Season 17 of The Voice premiered Monday, sans original coach Adam Levine for the first time in the series’ eight-year history — and it was a little weird how, aside from one very shady comment blurted out by Adam’s former onscreen BFF Blake Shelton, the two-hour episode featured no other acknowledgement of Adam, who left The Voice abruptly (and seemingly acrimoniously) this past May.
“It's not Kelly's fault! She's in Adam's old chair, and it makes her ... possessed! You have to go for the jugular if you're in that seat,” Blake snarked after returning coach Kelly Clarkson engaged in some particularly aggressive (read: Levine-like) gameplay. Ooh, snap.
Some context here: Like Blake, Adam had appeared on every Voice season (all 16 of them), without a break, since 2011. But in the past couple years it had become abundantly clear that he was no longer happy sitting in that red chair. (In fact, People reported that Adam wanted to leave The Voice four whole years ago.) Things started to come to a head in Season 15 last year, when Adam threw his contestant DeAndre Nico under the bus on the most bizarre Voice episode ever and diehard viewers subsequently rallied for him to be fired. Then in Season 16, when a new-fangled and ill-advised Cross-Battles round (which has thankfully been scrapped this season) resulted in Team Adam getting almost entirely wiped out before the Live Playoffs even began, a disgruntled Adam reportedly became even more difficult to work with.
A source told Yahoo Entertainment that by the end of the Season 16, “No one behind the scenes want[ed] him to return.” During a performance by the coaches at NBC’s spring Upfronts presentation, Adam was so grouchy and scowl-y that a YouTube clip of the event was quickly taken down; another inside source that witnessed that debacle told Yahoo, “[Adam] sang, but he made it so clear he did not want to be there. It was disgusting. ... He made it impossible not to hate him.”
Well, the feeling was apparently mutual. So now Adam is gone, and it’s like the “Beautiful Goodbye” singer was never even there. And with Adam’s onscreen bromance with Blake over, in Adam’s place/chair for Monday’s premiere was Blake’s showmance partner, girlfriend and returning on/off coach Gwen Stefani. (This season’s fourth coach is reigning champ John Legend.) And it was nothing but good vibes all around. Even with Gwen’s sneaky anti-Blake scheming — hey, all’s fair in love and Voice, right? — the mood felt lighter and brighter.
I can’t say I missed Adam and his bad mojo at all, and I don’t think the coaches did either. (Amusingly, at one point Kelly actually said she missed Jennifer Hudson — who was a Voice coach in Seasons 13 and 15, and a very good one at that — but Kelly never uttered a word about Adam’s more glaring absence.) However, public reaction on Twitter was mixed. Some fans were missing Adam, while others felt him being gone was refreshing. One person tweeted: "I was worried about no Adam on @voicenbc — but we are LOVING this season!"
It's true that — for better or worse — The Voice wasn't quite the same without Adam. But it was still an entertaining premiere with some solid auditions, as seen below. And isn’t the talent what this show is supposed to be about, anyway? Let’s get to it.
Katie Kadan: “Baby I Love You”
Like the coaches, I thought Katie was a man until her dramatic reveal. Her deep, feral, bluesy wail had Kelly making instantly GIF-able dropped-jawed facial expressions, and Gwen even said this Chicago diva sounded like original Voice coach Cee Lo Green! But Kelly’s comparison to Alabama Shakes powerhouse Brittany Howard was spot-on. This woman really lit up the screen with her colorful Betsey Johnson lewks and sparkling personality and massive talent, and while her career got off to a late start (“I was a chubby chick living in a skinny girl’s world,” she said, explaining why she used to be scared to perform publicly), she is absolutely perfect for this show. She may have been the first contestant of the season, but she’s already my favorite.
Who turned? All four coaches — but Kelly was out of the running, thanks to Blake’s merciless use of his Block button.
Result: Team Legend. I think Kelly, who even ran onstage to hug kindred spirit Katie, would have won, but John — who raved about Katie’s rawness, fire, and “rock ‘n’ roll energy,” ad described her as “fountain of excitement” — is also a good match.
Jake Halendevang, 24: “Wish I Knew You”
This AC/DC-obsessed, flaxen-haired lost Hanson brother/baby Keith Urban bought his first Stratocaster at age 11 with money he earned from starting a lemonade stand. Now, that’s the kind of work ethic that will take a kid far on The Voice! However, I was only impressed by Jake’s Jeff Buckley-esque falsetto (which, in another case of mistaken gender identity, the coaches thought was a woman at first); I thought his performance veered into generic bar-band territory once he got his deeper chest voice.
