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‘The Voice’ Season 11 Premiere: Everyone’s ‘Fallin’’ for Alicia Keys

Lyndsey Parker
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
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Much ado has been made about Miley Cyrus joining the Voice panel this year, with the wild child’s detractors — of which there are, sadly, many — worrying that she’ll pull focus from the show’s contestants. (As if Blake Shelton’s moonwalking and rumored moonshine-sipping, or Adam Levine’s constant showboating, or Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, and Cee Lo Green’s outfits haven’t already done just that.) The backlash since Miley’s March 2016 casting announcement has been reminiscent of the outrage that surrounded the similarly controversial Nicki Minaj’s stint on American Idol, and it hasn’t simmered down much. Even Miley’s impressively knowledgeable and relatively sedate appearances on The Voice Season 10 and last month’s Voice Season 11 mini-preview didn’t silence many doubters.

But Miley haters (and NBC executives) needn’t worry. Judging from this Monday’s official Voice premiere, which aired the night after the series’ third Emmy win for Best Reality-Competition Program, Miley isn’t going to be the star of Season 11. Instead, it looks like she — and Adam and Blake — may be taking a (red, spinning) backseat to the other new girl in town: Alicia Keys.

This girl was on fire, indeed. Alicia brought a fresh attitude and literally fresh face to the Voice set this Monday, and in the process she charmed not only America but also three contestants who opted to join her team. (Blake also recruited three singers, compared to Miley’s two and Adam’s one.)

Miley took this all in stride, forming a nice, encouraging, sisterly bond with her fellow female coach from the get-go, but incumbents Blake and Adam seemed genuinely threatened — especially the notoriously cutthroat-competitive Adam, when Alicia managed to poach a diehard Maroon 5 fanboy in what was the biggest (and funniest) upset of the night. “We have this new energy to deal with. We don’t know how to fight it,” Adam groaned.

With so much fanfare surrounding Alicia and Miley’s arrival and this season’s girls-vs.-boys rivalry between the coaches, the actual contestants may have a harder time than ever seizing the spotlight. Hopefully all four coaches will take their jobs seriously and provide their respective team members with proper guidance; Alicia and Miley do seem sincere, so far, in that mission. So without further ado, let’s recap the auditions of Season 11’s first night.

Jason Warrior

With a name like that, this guy already seemed like a winner. A 21-year-old theater scholarship recipient who grew up in a “rough neighborhood” in Chicago without a father, Jason made it clear that he’s a survivor and a fighter, doing whatever it takes to pursue his passion.

Jason actually started off surprisingly tepid on Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” — his unconvincing performance was very dinner-theater, without the soul, edge, or grit that Stevie’s inner-city anthem required. But after Adam turned around, his confidence noticeably grew, and that’s when Alicia buzzed in. From that point on, Jason loosened up and got growlier and groovier. Adam knew he had no chance, especially when Jason later confessed that he’d been listening to Alicia’s music he was 2 years old. “My heart sank when Alicia turned,” Adam lamented.

MEMBER OF: Team Alicia

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Dave Moisan

This 33-year-old medical device sales rep, family man, and former Junior Olympian swimmer actually once beat Michael Phelps in a relay race. So he too seemed like a potentially strong competitor. But Phelps wasn’t Dave’s true idol. Instead, Dave gushed backstage to host Carson Daly about how a chance meeting with Adam Levine at a Maroon 5 concert, years ago, changed his life and inspired him to pursue music.

With a setup like that, it seemed like Dave was total Team Adam material… but if you’ve been watching The Voice for a few seasons now (or if you just read the fourth paragraph of this very article), then you know that Dave and Adam were in for a “surprise.”

I don’t know if Dave would have really been such a valuable addition to Adam’s team, or any team, anyway. His cover of Marcy Playground’s ‘90s one-hit wonder “Sex & Candy” sounded nervous and shaky, lacking the original’s laid-back swagger and sex appeal. And his almost startlingly high-pitched vocals were so Adam Levine-soundalike, he seemed like he’d be more comfortable fronting a Maroon 5 cover band than trying to pursue an authentic musical career of his own.

