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Thank u, next: New 'The Voice' coach Ariana Grande is ready to dethrone her veteran co-stars on season premiere

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·10 min read
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The Voice always makes a big fuss when a new coach joins the show, with the incumbent coaches — especially the O.G., Blake Shelton — suddenly becoming super-competitive. But as The Voice premiered its 21st season Monday, no one could blame the NBC brass for hyping up the show’s latest stunt-casting, or returning coaches Blake, Kelly Clarkson and John Legend for feeling genuinely threatened.

“She’s so relevant right now, and so on top of her game,” Kelly marveled at the start of Monday’s episode, referring to the great ponytailed wonder that is the one-and-only Ariana Grande. Yes, not since Miley Cyrus joined the panel in 2016 has there been a Voice coach so aligned with the current pop zeitgeist as Ariana. And certainly not since Kelly became a Voice regular in 2018 has there been a diva coach with such a stellar set of pipes. New co-stars Kelly and Ariana’s powerhouse voices blended magnificently during their mutually respectful show-opening duet of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” but once everyone was back in their big red chairs, the competition was on.

Kelly sarcastically noted — after observing the delighted screams from all the Arianators sitting in the live studio audience, not to mention the assembly line of high-ponied Arianators actually auditioning for the show — that she, John, and Blake probably didn’t stand a chance this season. However, Ariana did seem intimidated by the Blind Auditions process initially, and she failed to recruit the night's first contestant. But then she got the knack for the show's gameplay and proved that while she may be petite, she’s not so sweet. “Ariana, she is taking over. … She is incredibly sneaky,” Blake warned.

Ariana demonstrated that she came to play — and win — when she gifted her new team members with care packages of throat-coating teas and honey lozenges, which had John calling her “one of the most technical coaches we’ve ever had.” But then she brought out the best party trick on The Voice since Jennifer Hudson’s shoe-throwing: her “thank u, next” interruption button, which she used to intercept and derail all of her rival coaches' speeches. Kelly was especially amused by this genius tactic, as was the audience. I sincerely hope that when Ariana’s stint on The Voice is over, NBC keeps that button affixed to her successor’s chair.

But Ariana had serious onscreen moments as well, especially when she was trying to secure another coveted contestant, Vaughn Mugol, with an epic speech of her own. “I know that I’m new here, and you guys don’t know me as a coach yet. But I want to guide you in this competition,” she told the young, green singer. “I want to help you sing the right songs. I want to answer any questions you might have regarding my experiences, and help you get to where you want to go as an artist. I want to help you get to the healthiest place with your instrument that you’ve ever been in your life. I want to help you become one of the biggest artists you can be. I want to help you win this thing, and then have a career. I want to be here to do the real work. I want to be that for you.”

Yep, just like Kelly said: The other coaches didn’t stand a chance. Below are all the Blind Auditions of Season 21 premiere:

Girl Named Tom, “Helplessly Hoping”

This brother/sister group — a rare Voice trio — did Crosby, Stills & Nash’s classic justice, not only perfectly melding their gossamer family harmonies but sounding lovely in their solo moments, too. (Solo singing is often the weak point for duos and trios on The Voice.) These cool kids were giving me Civil Wars/Nickel Creek vibes. Ariana was immediately “obsessed” and “very invested,” noting that she has extensive experience when it comes to layered vocal production, she immediately suggested that they cover Imogen Heap. Meanwhile, John mentioned his a cappella-arranging experience and saiid they should sing some Sufjan Stevens or Bon Iver. And Kelly was already thinking of ways that the siblings could “make songs their own,” as they say in the biz, and orchestrate their own Johnny Cash-covers-“Hurt” viral moment.

Who turned? All four coaches 00 although Kelly was the quickest to spin, and she even gave GNT a standing ovation.

Result: Team Kelly. Ariana seemed truly disappointed, which is undoubtedly why she soon upped her game.

Katie Rae, 35: “The Bones”

This new mom didn’t start performing until she hit her thirties, turning to music to deal with her postpartum depression. She had a pleasant tone and an impressive sense of control, especially for someone so inexperienced. But she didn’t deliver a big power moment, and her voice didn’t sound quite right for country music (she later admitted that she usually sings R&B). However, John called her a “powerful, spicy woman,” and Ariana called her a “bad-bitch vocalist.”

Who turned? John, Kelly, and Ariana — but not Blake, who apparently didn’t think Katie sounded credibly country.

Result: Team Ariana. Ariana connected with Katie by discussing their past life struggles, pointing out that she too has “been through hell and back.”

Peedy Chavis, 19: “Heartbreak Hotel”

This Elvis impersonator would be a perfectly appropriate contestant for America’s Got Talent, on which the grand prize is a Las Vegas residency. But his hokey act won’t take him far on The Voice, unless he can display some versatility. Blake was “fired the hell up” over this copycat performance and John said Peedy was “singing his butt off,” but I agreed with non-turner Ariana, who told Peedy: “I wish that there had been a little more of you in it.”

