‘The Voice’ Blind Auditions, Part 4: Nolan Neal Triumphantly Returns

Failed auditions are always disappointing on The Voice — a feelgood program that has consistently, nobly emphasized quality contestants instead of the usual Gong Show-style trainwrecks that dominated rival shows American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and The X Factor for years. But some failed Voice auditions are downright heartbreaking. Such was the case with Nolan Neal, who memorably tried out last season.

Nolan came to The Voice Season 10 with a sob story for the ages. A few years ago, the now-35-year-old Nashville troubadour, who was signed to Hollywood Records in 2000 and Virgin Records in 2006, got in a heated phone conversation with his father about his struggles in the music industry. Nolan hung up in anger; his dad tried to call back a few times, but Nolan refused to answer. The two never spoke again. Shockingly, Nolan’s father committed suicide.

After his father’s death, the guilt-stricken singer understandably went off the rails, losing his deal with Virgin and entering rehab. Nolan eventually got sober, briefly fronted Hinder in 2014, and then decided to give The Voice a try last season, doing Incubus’s “Drive.” But sadly, his mellow performance didn’t turn any chairs.

However, as is the case with many no-chair contestants, Nolan was encouraged to come back. And when he returned to The Voice this Tuesday, doing a roughed-up rendition of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” (a song he has actually performed with Hinder), he had much better results. This time, Nolan was a four-chair success, with the two coaches who heard him last season, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, of course spinning first.

Then again, Adam didn’t remember Nolan at all. Oops. But Nolan was quick to refresh his memory, insisting, “You said if I came back and did a different song, and picked you, that we’d win the show. That’s what you said!” Adam didn’t miss a beat and replied, “You’re gonna be the first guy who went home last season and who won this season. That’s what I believe.”

We will soon find out if Adam was right, because Nolan got his made-for-TV Season 11 redemption story arc this Tuesday, and he’s finally getting his shot on The Voice. And, as host Carson Daly put it, “America loves a good comeback story.” Nolan’s dad would be proud.

These were the other successful Blind Auditions of Tuesday night…

Aaron Gibson

This mild-mannered Marine brat from Atlanta grabbed my attention right away with his melancholy, gravelly, acoustic take on fellow Georgians R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.” OK, maybe it was a little too gravelly — he was so distractingly scratchy and frog-throated in parts, I wished Carson (or — inside joke alert! — Katya from RuPaul’s Drag Race) would fetch him a glass of water. Aaron needs to work on that. But the raw (very raw) material was there. He sounded like no one else, and he definitely took R.E.M.’s ‘90s classic and “made it his own,” as they say in the biz.

“I know people trip out over your voice all the time, and it must feel so good, because your voice is just such a special, powerful tone,” said Alicia Keys, one of three coaches (along with Miley Cyrus and Blake) who turned around. “Your voice is obviously very soulful… I feel like we could really come together and create some masterful pieces of music.”

That was a pretty convincing sales pitch, but then Miley, who has really settled into her red chair by now, turned on the Southern charm. “I would listen to you. I mean, there have been artists where I am amazed by them, but you’re someone I want to listen to in my car,” Miley gushed. “I love your sound, I love your voice — and for a chick, I’ve got a gravelly voice too, so I would love to find those songs that totally get you to go there into that place.”

Blake could barely get a word in edgewise, and he was so astounded by Miley’s breathlessness, he accused her of having gills. But Miley’s Tuesday started off quite swimmingly, because her long-winded speech landed her the first auditioner of the evening.

MEMBER OF: Team Miley

Simone Gundy

This 25-year-old single mom, who gave birth to her son at age 15, went for high drama with the Shirley Bassey version of “I Who Have Nothing.” It was, perhaps, too ambitious a song choice — while Simone started off strong, earning quick spins from Miley and Adam, her performance started falling apart once she strived to hit the big money notes. Still, she brought a lot of passion to the stage and an authentic, appealingly Mary J. Blige-ish vibe. With better song selections, she could have potential.

“I just felt like I was at your show, and I was front-row with my friends. And I can see myself showing my friends my goosebumps and being like, ‘This girl is so amazing.’ Seriously, I have cold chills all over. I want to help you win this show,” raved Miley. But Adam wasn’t giving up without his usual fight. Seemingly quoting his own Maroon 5 song “Animal,” he declared, “Right now, I am a monstrous animal, and I know I’m gonna get you on my team, OK?”

And that worked. Next time, Adam can recite a few lines from “Sugar,” maybe. “I’m hurting, baby/I’m broken down/I need your loving/I need it now” could do the trick.

