This 12th season of The Voice has been largely disappointing, with few true standout contestants — you know, the kind that make me sit up, take notice, and say, “Wow, this guy could really win this thing!” But during Monday’s Blind Auditions, I actually sat up, took notice, and said aloud, “Wow, this guy could really win this thing!” I think I may have startled my cat.
It was worth it. Speaking of cats, the man I’m referring to is 30-year-old cool cat TSoul, a hipster in Dwayne Wayne flip-up spectacles and perfectly pegged jeans, who covered “Take Me to the River” with such sass and superstar quality that he managed to channel both Al Green and Talking Heads. TSoul was pure fire, and he was the first contestant of the night, maybe even of the entire season, to genuinely excite me.
I was quite surprised that Alicia Keys didn’t turn around for TSoul. (Her “Fallin’” was the first song he ever learned on piano, and Adam Levine, who did turn, joked, “The only chair TSoul is looking at is Alicia’s. I knew: ‘If she turns, it’s over; but if she doesn’t, he’s mine!’”) Honestly, TSoul was so fantastic, he should have earned four chairs. Blake Shelton was the only other coach who spun around, but when Alicia gave Adam her ringing endorsement over Blake, I figured TSoul was Team Adam all the way.
And then … TSoul picked … Blake. Um, what? This was more shocking than when the similarly named JChosen joined Team Gwen on this season’s premiere. I have no idea what TSoul was thinking — and I’m kind of hoping that Alicia steals TSoul during the Battles or Knockouts, because I don’t think Blake will know what to do with this guy.
Regardless, I do think TSoul will stick around for the long haul. And thankfully, he wasn’t the only contestant on Monday that made a great impression; several other singers delivered dazzling performances. And then, there were some that were not-so-dazzling. Check ’em all out below!
Another hipster, this 30-year-old Nashville musician seemed a little too hip for his own good (note his straight-outta-Portlandia tiny-house lifestyle and that Pringles-mascot mustache). But I had to give the guy credit for covering Todd Rundgren’s blissful, soulful “Hello It’s Me”; kudos to Kenny for singing a song we haven’t heard on The Voice a couple dozen times every season. And he had a pleasantly retro tone that had me hoping he’d cover some Yacht Rock classics later on. Might I suggest “One on One” by Hall & Oates?
Anyway, this turned out to be a one-on-one showdown between Blake and his gal pal Gwen. Blake seemed more impressed by Kenny’s facial hair (“You look like one of those guys that steer the boats in Italy”) than by Kenny’s taste in Rundgren covers, but he played the Nashville card, for sure. Gwen countered by playing the hipster card (she also appreciated Kenny’s lush gondolier ’stache). And in this battle of the hippest, Gwen of course prevailed.
(Side note: Sadly, another hairy-faced hipster, Austin Tyler Jones, didn’t make the cut Monday night. The Voice equivalent of American Idol’s Kory Wheeler, this cute coffeehouse barista with the indie-rock lumbersexual beard, quirky personality, and ever-present acoustic guitar covered Elvis Costello’s “Alison” — which made him as cool or even cooler than Kenny P, as far as I was concerned. His aim was true! But unfortunately, the coaches thought Austin was a little too laid-back. Oh, well. Maybe he can come back next season and do “Pump It Up” instead.)
MEMBER OF: Team Gwen
This 25-year-old medical assistant by day/frontwoman of a fusion band by night possessed the sort of big, passionate diva voice needed to take on Adele’s magnificent, Melissa Manchester-like (Melissa Mancunian?) power ballad “All I Ask.” But for some baffling reason, none of the coaches hit their buttons, no matter how many power notes Enid nailed. Gwen seemed conflicted, making confused puppy-eyes at Blake and sadly stage-whispering, “She deserves to be on!” — yet never actually turning around. And then Blake played dirty, sneakily hitting his button at the last minute and poaching the contestant from his indecisive girlfriend. (“You’re sleeping on the couch tonight,” joked Adam.) It’s hard to believe that Enid was just a one-chair contestant, considering some of the questionable four-chair spins for less vocally blessed singers this season, but she may end up the dark horse of Team Blake.
