Interim coaches Shakira and Usher returned to "The Voice" this Monday for the series' Season 6 premiere — sitting in, literally, for the newly engaged, newly pregnant Christina Aguilera and original coach CeeLo Green, who just resigned. But it was coach Adam Levine who had heads spinning as rapidly as the show's famous red chairs, when he dared to call a performance by hopefuls Dawn & Hawkes HIS FAVORITE IN "VOICE" HISTORY.
Really? Yes, it was a great audition. Possibly the best of the night. But Adam liked it more than Juliet Simms's "Man's World" from Season 2? More than Amanda Brown's "Dream On" in Season 3? Or Matthew Schuler's "Hallelujah" from just last season? Apparently so.
And coming from Adam — one of the show's constant cast members, who's personally witnessed every "Voice" performance since Season 1 — this was some especially extreme praise.
It's understandable why Adam went so gaga for Dawn & Hawkes. He's an avowed Beatles buff (his band Maroon 5 recently performed on CBS's Beatles tribute, "The Night That Changed America"), so of course he melted the instant he heard the first chords of the Austin duo's song choice, the Fab Four's "I've Just Seen a Face." And Dawn & Hawkes's harmonies really were fab. But it's possible that Adam's wildly effusive praise could instigate a backlash for this twosome. (Sheesh, it's only episode one, Adam. Cool your jets!)
A second possible issue for Dawn & Hawkes? Their uncanny similarity to recent "X Factor" winners Alex & Sierra, another real-life romantic reality couple with a hipster-folksy sound. But perhaps that'll be less of a problem, since who knows how many "Voice" fans even watched the (since-canceled) "X Factor" last fall, anyway.
[Related: CeeLo Green's 10 Most Magic "Voice" Moments]
For now, we know that Adam's over-the-top fawning worked like a charm this Monday, as he managed to win woo Dawn & Hawkes and recruit them for his team over Shakira, who also buzzed in. And if Adam mentors Miranda Dawn and Chris Hawkes wisely over the coming weeks, they'll soon be competing on the live shows, and then it'll be the voting public's turn to decide if they're really one of the best contestants in all six "Voice" seasons.
Dawn & Hawkes weren't the only contestants who impressed Monday night; seven other auditioners made it through, and they all showed promise. And they were...
[Related: "Voice" Coaches Sing Each Other's Hits]
Christina Grimmie – Diehard fans of yet another singing competition may recognize this 19-year-old wunderkind: She was the online host (the "Internet version of Ryan Seacrest," as she put it) for 2012's "American Idols Live" concert tour. Others may recognize her from the Internet in general, since the plucky viral video star has racked up 245 million views and nearly 2.5 million subscribers on her wildly successful YouTube channel. But "The Voice" is without a doubt Christina's biggest opportunity/platform yet. All four coaches hit their buttons for the sassy singer's massive, almost operatic "Wrecking Ball" cover, and all of them, once they turned around, were impressed by her confidence in front of the camera. "You're more comfortable onstage than I am, almost!" marveled Adam. "I plan on winning this entire thing with you," declared Usher. "This isn't about me; I just want to make you the winner of this show," said Blake Shelton. I thought Christina would relate most to Shakira, but instead, she went with Adam. Season 6 was obviously working out quite well for Adam so far.
MEMBER OF: TEAM ADAM
T.J. Wilkins – T.J. had the kind of heart-warming, made-for-TV story adored by producers and viewers alike. While he was growing up in South Central Los Angeles, his struggling single mom sent him to a performing arts school to keep him away from the gang violence pervading their neighborhood. He grew up to be a respectable young man, enrolled in college as a music major, and even reconnected with his absentee father (who accompanied him to his "Voice" audition this week). Aw. But of course, a sympathetic backstory isn't enough on these shows. Did T.J. have the goods? Well, there was no denying his vocal talent, and his R&B spin on Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets" showcased some creativity. That's why all three male coaches turned for T.J. However, his silky-soul style (and cobalt-colored "Sing-Off" blazer) seemed so very dated, so very '90s. Maybe that's why Usher was so into it; Usher's an artist of the '90s himself. Of course, T.J. chose Usher as his coach (despite Adam's praise for his "sweet jacket" and Blake affectionately nicknaming him "Teej"). Now let's see if Usher can modernize T.J. a little bit. The sweet jacket can stay, but some other things about T.J. might need a makeover.
