Following the Least Shocking Cliffhanger Voice Ever (Monday night’s final singer, folksy small-town girl Cali Wilson, joined Team Blake), Tuesday’s The Voice Season 17 Blind Auditions got underway with some much more interesting and surprising results. Most notable was the performance by 21-year-old twins Dane & Stephanie, who made Voice history when Dane revealed that he is trans.
“I was born female. I always remember, in elementary school, I would vividly daydream about being a boy and how I would look,” Dane, who used to go by the name Dana, told host Carson Daly, as footage of him singing with Stephanie in his pre-transition days and old family photos flashed on the screen. “I was 14 when I realized I was transgender. I was so closed-off about who I was and in a really bad place with myself. ... It took me a while just to tell Stephanie. There were so many times that I wanted to, but I was scared of the reaction I was going to get.”
Stephanie was thankfully supportive — “He deserves to be happy just as much as anyone else does,” she said — as were Stephanie and Dane’s loving parents. “It's hard, it's a transition, but I will never turn my back on my kids. I'm proud of all my children, no matter what,” proclaimed their father. “I'm extremely proud for Dane to be able to come forward and say, ‘This is who I am,’” their mom added.
Reflecting on what The Voice is supposed to be all about — vocals, first and foremost — Stephanie said, “I love the whole idea behind the coaches not seeing you and just hearing your voice. And for us, it's based on how we sound together.”
And they sounded great together. Taking the stage to warble the Lumineers’ “Angela,” Dane wavered a bit at first (he’d mentioned that his voice is still changing as he takes hormones, though singing is helping with that), but once he and Stephanie started harmonizing, their vocal blend was lilting and lovely. It was actually reminiscent of another, famous twin duo, Tegan and Sara, and it was a winning combination that had both John Legend and Blake Shelton turning their chairs.
Blake did mention that he’s the only Voice coach to ever make it to the finale with a duo (another, albeit very different, sibling act, Season 4’s Swon Brothers), but John was the one who truly understood where Dane & Stephanie were coming from artistically. “I directed choirs when I was growing up. I love the idea of arranging multiple vocals together, so I would love to have you on my team,” he said. And just like that, Dane & Stephanie became the stuff of Team Legend.
Dane may not have been the first transgender contestant to ever appear on the U.S. version of The Voice, a GLAAD Media Award-winning show with a long history of LGBTQ inclusivity. That would be trans woman Angel Bonilla, in Season 14. But both Angel’s Blind Audition and Battle Round were montaged, meaning she received scarcely any screentime at all. Dane & Stephanie’s inspiring (and extremely unique) family story, however, got the full, generous Voice treatment Tuesday — so whether they make it to the finale or even past the Battles, their story has hopefully already resonated with millions of viewers.
These were the other successful auditions of the night, which included one other surprise:
Injoy Fountain, 29: “7 Rings”
Injoy was sassy and fun, and a solid performer, but she somehow managed to make Ariana Grande’s modern hip-pop song sound loungey and old-fashioned, and she quickly became winded during the mostly-shouted rap interlude. I think she chose the wrong song. Kelly Clarkson seemed to love the song choice (“That’s my jam!” she yelled), but I think Kelly turned more because she’s an Ariana fan than because of Injoy’s performance.
Who turned? Gwen, Kelly.
Result: Team Kelly. Gwen Stefani pointed out that she too is a The Sound of Music interpolator (“7 Rings” borrows from “My Favorite Things”; Gwen’s “Wind It Up” takes from “The Lonely Goatherd”), but that didn’t seem to be enough to persuade Injoy.
Jordan Chase, 19: “Makin’ Me Look Good Again”
There was a bit of novelty here, in the sense that Jordan’s country-soul voice didn’t match his metal-bro image. Vocally, though, he was unremarkable and not quite Battle-ready.
Who turned? Blake... followed at the last minute by his girlfriend Gwen, so they could carry on with their surely producer-encouraged lovers’-quarrel shtick (which is starting to get old in week two, by the way). “I like fighting with you!” giggled Gwen.
Result: Team Blake. Blake won Jordan over by praising his sandpapery vocal texture and impressive range, while Gwen, much to Blake’s confusion/horror, unraveled as she bizarrely claimed to know what it’s like to be a 19-year-old boy. Hey, whatever it takes to make good TV, right?
James Violet, 20: “Sweet Creature”
James moved to Los Angeles to pursue his musical dreams, but after a couple fruitless years of street busking, he decided that the industry was too “cutthroat” and went back to his home state of Utah with a “chip on his shoulder.” I’m not sure how he expects competing on a nationally televised talent to be any less stressful or cutthroat, but good luck to him. The Harry Styles song choice was smart (Kelly certainly seemed to love it) and his self-described “buttery” indie was distinctive enough to earn my spare change had I passed on Hollywood Blvd. during his busking days. He needs to work on his personality and performance skills, however.
Who turned? Kelly, Blake, Gwen.
Result: Team Gwen, even though she (unlike fangirl Kelly) didn’t know the Styles song. Perhaps Kelly and Blake’s creepy bickering about the movie Deliverance, or something like that, turned James off. “You sabotaged both of us!” Blake grumbled to Kelly.
Preston C. Howell, 14: “Dream a Little Dream”
Preston is this season’s token teen crooner, a young kid with an old soul raised on Grandpa’s Sinatra records. Every Voice season has a contestant like this. But Preston’s performance was impressive not just because of his extreme youth (which will surely be mentioned on every Voice episode he appears on from this point forward” “YOU’RE ONLY FOURTEEN!!!”), but because of his natural ease and lightness with the jazzy material. As Kelly noted, Preston didn’t try to imitate any of the famous standards-singer of the good ole days. He was his own thing.
Who turned? All four coaches. They also gave Preston a standing ovation.
Result: Team Legend. Blake did his best by name-dropping his bestie Michael Bublé, and in a desperate move, Gwen showed off her own jazz chops by belting a few a cappella lines of “Miss Celie’s Blues.” Gwen was pretty good, but John’s jazz background made him the obvious choice.
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