MEMBER OF: Team Adam

Josh Gallagher

Singing the Brothers Osborne’s “Stay a Little Longer,” this Nashville-based former college baseball player sounded a little generic, but there was no denying his very commercial country sound and look. The guy would fit right in with the bro country genre. Alicia turned (along with Blake, naturally), and while I know Alicia has been saying she wants at least one country singer on her team, I was surprised that Josh was the country singer that caught her ear. His audition was competent, but nothing truly special.

“I turned around because, to me, music doesn’t have a box,” Alicia explained. “It doesn’t have a genre. You have a beautiful voice, and, to me, country, the blues, and soul are all brothers. So this whole idea that because you’re from Nashville you can only go with Blake, I would strongly suggest that you make another decision. I feel that we could really create some magic. I’m ready to be exciting. Let’s be exciting.”

But despite Alicia’s enthusiastic argument (and the equally enthusiastically way that Miley and Adam took her side and ganged up against Blake), Josh seemed Team Blake to the core. “Country music is my life. I moved to Nashville when I was 17 to do what I’m doing still to this day. I’ve been having records on the radio for 16 years now. And the most fun for me, at this point, is to be able to help this next group of country artists that are coming along and help open doors for them,” said Blake. “And when people say, ‘You got to think outside of the box,’ well, you know, I don’t want to. I want to be a country artist. I want to live that way. I want to die that way. That’s all I care about, is country music. I want to see that happen to you, too, man.”

Cool story, bro. Blake was convincing, indeed. Josh’s decision was clear. “I picked Blake because his devotion to strictly country music is what I’m after. That’s what I want to do as an artist,” Josh later explained.

MEMBER OF: Team Blake

Gabriel Violett

This former Spring Awakening original Broadway cast member now has an even more awesome job: He’s a onesie fit model. Wait. That’s a job? Why would Gabriel ever want to give up such a cozy (pun intended) career for the instability of show business? Obviously the guy has found his true calling.

Anyway, Gabriel warbled Shaun Mendes’s “Treat You Better,” and while I was pleasantly surprised/relieved that his performance wasn’t too Broadway-baby or theater-y, he didn’t exactly showcase the pipes of his former Spring Awakening castmate, Lea Michele. This was yet another good-but-not-great audition. Sigh. We’re starting to see a lot of those during this 11th season. Where is the excitement?

Well, Alicia got excited, at least. So did Blake. But when Gabriel said he wanted to do “R&B and pop with my own little twist” and “figure out what that twist is,” clearly Alicia was the right coach for the job. Blake insisted, “Sometimes it doesn’t need to make sense as far as a coach and an artist goes; it just needs to be somebody that’s passionate about what you do.” But Alicia still easily won this round. That being said, I wouldn’t advise Gabriel to quit his day job just yet. He might be heading back to the onesie factory soon enough.

MEMBER OF: Team Alicia

Michael Sanchez

This nerdy 25-year-old piano man looked like Rick Moranis (according to Blake) and sounded like a 60-year-old black man (according to Adam) singing Bill Withers’s “Use Me,” so Alicia was certainly surprised when she turned around and got a good look a him I all his geeky glory. I’m personally surprised that she was the only coach that turned. Michael was one funky cat! “Your voice has this ability to cross different places, and the bottom of it is just big and powerful and soulful,” Alicia told Michael. And, as Alicia later astutely put it, Michael’s whole face-doesn’t-match-the-vocals shtick was “The Voice at its finest.” So I have a feeling the other coaches will soon regret not hitting their buttons for this potential fan favorite.

MEMBER OF: Team Alicia

Darby Walker

This dyed-in-the-vintage-wool token indie girl of Season 11, who we already saw on last month’s post-Olympics Voice preview episode, served Korin Bukowski realness with her Florence & The Machine-inspired take on Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” Her performance was very Flo-soundalike and slightly contrived, but there was a pleasant tone to her vocals that pleased Miley’s ear. Miley was the first to turn around, followed by Alicia, and the very friendly rivalry between the two new coaches revved up, with Miley hopping onstage to combine Darby’s “shaky vibrato” with hers on an impromptu duet of the godmother Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”

Alicia countered by singing with Darby on “No One,” which Darby said had been her “jam” back when she was a little girl. (Blake, the one other coach in the running, clearly had no shot. He opted not to try to convince Darby to duet with him on “Honey Bee,” and he sat this one out. That was probably for the best.)

