When it was announced earlier this year that Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys would be the new Voice coaches — the first time that two ladies would sit on the panel, alongside incumbent bro coaches (“broaches”?) Adam Levine and Blake Shelton — public reaction was mixed at best. Some backlashing viewers feared that wild child Miley, known for her foam-fingering/hammer-licking/Thicke-twerking/salvia-smoking antics, would pull focus and turn The Voice into The Miley Show. I was totally on board with Miley, actually… but I worried that the more laid-back and conservative Alicia would, frankly, make for some boring television.
But after watching NBC’s special half-hour Voice Season 11 preview, which aired Sunday night after the Olympics Closing Ceremony, I am delighted to report that this girl-powered Voice season may be the best yet. To quote what Miley proclaimed at the top of the show, “I’ve got a good feeling” about Season 11.
Miley was particularly a revelation, with a sunny disposition that will surely win over some of the haters and convert them into diehard Smilers. As she told Blake, when he amusingly tried to block out her banter with some prop noise-canceling earmuffs, “’Miley-proof’? There’s no such thing!” That’s right: Resistance is futile. As for Alicia, inside word from the Voice set is she has built this cycle’s strongest team — so she may very well be the “Superwoman” of Season 11.
Furthermore, I’m relieved that there was no petty Real Housewives of The Voice drama Sunday, nothing perpetuating the silly stereotype that alpha-female castmates cannot get along. I think everyone was a little concerned that Voice producers would try to pit Alicia and Miley against each other, a la Mariah Carey vs. Nicki Minaj in American Idol Season 12 — and we all remember what a catty casting disaster that was. But even years before Idol S12 aired, the reality TV airwaves were already clogged with lowest-common-denominator programs starring women behaving badly (Bad Girls’ Club, Mob Wives, Basketball Wives, Baseball Wives, Football Wives, whatever Wives) — all spreading the disturbing (and untrue!) message that women can’t really be friends, only frenemies at best, and that if two females with “strong personalities” are stuck in the same room together for more than five minutes, they’ll inevitably end up at each other’s diamond-encrusted throats. But Sunday on The Voice, Miley and Alicia were already acting like total besties, sweetly supporting each other and forming a unified front. When one auditioner was choosing which team to join, Miley even said she wouldn’t be mad at all if that contestant went with Alicia — “Because it’s Alicia!” Aw. (Miley did, however, state that she’d peeved if Blake won the round. Ha.)
Most importantly, these new coaches brought so much fresh energy and enthusiasm to this flagging five-year-old franchise, it’s no wonder that Sunday’s two contestants signed up for either Team Miley or Team Alicia. Adam and Blake seemed threatened — and with good reason. After longtime coach Christina Aguilera’s victory with Alisan Porter last season, and now this exciting new panel shake-up, The Voice may never be a boys’ club again.
Both Blind Auditioners Sunday were 17-year-old girls, and they obviously could relate to Miley and Alicia — who have followed very different career paths, obviously, but both started at a young age. (Miley was 14 years old when Hannah Montana debuted; Alicia released her first professional recording at age 16.) First up was We McDonald, whose deep, booming, mostly a cappella rendition of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” was a dramatic show-opener. Miley, clearly thrilled about her new gig and on the edge of her red seat, was the first to buzz in; soon she was actually literally out of her red seat, dancing like she was at the 2013 VMAs. Eventually the three other coaches spun around, and while Miley talked a good game, calling We (pronounced “Way”) a “total star” and empathizing with We’s bullying backstory, Alicia laid it on so thick, you would have thought she’d cribbed a page from the playbook of Adam Levine himself. “I cannot believe this voice… You’re so perfectly yourself,” Alicia gushed. “That’s what we need in music… You came to this show to meet me. I’m not playing.” Said an uncharacteristically intimidated Adam: “Alicia just dropped the mic on us.” Unsurprisingly, soon We was the first official member of Team Alicia.
Darby Walker, apparently the dyed-in-the-vintage-wool token indie girl of Season 11, sang next, giving off Korin Bukowski vibes with her Florence & The Machine-inspired take on Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” Darby’s performance was very Flo-soundalike and slightly contrived, but there was a pleasant tone to her vocals that caught Miley’s ear. So, once again, Miley was the first to turn around; it was impressive to see her be bold, go rogue, and follow her instincts, rather than nervously, tentatively eye her fellow coaches, hand hovering over her red button, looking for clues/cues on how to respond. (I hate when any of the coaches do that. Major pet peeve of mine.)
The very friendly rivalry between Miley and Alicia revved up this time, with Miley hopping onstage to combine Darby’s “shaky vibrato” with hers on an impromptu duet of 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 “Some Beach” or “Boys ‘Round Here,” and he sat this one out.) Darby, a fellow teen actress who’s appeared on Girl Meets World, eventually joined Team Miley — a wise decision. I think Miley and Darby could get up to some real fun together.
After the coaches’ rousing group performance of Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” which even Season 3’s Amanda Brown could appreciate, the all-too-brief episode ended with a classy tribute to another strong Voice female: slain Season 6 finalist Christina Grimmie. It was a somber ending, but judging by the rest of Sunday’s episode, this Voice season — which officially premieres Sept. 19 — is going to be a real party in the USA.