MEMBER OF: Team Blake
This 18-year-old Chicago Guitar Center employee picked up his love of music from his older brother, who was tragically shot dead by police several years ago. On Monday, RJ performed on The Voice to honor both his slain sibling and his struggling city, and he certainly did both proud. His warm gossamer tones on Justin Bieber’s “Purpose” had Adam spinning around after about three seconds, but when Alicia — who’d said she was “ready for magic” — turned a couple verses later, Adam knew he stood little chance. “Wow, what voice is that?” exclaimed Alicia. “That’s the winning voice. Some voices are just so special, and you know they can take the entire world by storm,” Adam answered. Adam did lay it on thick, but RJ was totally ecstatic merely hearing Alicia utter his name out loud. “If you want to hear me say your name a few more times, come to my team. … We need more beautiful black men like you,” Alicia purred. Yep, Adam never had a shot.
MEMBER OF: Team Alicia
Andrea Thomas & Davina Leone
Well, we managed to get to the third week of Blinds without one of those awful and unfair montages — but it had to happen sooner or later. So Season 12’s first two cutting-room-floor casualties — who shared about 11 seconds of screen time Monday, during which host Carson Daly’s voiceover was much louder in the mix than their actual vocals — are now Andrea, a former backup singer for Carrie Underwood who unsurprisingly ended up on Team Blake, and Davina Leone, a YouTube singer whose reggae-inflected cover of Sia’s “Cheap Thrills” understandably caught ska-popper Gwen’s attention.
But the good news is, this season the show is posting the full auditions of montaged contestants online. (Somewhere, Rebekah Samarin is sitting in a darkened room and fuming.)
Watching Andrea’s unedited performance of the Alison Krauss version of the Foundations’ “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You,” I can’t understand why a) this was a one-chair turn, b) NBC opted not to broadcast her full performance, and c) Andrea isn’t signed yet. Her voice is a little nasally, but she sure seems like a star, very commercial and marketable — the perfect Voice ambassador, or at least the potential next Cassadee Pope.
Davina’s amateurish “Cheap Thrills” was less thrilling, however. She sounded out of breath from the first verse, and she never recovered or found her groove. I expect more montages in this girl’s future.
MEMBERS OF: Team Blake and Team Gwen, respectively
I’m still trying to figure out why this sweet, very green 15-year-old earned a three-chair turn, complete with a commercial-break cliffhanger before she revealed her supposedly suspenseful decision. Her voice was pretty and airy, and she was undeniably likable and adorable, but her performance was lightweight, lacking the devilish attitude that her song choice, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” required. Blake called Hanna’s version of Swifty’s saucy, sarcastic femme-fatale song a “lullaby,” which he meant as a compliment, but I was underwhelmed. I thought Hanna’s “Blank Space” was kind of … blank.
But Adam declared Hanna a “miraculous talent” and said he was “utterly blown away” by her performance. Gwen declared Hanna the “sparkly, talented, young girl” of her dreams. Blake praised Hanna’s ability to light up the room. Hanna ultimately picked Adam, which could be a winning combination — Adam did well with the similarly young, plucky, and poppy Christina Grimmie (RIP). But I’d like to see a bit more edge or originality from Hanna. Sweet Swift covers just won’t be enough this season.
MEMBER OF: Team Adam
This 20-year-old newlywed and survivor of the 2016 Louisiana floods seemed to connect with the triumph-of-the-spirit lyrics of fun.’s hopeful and anthemic “Carry On,” belting it out with gusto while still handling every one of Nate Ruess’s dog-whistle-decibel high notes with ease. (“Any fun. song is, like, impossible for a male singer, because that guy’s range is deceptively crazy,” said the high-voiced Adam, who ought to know). After TSoul, Hunter was Monday’s second standout contestant for me, the real deal and the total package. Gwen and Alicia turned, but Alicia was especially enthusiastic, raving about Hunter’s “unique tone, just like a record … completely unique, your own thing … such clarity, beauty, power!” So Hunter will carry on in this competition as a proud member of Team Alicia, of course.