Who turned? Blake, Gwen, John. (Side note: Adam Levine probably would have loved this kid. He was a sucker for every guitar-toting Jonny Lang wannabe that ever auditioned.)
Result: Team Gwen. Jake’s “heart-fluttering” Gwen crush probably helped, but she is the only rocker on the panel. While Blake tried to claim that he’s only coach who’s ever won The Voice with a rock artist, I imagine Pharrell Williams and the Ray LaMontagne-covering Sawyer Fredericks would beg to differ.
Brennan Lassiter, 20: “You Are My Sunshine”
This small-town church girl’s raspy, country-blues tribute to the grandparents who raised her was unexpectedly cool, if slightly try-hard. She had raw potential, and I appreciated that she had a bit of rock edge that belied her sunshiny, girl-next-door image.
Who turned? All four coaches, although it seemed a given that Brennan would go for Blake.
Result: Team Kelly! Maybe when Blake tried to talk Brennan out of going with another coach by bizarrely telling her, “These people know as much about country music as I know about getting a pap smear,” his humor backfired. (That was pretty funny, though.)
Rose Short, 34: “Preach”
This tough-as-nails former corrections officer (what a Sharon Jones-like storyline!) poured her heart and soul into John Legend’s recent socially conscious anthem and had Kelly making her famous stankface. “You could cover any original song and annihilate the original singer,” Kelly told Rose. (Damn, way to burn John! Um, he was sitting right there!)
Who turned? Kelly and Gwen … but, surprisingly, not John.
Result: Team Gwen, which was an even bigger shocker. Apparently Rose has been a fan of Gwen since day one. I wonder if she got The Beacon Street Collection on vinyl?
Will Breman, 25: “Say You’ll Be There”
This Santa Barbara busker, who has Asperger’s and uses music to communicate with people, was the first Season 17 contestant to take a major artistic risk with this “funkified, jazzified” remake of a Spice Girls hit. It’s unclear how great a technical singer he is, and he could easily lapse into shtickiness and gimmickry, but for now I will say he’s definitely unique, creative, and interesting.
Who turned? John, Gwen.
Result: Team Legend. It was pretty obvious that was how this one was going to go after fanboy Will got to sing an “impromptu” duet of “Ordinary People” with John.
Alex Guthrie, 25: “Love and Happiness”
I thought Alex was pretty ho-hum, but he’s friends with Jennifer Hudson, and J.Hud Productions endorses him, so maybe he has potential.
Who turned? Kelly, Gwen.
Result: Team Kelly.
Kate Hammock, 18: “Vienna”
Sadly, Kate covered the Billy Joel song, not the Ultravox one by the same title. But her airy, girly, lilting voice made for a charming, quirky piano performance.
Who turned? Blake and Gwen, both at the last minute.
Result: Team Blake! Even Blake seemed surprised. But while Gwen had said she wanted a “young, super-talented Disney girl,” Kate must have realized that Blake’s the coach with the better Voice track record with contestants of all ages.
Marina Chello, 37: “Walk Me Home”
Marina is one of those classic music-biz second-chancer contestants. The Uzbekistan immigrant, who learned English from the Mariah Carey catalog, was signed to Puff Daddy’s Bad Boy label in 2007, but nothing came of it. To be honest, I can kind of see why. Her P!nk cover was solid, but it was nowhere near an Alecia Moore level. I think this was the wrong song choice.
Who turned? Kelly, Blake.
Result: Team Blake! I have no idea why a rock/pop power-singer who covered P!nk would choose Blake over Kelly, the one coach that actually pointed out Marina’s potential. Marina explained that she just “went with her gut.” Maybe she had indigestion?
Kyndal Inskeep, 22: “Never Been to Spain”
The CS&N-loving Nashville nanny and Ali Fedotowsky lookalike had a pretty vibrato and serious Raitt/Ronstadt vibes. She is definitely one to watch – though, sadly, she’s the sort of contestant that could win but then will never be heard from again.
Who turned? Kelly, Gwen… and Blake, who got BLOCKED by Gwen! (“It’s never good when your girlfriend blocks you,” he grumbled.)
Result: Team Gwen. Gwen never won in her previous three seasons (and she only made it to the finale once, in Season 9 with fourth-placer Jeffery Austin), but she had a good night this Monday, so maybe this will be her year.
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