seconds.
MEMBERS OF: TEAM BLAKE
Kristen is also an Okie. But the chanteuse’s pre-performance interview – in which she complained about not fitting in with her local scene and naysayers saying, “Indie jazz? What’s that? That’s not Blake Shelton!” – indicated that she never exactly considered herself Team Blake material.
Kristen’s theatrical, wannabe-Lana Del Rey cover of the Gary Jules version of “Mad World” was interesting, but way too affected. It sounded like she was inventing new vowels. Every word had like 18 diphthongs in it. It was a bit much. Today’s young indie singers really need to listen to this classic linguistic-themed song, or maybe this one, and learn their vowels. Even with the “sometimes Y,” there are only six vowels in the English language, people.
However, Kristen sang with more passion than most contestants, and that’s something that can’t be taught. Christina and Blake took notice. Blake, who obviously had not seen Kristen’s interview package, tried to play the Okie card, but it was Christina’s more appropriate references to Adele and Sia that won Kristen over. Now, Christina is sometimes guilty of hyper-extending her own song syllables, with all her crazy runs. Is she really the right coach to show Kristen that sometimes, less is more? We shall see. But she is a better match for Kristen than Blake.
MEMBER OF: TEAM XTINA
This clean-cut 19-year-old crooner got teased as a kid for being in a boys’ choir, but his song choice – Mayer Hawthorne’s “The Walk” – was actually the coolest of the night. His falsetto right from the get-go certainly grabbed my attention, but of course the three interested coaches all waited until the final waning notes of the song to turn around. (Stop doing this, coaches. The shtick is getting old.) Nate’s vocal wasn’t flawless, but his range was impressive, and so was his taste level when it came to song selection.
“There’s a soulful aspect to your voice, and you realize that it happens to be your identity. That’s a wonderful thing to know at 19 years old, because at 19 I was still confused,” said Pharrell (totally contradicting his earlier boast about how he was already producing records at age 18, but whatever.) “I hit my button because listening to you is so much fun. There’s just a vibe to what you do,” said Blake. But Adam – who usually relies on hyperbolic, hard-sell pitches, in which he compares contestants to the Beatles or tells them they’re the greatest thing he’s heard in his entire life – actually got critical, telling Nate he needed work on his transitions. “I can be the guy to help facilitate that for you,” he said.
Kudos to Nate for picking Adam, instead of linking up with one of the coaches who just kissed his butt. That showed maturity, groundedness, and a good work ethic. By actually going with the coach who gave him actionable advice and might be able to help him improve and evolve, Nate could go surprisingly far in this competition.
MEMBER OF: TEAM ADAM
OK, I think we might’ve found who’ll be in the Season 10 finale alongside the already-anointed Alisan Porter. This guy has all the makings of a singing-show frontrunner. He’s handsome, in an approachably dorky sort of way; he has a touching backstory (he‘s a Lyme disease survivor and he provides music therapy to traumatized children); and oh, did I mention that he can totally sang? His Jeff Buckley-esque, rangy, falsetto-laced cover of Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” actually had Christina – in a refreshing change of pace – turning around quickly, during the first verse. And the three other coaches followed suit. This was the only four-chair audition of the night.
“I’m a dude with a high voice. And when you got me going, like, ‘Damn, that’s really high,’ I can assure you that’s really high. I’m jealous of your tone,” said Adam. “I’ve been around some of the greatest singers in the world, and, man, you are one of those voices that needs to be heard worldwide. It sounds like you can do just about anything,” said Christina. But Ryan went with his high-pitched brother. Adam really got in the game with this one. Jordan Smith who? (Just kidding. Go watch Team Adam Season 9 winner Jordan’s debut music video here and enjoy.)
MEMBER OF: TEAM ADAM
So to sum up, right now Team Adam has Natalie Yacovazzi, Nate Butler, Ryan Quinn, and week one recruits Caroline Burns, Katherine Ho, Laith Al-Saadi, John Gilman, and Mike Schiavo. Team Blake has Brittany Kennell, Peyton Parker, Gina Castanzo, Trey O’Dell, and last week’s Adam Wakefield, Angie Keilhauer, Mary Sarah, and Paxton Ingram. Team Xtina has Kristen Marie, Malik Heard, and last week’s Kata Hay, Shalyah Fearing, Lacy Mandigo, Alisan Porter, and Bryan Bautista. And Team Pharrell is shaping up nicely with the addition of Hannah Huston and Brian Nhira to last week’s Emily Keener, Joe Vivona, Jonathan Bach, Nick Hagelin, Abby Celso, and Caity Peters.
It’s too close to tell which coach has the edge so far. Tune in Tuesday, when the Blinds continue apace, and see what happens then.