MEMBER OF: TEAM USHER
Kristen Merlin – Kristen doesn't seem like a typical country singer, since she's openly gay in a genre that doesn't tend to embrace homosexuality (just ask Chely Wright), and she eschews the high-glam Nashvegas style of Faith Hill and Shania Twain for unisex dungarees and a Sinead-style flattop. But that's exactly what makes her so perfect for "The Voice." The hard-working, full-time bar singer, who once won a Sugarland-sponsored talent contest, stormed out belting Sugarland's "Something More," and Adam turned first, pleasantly surprised by what he saw and later telling Kristen than her vivacious performance was "so pro." Shakira, who also buzzed in, was even more excited by Kristen. ("She's everything to me," Shakira raved.) Interestingly, Blake, the coach Kristen had originally hoped to sign up with, didn't turn around — but when Shakira volunteered to draft Blake's wife Miranda Lambert as a mentor, especially for Kristen, that sealed the deal. This is definitely an odd-couple pairing, but considering Shakira's gushing enthusiasm for Kristen, it just might be a great match.
MEMBER OF: TEAM SHAKIRA
Biff Gore – This 45-year-old minister, organ transporter, and father of five (with a sixth baby on the way!) was possibly one of the most likable contestants in "Voice" history. Calling his soulful, evangelical singing style "life music," he delivered a triumphant, heartfelt performance of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" that made all four coaches hit their buttons. "Can I be your date at the Grammys when you win this thing?" asked Shakira. When family man Biff explained that his extra Grammys ticket would have to go to his loyal wife, Adam exclaimed incredulously, "You just turned down a date with Shakira!" But of course, this just made Biff all the more lovable. Eventually Biff chose Usher as his coach (despite sinnerman Blake's pleas that he could use Biff's "guidance" and positive influence). And so, Usher picked up his second old-fashioned, not-all-that-marketable singer for his team. It's quite possible that Biff or the above-mentioned T.J. could win this thing, due to their undeniable likability and raw talent…but if either do, it'll be interesting to see what sort of career either soulman could have in the real world.
MEMBER OF: TEAM USHER
Jeremy Briggs – The bar-band rocker and ex-baseball player went with a very cool song choice, the eponymous anthem by classic-rock titans Bad Company. It evoked a sinister, brooding cool that gave me mild flashbacks to Season 3's AOR-style powerhouse Terry McDermott or last season's "Rock Star: Supernova" vet Josh Logan, and I imagine this guy could go very far on "The Voice" (although he too might struggle to seem relevant in the music marketplace, once the show is over). Blake clearly connected to Jeremy's heartland vibe and spun around, declaring brightly, "Hello, my fellow plaid-wearing friend!" But Jeremy chose to go with his new cocktail-dress-wearing friend, Shakira. Shakira had a history of gravitating towards rocker types in Season 4, so this could be a successful pairing.
MEMBER OF: TEAM SHAKIRA
Jake Worthington – This awkward high-schooler tried out in Season 5 with a cover of the Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands to Yourself," and the coaches did just that: None of them hit their buttons. That 2013 performance had seemed winded and manic, total amateur-hour karaoke stuff. But what a difference a season makes. Returning this year to croon the Keith Whitley ballad "Don't Close Your Eyes," Jake was so much more composed, and this sort of song worked so much better with his voice. Jake was a changed man, and he had very different results this time: This time, THREE coaches (everyone but Usher) turned around. For a moment, he acted so smitten with the "perfect" Shakira that it seemed like he'd join her team, but when Blake pointed out that he was the only panelist familiar with the Keith Whitley song, then asked Jake, rhetorically, "Do you want to be a novelty, or do you want to be a real, rootsy country singer?"…well, Jake's decision was obvious. Blake will do right by Jake.
MEMBER OF: TEAM BLAKE
Bria Kelly – Just as one teenage powerhouse, Christina Grimmie, opened the show with a bang, 17-year-old Bria capped it off with equal force. The feisty guitar girl's cover of James Taylor's "Steamroller Blues" basically steamrolled over most of the evening's competition. Bria ROCKED this. How is this super-confident chick is only SEVENTEEN? She must be drinking the same magical rock 'n' roll elixir that the same-aged Lorde imbibes. Anyway, Bria, who once actually opened for Miranda Lambert, unsurprisingly inspired a four-chair turnaround (and a standing ovation), and all of the coaches were stunned to see such a young girl behind that electric guitar. "I can't believe that was you doing that. You've haven't even been alive long enough to feel that!" said Adam. "You are a stud," Blake said repeatedly (and oddly). Shakira said Bria reminded her of her own rocker-teen years. But it was Usher's bold comment — "Ladies and gentlemen, we have just heard THE voice!" — that won Bria over in the end…and added a little diversity to Usher's team.
MEMBER OF: TEAM USHER
So if you're already having trouble keeping track, so far Team Adam comprises Dawn & Hawkes and Christina Grimmie; Team Shakira has Kristen Merlin and Jeremy Briggs; Team Usher has T.J. Wilkins, Biff Gore, and Bria Kelly; and Team Blake has only picked up one contestant, country kid Jake Worthington. Come back Tuesday to watch another round of "Voice" Season 6 Blind Auditions…and to see if anyone will impress Adam Levine more than Dawn & Hawkes already have.