Taylor Swift, who served as a guest mentor — and a very astute one at that — on The Voice Season 7, returned to the series this Monday as the Season 17 Knockout Rounds’ “Mega-Mentor.” I’m not sure what exactly that means, and I don’t think Taylor knew either (“I didn't realize that I was now being called a Mega-Mentor; that's really gonna go straight to my head,” the 10-time Grammy-winning, 50 million album-selling superstar quipped), but I suppose for a pop icon of Taylor’s caliber, “Key Adviser” was just too lowly a title.
So of course, as the paired-up contestants filed in to the rehearsal room Monday and suddenly spotted Taylor in all her tousled-lobbed, iridescent-pantsuited glory, they all made instantly GIFable surprised-faces that didn’t look all that dissimilar to the gaping-mouthed, Keane-painting-eyed, clasped-hands-to-chest expressions that Taylor usually makes every time she wins another award. None of these aspiring pop stars felt any need to calm down, understandably. But Taylor, one of the best Key Advisers or Mega-Mentors or whatever-you-want-to-call-‘em that The Voice has ever had, did her best to make these aspiring singers feel at ease. And clearly she succeeded, when one of Kelly Clarkson’s hopefuls, Melinda Rodriguez, opened up to Taylor about the health struggles of her brother, Chris — who just so happens to be a mega-Swiftie.
Explaining her decision to sing Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby” in the Knockouts, Melinda revealed to Taylor through tears, “I picked this song because of my brother. We love to jam out in the car and just listen to old-school jams, and he is your biggest fan. He has every single one of your album names tattooed on his body. … He was waiting for a heart transplant, and he just got called yesterday, so he's there [at the hospital] right now.” Melinda, who has a Fearless tattoo on her own body to match Chris’s, further explained the reason she’d stayed on the show: “Literally, he said, ‘You can't leave, because what if [the Knockout Rounds mentor] is Taylor Swift?’ I'm not even joking right now. .. He was like, ‘Don't be selfish. You're doing it for me, not for you!’”
Taylor stood there in shock, before asking for an address to send Chris some gifts (Taylor is really good at giving gifts) and demanding that she, Melinda, and Kelly engage in an impromptu group hug. “Melinda told me the most touching story, and it was this really unexpected, beautiful moment,” Taylor gushed.
Sadly, Melinda did not win her Knockout, even though Kelly gave her a standing ovation. Vocally, I thought Melinda was evenly matched with her opponent, old-school country belter Jake Hoot — but while Jake demonstrated a pure and lovely tone that Kelly declared one of the best country voices she’d heard in the history of the series and high taste level by covering Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up,” but he lacked stage presence. Taylor had even pointed out and try to correct his distracting tendency to agitatedly sway from side to side. Meanwhile, Melinda’s breezy, jazzy take on the Mariah ballad was, despite her heavy backstory, full of joy, and she seemed calm and confident onstage. I was certain that one of the rival coaches — probably jazzbo John Legend — would steal this talented song stylist, but instead, Melinda was shockingly eliminated. Now it was my turn to make a GIFable surprised-face.
Still, Melinda did Taylor — and, more importantly, her brother — proud. And now Melinda is reunited with Chris, who underwent successful surgery perhaps buoyed by the strength of having a new direct connection to his idol. “While I'm super-bummed that I couldn't continue on in the show, I just wanted to let you all know that Chris has since gotten his second heart transplant and is slowly recovering. Thank you to The Voice. This whole experience has been just unlike any other,” Melinda said in a follow-up video message to Taylor and the show.