Who turned? John and Blake.

Result: Team Blake. Peedy’s Presley obsession began when he watched the legendary ’68 Comeback special as a little kid, and Blake hosted NBC’s Elvis All-Star Tribute special, featuring in-the-round Comeback-style performances, in 2019. So, John really didn’t have a shot here.

Jonathan Mouton, 30: “Leave the Door Open”

This stage 4 cancer survivor and son of a veteran Motown background singer had the technical skills and the proper throwback voice for this slow-jam, but he had none of the swagger of Silk Sonic’s Bruno Mars or Anderson. Paak — and I am not sure if that’s something any of the coaches can teach him. But Ariana appreciated Jonathan’s vocal control and confessional storytelling style, and John loved his “smooth as hell” and “silky” tone.

Who turned? John and Ariana.

Result: Team Legend. John and Jonathan had the same name and were even dressed alike, and Jonathan perked up hearing John namecheck ‘80s R&B acts like Peabo Bryson and Billy Ocean. Therefore, Jonathan got out of his dreams and into John’s car, so to speak.

Katherine Anne Mohler, 22: “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off”

This Ari fangirl showed up with a bouncy ponytail, all-pink-everything ensemble, and theater-trained voice. She even flat-out told Ariana, “I’m obsessed with you!” and confessed that she’d once dressed up as Ariana for Halloween. It was clear that Katherine was nervous to be auditioning in front of her idol, but her slowed-down goth-pop version of Jermaine Stewart’s funky 1986 jam was crazysexycool and super-interesting, full of raw potential. Ariana described her voice as “phenomenal,” which practically reduced Katherine to tears.

Who turned? Blake and Ariana. Kelly admitted that she didn’t turn because she could hear the obvious Ariana influence in Katherine’s performance.

Result: Team Ariana, of course. Now Ariana just has to help Katherine find her own voice.

Jack Rogan, 18: “House of the Rising Sun”

I appreciated this guy’s brooding vibe and smoky tone, but his song dragged a bit; he really needs to work on his dreary delivery. Understandably, Ariana said she was “waiting for a little bit more emotionally,” but John loved the “gravity and beauty” of Jack’s “heartbreaking” performance. Kelly called him “iconic” and actually compared him to Johnny Cash, Ray Lamontagne, and Chris Stapleton.

Who turned? Kelly and John — both surprisingly quickly.

Result: Team Legend. I guess Jack isn’t a Cash, Lamontagne, or Stapleton fan.

Kinsey Rose, 28: “Cowboy Take Me Away”

This Nashville pro, whose recent album featured an appearance by Vince Gill, showcased a dulcet, Dolly-esque, old-school country tone on the Chicks’ classic, although John noticed some pitch issues. But devout Chicks fan Kelly was so impressed by this rodeo-shirted cowgirl that she pointed out, “I liked you so much, I used my only Block!”

Who turned? Kelly and a blocked Blake.

Result: Team Kelly, by default.

Vaughn Mugol, 27: “The A Team”

This registered nurse is new to public performing, usually only singing to his patients, and yet he sounded like he was born to do this. His voice possessed magical, downright medicinal properties — so calming, so gentle, so pure. And there was a marketable modern-pop quality to his vocals as well, in a One Direction sort of way. John thought Vaughn sounded “seasoned,” and Kelly was impressed by how Vaughn was both technically precise but also an “emotional singer.” But Ariana was most impressed of all. “So beautiful!” Ariana raved. “I love the little break in your voice, and I love the fuller sounds of your voice.”

Who turned? Kelly, Blake, and Ariana.

Result: Team Ariana. After she delivered the above-mentioned passionate plea, this newbie singer was convinced to take a “leap of faith” and sign up with the show’s newbie coach.

Wendy Moten, 56: “We Can Work It Out”

A veteran background vocalist who scored a respectable solo hit in 1992 with “Come in Out of the Rain,” Wendy came ready to own the stage. She spat pure fire, scatting and jazzing up this Beatles hit, and everyone was floored. “You are what this show is all about,” said Kelly. Blake declared this one of “the top three Blind Auditions of all time” and “one of the best vocals I have ever heard on this show.” Ariana said, “I don’t think I’ve heard anyone sing like that in my life,” and when Wendy mentioned that she has worked with the likes of Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, John Oates, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Tyler, Alice Cooper, Buddy Guy, Michael Bolton, Michael McDonald, and Al Jarreau, Ariana sighed, “What a privilege for them to have shared the stage with you! … I need you to be in the foreground. It’s time.”

Who turned? All four coaches — although John was blocked by Blake.

Result: Team Blake! Wow, maybe Blake will win again after all. “My team might as well be full!” he shouted gleefully. Ariana then admitted, “I am heartbroken, My earth is shattered.” But the season has only just begun, so I think Ariana can still give Blake and the other coaches a run for their money. See you Tuesday, as the Blind Auditions continue. Thank u, next, indeed.

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