But of course Adam, megalomaniac that he is, buzzed in first. (“I want you and I need you and you’re the greatest… We’re similar!” he later proclaimed; Blake then warned that Adam would turn Dave into his “puppet” and “mini-me.”) Surprisingly, all of the coaches followed (seriously, this guy was not worthy of a four-chair turn), though only Miley made a true grand-gesture attempt to lure Dave to her ranks.

And then Dave, in what he dramatically claimed was “the hardest decision of [his] life,” picked… ALICIA! Oh, poor Adam. That one had to hurt.

MEMBER OF: Team Alicia

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Courtnie Ramirez

This spunky 17-year-old had “Team Miley” written all over her. The outgoing songwriting camp student came barreling out of the gate with Jessie J’s “Mamma Knows Best” (a popular gauntlet-throwing song pick among ambitious — perhaps overly ambitious — singing show hopefuls), and while her performance was a bit overbearing and shouty, she definitely was not shy, and she seemed very at home on that stage.

Miley and Alicia turned, and while Courtnie brightened when Miley praised her “rocker vibe” and “swaggy walk,” when Courtnie revealed that her chosen genre was R&B/soul, it looked like Alicia might win this round as well. (“Uh oh,” Miley murmured.) But then Miley pointed out that her more youthful, playful approach would be the right fit for Courtnie, and she sealed the deal. I think Courtnie made the right decision. These two could come in like a wrecking ball this season.

MEMBER OF: Team Miley

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Sundance Head

Sundance may have looked like a Duck Dynasty cast member, but longtime talent show viewers may recognize him from American Idol Season 6. The memorably monikered blues/country singer — son of Roy “Treat Her Right” Head — went pretty far on that show, all the way to the top 16. But of course, Carson Daly didn’t mention that once. Maybe Carson assumed that since Idol Season 6 was (gulp) NINE YEARS AGO, most people had forgotten all about that.

Now 37 years old and ready to make a name for himself all over again, Sundance blazed through Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” in a way that reminded me of last season’s gruff, soulful country crooner, Team Blake runner-up Adam Wakefield. This was way cooler than Sundance’s Idol “Nights in White Satin” performance from 2007, when he was Vote for the Worst’s posterboy.

Of course Blake turned — as did Adam, making this round an old-school showdown between the boys. Once again, even without his new rival Alicia in the mix, Adam knew he had no chance — once he saw Sundance’s cowboy hat and boots, of course. Blake then compared Sundance to Travis Tritt, Ronnie Milsap, and Chris Stapleton. Finally, when Sundance asked his kids sitting in the studio audience which coach he should pick, they both quickly answered, “Blake!” (Adam then shooed the Head children away, semi-jokingly, which didn’t help his cause much.) And thus, Blake scooped up his first contestant of the season — and someone who might give Team Alicia some serious competition.

MEMBER OF: Team Blake

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Ali Caldwell

This 28-year-old former member of the R&B girl group Exhale, who later honed her chops touring Russia with a jazz ensemble, came to slay with Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman.” Her intro lacked heft, but once she started belting, she impressed, and the overeager Adam buzzed in first, hoping to finally pick up a worthy competitor. Ali was singing the song directly to Adam — which seemed like a good sign. But all bets were off once the other three coaches spun around. (Once again, I don’t know if this audition was four-chair-worthy. It was solid, but typical of many performances we’ve seen over the past 10 Voice seasons.)

Adam, always the snake-oil salesman of The Voice, immediately laid it on thick, actually standing on his chair, Dead Poet’s Society-style, and comparing Ali to the show’s previous two slam-dunk winners, Alisan Porter and Jordan Smith. Blake, bizarrely, bragged to Ali that he won The Voice Season 2 with Alicia’s ex-backup singer, Jermaine Paul, who, like Ali, sings R&B. (I say “bizarrely” because, since Jermaine is one of the least successful Voice champions ever, I don’t know if this is a Team Blake selling point.) Miley suggested that Ali get out of the “R&B box,” which really wasn’t the best advice, and Alicia seemed to have this one in the bag, especially when she hopped onstage to hug Ali, gushing, “You are so special!” But Miley prevailed in the end. Hmmm. This could be a very interesting season.