Darby, a fellow teen actress who’s appeared on Girl Meets World, eventually chose Miley — a wise decision. I think Miley and Darby could get up to some real fun together. They could even share floral-patterned clothes!

MEMBER OF: Team Miley

Austin Allsup

Austin comes from what Blake later called a “good bloodline”: His dad is rockabilly/swing legend Tommy Allsup, who’s probably best known for “losing” the coin toss that “won” Richie Valens the last seat on a plane next to Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. That was the Day the Music Died, but now, at age 84, the elder Allsup is still alive and kicking. And he’s taught his son well. Austin gave a stunning performance of the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” full of twang and grit and heart — a performance with appeal to both rock and country fans. And Austin looked as good as he sounded. What Casey James was to American Idol Season 9, Austin could be for The Voice Season 11. He’s the total package and the real deal.

So why was Blake the only coach that turned around? To quote Blake, “What just happened???” But I suppose this outcome was for the best. No other coach would have had a real shot, anyway — Blake even remembered sharing a concert bill with Austin at some place called Billy Bob’s in 2005, and they were instantly acting like old friends. “I’m so happy that I got Austin on my team right now,” said a understandably excited Blake. “He came out here and he did a great spin on a classic song… I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun to see him on the stage like this — a national stage. That’s what Austin deserves.”

So, is it too soon to predict a fifth Voice victory for Blake Shelton with this guy? I’m calling it now: Austin will at least make it to the Season 11 finale.

MEMBER OF: Team Blake

Christian Fermin and Preston James

Oh, these poor kids. They ended up in the first dreaded montage of Season 11. I wonder why? Their boyish and cutesy good looks seemed very appealing to all the millennials that Miley is supposedly attracting to the show. As for how these boys sounded, it was hard to tell from the few nanoseconds of NEEDTOBREATHE’s “Brother” and Chris Stapleton’s “Nobody to Blame” that they respectively sang. Hopefully they won’t get montaged in the Battles or Knockouts, too.


Khaliya Kimberlie

This 16-year-old country singer, who’s half-Native American and lives on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico, delivered a competent if not entirely confident performance of “Dibs” by Kelsea Ballerini. She’s clearly still trying to figure out who she is, and what sort of artist she wants to be. (“I’m into indie-alternative, but I want to put that twist on country music,” she said.) Miley, who has a strong foothold in both the country and pop worlds, seemed like a better fit than the other coach who turned, Blake — aka the guy who prefers to stay in one box. So Khaliya made the right call. Now let’s hope Miley can help Khaliya find her authentic voice.

MEMBER OF: Team Miley

Halle Tomlinson

This 18-year-old daughter of choreographers, former Barney child actress, and School of Rock teacher did a jazzy, bluesy version of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” that totally reminded me of Idol Season 10’s Haley Reinhart. (That’s a major compliment, by the way.) She didn’t quite have Haley’s sass, swagger, or sex appeal — she was younger, greener, and sweeter — but with the right coach, she could go far. And she definitely picked the right coach: Alicia. Adam also turned, sure. But when Alicia said, “Your voice is an instant recognizable signature. There is a gang of people that are c!arbon copies of a gang of other people. I loved it. And I’m so happy to hear you sing the song of my city!” — well, that was apparently a whole lot more convincing than Adam’s “you’re a work in progress” critique. Now let’s see if Alicia can help with Halle’s progress.

MEMBER OF: Team Alicia

So to recap, right now Team Adam has Nolan Neal, Simone Gundy, Bindi Liebowitz, Elia Esparza, Billy Gilman, Andrew DeMuro, Brendan Fletcher, and Riley Elmore. Team Alicia has Gabriel Violett, Michael Sanchez, Halle Tomlinson, Josh Halverson, We McDonald, Lauren Diaz, Jason Warrior, Dave Moisan, and Christian Cuevas. Team Miley has Aaron Gibson, Darby Walker, Khaliya Kimberlie, Lane Mack, Karlee Metzger, and from last week, Sa’Rayah, Sophia Urista, Courtnie Ramirez, and Ali Caldwell. And Team Blake has Josh Gallagher, Austin Allsup, Christian Fermin, Preston James, Ethan Tucker, Dan Shafer, Sundance Head, Gabe Broussard, and Dana Harper.

Phew! That’s a lot of names! But we’ll add a few more to that unwieldy list when the Blind Auditions wrap up next Monday and Tuesday. See you then.

Watch The Voice and hundreds of other shows for free on Yahoo View.

Follow Lyndsey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Amazon, Tumblr, Vine, Spotify