This season The Voice lowered its age limit, presumably to attract that all-important, ever-elusive, terrestrial-television-shunning Generation Z demographic. It remains to be seen if this tactic will actually work — please note, six of the show’s past 11 winners have been older than 30, and only two have been teens. But on a special Thursday episode this week, the youngest contestant to ever try out for The Voice so far, 13-year-old Quizz Swanigan, attempted to follow in the footsteps of everyone from 39-year-old Season 1 Javier Colon to last season’s 38-year-old Sundance Head. And while this kid needs a little work, that’s probably nothing that his new coach, Alicia Keys, can’t fix.
Quizz is actually no newbie when it comes to performing, having already toured the country extensively as a pint-sized Michael Jackson impersonator. So it made sense that he auditioned with the Jackson 5’s “Who’s Loving You,” a regular song in his tribute band’s repertoire. He definitely had the routine down pat, but that was the problem: his “Little MJ” routine was very tribute band, very routine, right down to the copycat choreography and vocal affectations. Sure, he’s gotta start somewhere (remember, pop dynamo and frequent Voice guest Bruno Mars impersonated Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson in his youth), and Quizz definitely showed promise. But if this pre-teen wants to hang with the big boys (and girls) of Season 12 — like Thursday’s other contestants, who ranged from age 21 to 31 — he will need to find his own voice.
Maybe Alicia, a former teen singer herself, can help Quizz with that. “I could tell by the way that you handled that front run that you had such a special thing about you, and then I knew you were super-young, and I see all this energy inside of you and all this light. And that voice has a really, really powerful, innocent, fluid thing,” Alicia told Quizz excitedly. It will be interesting to see what sort of material she chooses for young new protégé going forward.
These were the other (and older) successful auditioners of the night:
This 23-year-old Nashville transplant — who cares for her father, a sufferer of early-onset Alzheimer’s, while simultaneously pursuing her country music dream — took a risk doing Patty Griffin’s “Let Him Fly,” since this was the breakout song for Season 10 winner Alisan “Curly Sue” Porter. But of course, Alisan has already been totally ditched by the Voice powers-that-be, so none of them coaches even mentioned Alisan once. If they had, they surely would have compared Ashley’s vocals slightly unfavorably to the Alisan’s. But Ashley did possess a nice, warm, welcoming country voice of her own.
Gwen Stefani, Blake Shelton, and Alicia all spun around, but Gwen and Alicia didn’t really have a chance once Blake spoke up. “Country music is a sacred thing. I would hate to see you throw it all away and go with another team,” Blake warned Ashley. “I’d hate to see you become an ‘experiment.’ When I believe in somebody, I follow through with it, way after this show is over with. And you’re no different for me.”
Blake probably didn’t need to give such a hardcore sales pitch (“I’ve listened to you my whole life,” Ashley later confessed to him), but I have to admit, I was impressed by how the 12-season veteran and five-time winner wooed Ashley with his impassioned speech. Let’s just hope he really meant what he said about “follow-through,” so if Ashley wins, she won’t end up sidelined like Alisan.
MEMBER OF: Team Blake
This 31-year-old Virgin Islands native, formerly of the pop/hip-hop group Them Island Boyz and currently working as a firefighter/EMT, hadn’t sung in public in five years, but he seemed quite at home on the Voice soundstage performing Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster.” The song was definitely in his wheelhouse, but maybe too much so — because, as was the case with Quizz, the performance was predictable and unoriginal.
Nevertheless, both Gwen and Blake buzzed in, and a battle royale for Mr. Royal ensued. Blake probably didn’t have much of a shot, given Gwen’s background in ska music, but it certainly didn’t help his case when he admitted that he wasn’t even sure if “Master Blaster” was a Stevie Wonder song, or when he made some bizarre firefighter joke about wanting to hold Brandon’s “hose.” (Um, what?) The best argument Blake could come up with was “the thing that we have in common is we both love music.” OK, then.