MEMBER OF: Team Miley

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Riley Elmore

Every few seasons on The Voice or other singing shows, a young crooner with a Sinatra fetish comes along. Think John Stevens from Idol Season 3, Sal Valentinetti from last year’s Idol/this year’s America’s Got Talent, or Lowell Oakley from The Voice Season 8. This season, that role will apparently be filled by clean-cut, 16-year-old trumpeter Riley Elmore, who auditioned with “The Way You Look Tonight.” He had a nice enough voice, and of course it’s always admirable when someone so young has appreciation for music from before his time. But Riley had zero stage presence, zero swag. The only time he really exhibited any personality was when he winked at Adam, who, along with Blake, turned around.

“I heard your youth and inexperience, which made me more excited, because I thought, ‘Oh, I can work on that,’” said Adam. “You gotta loosen up, pretend like you’ve had a few drinks!” Adam then jumped onstage and gave Riley a little demo, which immediately produced good results (sans actual booze). The kid visibly relaxed onstage next to Adam. Blake tried to namedrop his bestie Michael Bublé, but I suppose that aforementioned wink was a sign that Riley was already partial to Adam. Riley ended up being Team Adam’s only recruit of the night. Voice history has proven that crooners, who usually lack versatility, don’t tend to go far on this show, but at least Adam got in the game with this one.

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MEMBER OF: Team Adam

Dana Harper

The 25-year-old daughter of NBA superstar Derek Harper went with an unexpected song choice, Nick Jonas’s “Jealous,” turning it into a Quiet Storm ballad. I appreciated her initiative and willingness to take a creative risk, but her smooth version lacked fire. Alicia, Adam, and Blake heard something in her conservative performance, however. Alicia seemed like the obvious choice for soul singer Dana, but in a total shocker, the deep-voice diva went with… Blake! Alicia may be a strong competitor this season, but we can never rule out four-time winner Blake Shelton. We may very well see a Team Alicia/Team Blake showdown at this season’s finale.

MEMBER OF: Team Blake

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Gabe Broussard

A shy and lovably dorky 15-year-old who fell in love with music via Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and discovered the Beatles’ music at rock camp, Gabe was an interesting character. (He came to the show with a sad, but made-for-TV, backstory, too: He suffers from a degenerative eye disease that may one day rob him of his sight entirely.) I kind of adored this cute kid before he even warbled a single note. His performance of “Lonely Night in Georgia” by his musical hero Marc Broussard (no relation) gave me a Kris Allen vibe, which was a good thing. Gabe is a classic “WGWG,” as they say in the biz, and WGWGs do well on singing shows.

Blake and Miley turned around (I was a bit surprised Adam didn’t), and while Miley could have coaxed out Gabe’s personality if she had become his coach, I think Gabe was smart to choose Blake. Blake’s kinder, gentler nature will probably help Gabe blossom and go far on this show.

MEMBER OF: Team Blake

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Christian Cuevas

This 20-year-old Guitar Center worker, worship leader, son of late Puerto Rican music star Julio Cuevas, and former footballer learned to play guitar while recovering from a football injury, and music seems to be his true calling. His performance of “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” was effortless, lovely, and tender, his sweet voice completely contrasting with his rough exterior. (That’s a classic Voice casting, right there.) Adam and Blake spun around so fast, I’m surprised they didn’t get whiplash.

Christian, in the pimp spot of the night, proceeded to get the Jordan Smith edit, with the coaches lavishing him with praise and pretty much declaring him the Season 11 frontrunner so far. And… did I mention Alicia Keys turned around, too? Well, she did. So you all can guess what happened after that.

MEMBER OF: Team Alicia

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So to recap, right now Team Alicia consists of Jason Warrior, Dave Moisan, Christian Cuevas, and, from last month’s mini-premiere, We McDonald. Team Miley has Courtnie Ramirez, Ali Caldwell, and last month’s other recruit, Darby Walker. Team Blake has Sundance Head, Gabe Broussard, and Dana Harper. And so far, poor Adam has only picked up Riley Elmore.

To be honest, none of night one’s contestants blew me away or had a real gather-‘round-the-watercooler “Jordan Smith moment” — but it does already look like Season 11 is Alicia’s season to lose. However, I wouldn’t rule out wily Miley (or Blake, or even Adam) just yet.

Come back Tuesday for night two, and see if Season 11 really is going to be a girls’ club, if Blake and Adam stand a chance — and if more focus will shift to the actual contestants as both Miley and Alicia settle into their roles.

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