MEMBER OF: Team Alicia
The minute this small-town 17-year-old mentioned all the cows she’s grown up around, I figured she was Team Blake material all the way. But Nala didn’t come out crooning country. Instead, she did a bouncy, bubbly cover of Adele’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” that inspired only Adam and Gwen to buzz in. This local theater kid’s voice was strong, for sure, but when she sang that line about “we ain’t kids no more,” she wasn’t entirely convincing. She still sounded very much like a kid — not the red-blooded-woman/ex-lover protagonist of Adele’s 25 hit. And I also heard a few wonky notes at the end when Nala tried to show off.
Adam, however, praised Nala’s vocal control. “This girl’s got ice water in her veins, and she’s ready to do this on live TV. Amazing, amazing, amazing,” he said. Gwen told Nala, “You really took it on and made it your own, and you understood the lyric and the meaning of it. … And you had the patience to show us all the different sides of your voice.” Nala patiently weighed her options and eventually signed up with Adam. I initially thought Gwen would have been a better option, but I suppose Gwen already has plenty of teen-girl sensations on her team. Nala could stand out among Adam’s motley crew of mostly gruff males and therefore get the special attention she needs to succeed.
MEMBER OF: Team Adam
Yes, I know I said TSoul and Hunter were Monday’s star players. But that was before I heard this adorable and charming Austin singer-songwriter put her own breathy, wholly unique alt-folksy spin on Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman.” The Voice dearly needs more artists like Sammie and last week’s Taylor Alexander (the guy who did the country cover of Cher) — contestants willing to take artistic risks and confound viewers’ expectations. Only Gwen spun for Sammie, surprisingly (even though Blake actually compared Sammie to the almighty Joni Mitchell!), but I think this combination of women could be dangerous, indeed — for Sammie’s competitors. I can’t wait to see what Sammie and Gwen get up to next.
MEMBER OF: Team Gwen
This Berklee-trained, 32-year-old Americana singer (one half of a duo called Val & The Southern Line with her boyfriend) was giving me Trio-era Linda Ronstadt vibes during her perfectly raspy, twangy, fiery cover of the June Carter Cash-penned classic “Ring of Fire.” She also sort of sounded like Ronstadt’s fellow Trio collaborator Dolly Parton, spiked with the rock energy of the Divinyls’ Christina Amphlett. Her voice was so special, and so magical, that the studio audience started whooping and cheering practically the moment she opened her mouth. A four-chair turn — the only four-chair turn of Monday’s two-hour episode — ensued.
At first it seemed that Blake, with his unabashed love of old-school country, had this one in the bag. Then Valerie confessed that she had idolized Gwen since she was 16. And really, this could have gone any which way. “I heard a little Gwen in the beginning, and then when Alicia turned around, it was because a very specific moment happened, and I was like, ‘Oh, there’s a little Alicia.’ And then at the very end, when you were screaming, I was like, ‘And there I am,’” quipped Adam, comparing Valerie’s multifaceted voice to the voices of three of the four panelists. “You are the most well-rounded singer, I think, for this particular panel of coaches.”
In the end, Blake played the Nashville card again, tempting Valerie with promises of music-industry introductions. (“Nashville relationships are for a lifetime,” he stated.) And of course, this strategy worked. Blake already has many female country singers on his team this season, but Valerie is truly unique, so she just might be his last woman standing.
MEMBER OF: Team Blake
Come back Tuesday, when the Blind Auditions continue and conclude, complete with flirtatious Gwen/Blake rivalry, Alicia’s woman-powered proclamations of Zenlike wisdom, and probably some fresh insults about Adam’s famous striped Hamburglar cardigan. See you then!