Well, I suppose Blake can’t hit it out of the park every time. I have a feeling this fireman will be Battle Rounds fodder anyway, unless he can bring a little more fire to the stage, so Blake’s loss wasn’t exactly Gwen’s gain.
MEMBER OF: Team Gwen
A classic vocals-don’t-match-the-looks contestant, the kind NBC used to tease in Voice promos back in the show’s early days, this baby-faced, gentle-dispositioned 21-year-old growled Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” like the whiskey-gargling lovechild of Nakia and Laith Al-Saadi. When a startled Adam Levine got a look at him, he joked that he’s expected to see a “giant biker” onstage, straddling a purring Harley.
Julien’s performance was a bit karaoke, but it had the element of surprise, a good amount of swagger, and some killer pipes. Strap a guitar around this kid’s neck, and he could be unstoppable. Said Adam: “I’ve been extraordinarily picky this whole time, and I’ve really just pushed my button for the people that I believe have that intangible thing… I can do an amazing job for you. I really can.” Blake countered with: “I need you to be on my team, man, because I don’t have that manly-man rockin’ singer on my team. You have the greatest scream in the music industry. It used to be David Lee Roth — now it’s you.”
Eh, I don’t know about that. I don’t even think Julien has the best scream since Sammy Hagar. Or even Gary Cherone. But he does that that thing, what Adam dubbed a “devil’s roar,” and Adam is probably the right coach to tap into that power.
MEMBER OF: Team Adam
This 26-year-old Nashville honky-tonk gal, in the spirit of many country-revivalist contestants before her (i.e., Danielle Bradbery, Mary Sarah, Emily Ann Roberts, Grace Askew), beautifully crooned the Bill Mack classic “Blue” (most famously covered by LeAnn Rimes). She even nailed the song’s tricky yodel. Her skillful performance earned a four-chair turn, but it was very noticeable that, unsurprisingly, it was Blake’s spin that delighted Casi most; she made immediate eye contact with Blake, pointing and grinning in his direction. A frustrated Adam seemed to know he had no chance, but still desperately pleaded with Casi, saying, “I would do cartwheels to have you on my team. I would literally try to leap over the moon and back for you.”
However, it was obvious that Casi and Blake had already bonded. “Casi, when my chair turned around, you looked me like, ‘You better turn around!’ What you did to this room and all four of us coaches is the same thing that happened when LeAnn Rimes came out with that song. Somebody yodels? The fact that you have already mastered that… I am not giving up until Casi is on my team, because this is frickin’ meant to be,” Blake boldly declared.
Yep, no shocker here: Blake won this round with his (again, probably unnecessary) hard sell. Adam just slumped in his red chair, in that ill-fitting stripped cardigan he’s been wearing all week, and moped. And thus, another Voice episode came to an end.
MEMBER OF: Team Blake
So now that the first week of Blind Auditions is over, let’s look at where the team lineups currently stand. Team Adam is looking pretty darn bluesy and bro-y, with Julien Martinez, Johnny Hayes, and Jesse Larson, plus a dose of pop from Mark Isaiah. Team Blake is looking pretty darn country-girly, with Casi Joy, Ashley Levin, Lauren Duski, and Brennley Brown, along with pop singer Aliyah Moulden. However, the female coaches’ teams are more diverse, in terms of both genre and gender: Gwen has reggae/pop singer Brandon Royal, small-town pop kid Savannah Leighton, folky songstress Stephanie Rice, and R&B crooner JChosen, and Alicia has MJ impersonator Quizz Swanigan, theater belter Lilli Passero, R&B divas Autumn Turner and Felicia Temple, and vivacious pop teen Anatalia Villaranda.
Will the ladies’ eclectic approach prove to be the more winning strategy, or are Adam and Blake wise to stick with what they know and keep it all in one lane? We shall see what happens as all four coaches expand their teams next week. See you then.