Diva-holics, relax! What Season 4 of NBC’s The Voice lacks in Christina Aguilera’s extroverted decolletage, flying-saucer hats and impromptu “this is how it’s done” vocal displays, has already been made up for with Shakira’s harmonica riffs, inspirational quips (“faith is the engine!”) and killer Blake Shelton impression.
Yep, we’re only one episode in, and the uni-monikered Colombian superstar is already proving so charmingly adept at her new gig that Xtina and Cee Lo’s absences barely registered. I mean, it’d be nice if one of the coaches went out and got an animal sidekick a la Purrfect the Cat — one* wonders if Animal Practice‘s Crystal the Monkey is still under contract with the network — but within a half hour of the Season 4 premiere, Shakira and fellow neophyte Usher (a fine sub himself) had already exhibited enough seamless/jaunty chemistry with returning panelists Adam Levine and Blake that no gimmicks were necessary. (*And by “one,” I mean “me,” obvs.)
Plus, with one auditioner delivering a ferocious/jazzy twist on Xtina’s “What a Girl Wants” that had Adam predicting she’d become “a Grammy-winning superstar” (and not merely the Season 4 champ), I couldn’t help but wonder if NBC was sending a subtle reprimand to Xtina for three seasons of “look at me!” shenanigans and frequent shank-eye at any contestants who weren’t members of her team. (Viva Amanda Brown!)
But enough of me standing over the superstar coaches and pointing my index finger over their heads! Let’s talk about the very solid group of auditioners from the Season 4 premiere who advanced to the Battle Rounds, or to put it another way, the initial eight of the 48 singers (down from a whopping 64 last year) who’ll be members of one of the mentors’ 12-member Season 4 rosters. I’ve ranked ‘em in order from least- to most-promising, and tried my best to keep my reviews down to a Twitter-esque 140 characters or less (key word being “tried“). Here we go…
8) Jess Kellner: Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (Team Usher) | Unique tone with “so much silk,” said Shakira, but her peculiar pronunciations (“but” = “boy’t”) and occasional pitch wobbles began to grate within 30 seconds.
7) Danielle Bradbery: Taylor Swift’s “Mean” (Team Blake) | Blake was right that her pitch was amazing, but her “Mean” cover sounded more like a talented girl singing along to the radio rather than a genuine artist ready for prime time. (Side note: Did we need the “I got teased about my crooked teeth” backstory? Not every hardship must be advertised, NBC!)
6) Kris Thomas: Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love for You” (Team Shakira) | Recovering alcoholic hit some tricky high notes right on the nose, but I suspect he only got one of the four judges to turn because his tone bordered on shrill for half the performance. Accuracy, alas, is only part of the battle.
5) The Morgan Twins: Alicia Keys’ “Fallin’” (Team Blake) | Tight, powerful harmonies, but a slight soul defecit and matching (form-fitting) dresses on two grown-ass lady twins freaked me out a little. Smart choice of Blake over Usher by these ladies, though: There’s no real R&B gusto here.
4) Mark Andrew: Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (Team Shakira) | Needs to fix his tendency to let his voice drop off at the ends of phrases, but there was an appealing amount of soul in the bleat-y tone of this roofer who’s suffered a lot of loss in his young life.
3) Vedo: Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” (Team Usher) | Stylishly dressed fella had me sobbing along with him when he spoke of his gravely ill mom. Still, it was his muscular rendition of a Bieber hit that made the lasting impression. With a little polish, Vedo could be radio-ready (and maybe not as whiny as The Bieb…uh-huh, I went there).
2) Christian Porter: LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” (Team Blake) | Hard to judge handsome geek on pitch, since he took the melody of LMFAO’s dance-talk hit down a very peculiar road, but I appreciated the creativity and humor of it all — especially the “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle” verse. How did dude not pick Shakira, though?
1) Judith Hill: Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants” (Team Adam) | Obvs has a leg up on her rivals as Michael Jackson’s former duet partner, but I fell for her the minute she said it seemed “in poor taste” to capitalize on her performance at his memorial service to advance her career, and fell even harder when she delivered a TKO vocal on her audition. She gave “WAGW” an unexpected undertone of funk, and that leather fringe top was THE LOOK. I worry The Voice producers have begun hyping her as aggressively as Cassadee Pope — which is never fun to watch — but it’s not as though her initial vocal performance didn’t live up to the hyperbole, right?
Before I turn things over to you, a few additional thoughts:
* Would it be sacrilege to publicly declare I prefered Candice Glover’s Season 12 Idol cover of “Come Together” over The Voice coaches’ good but not 100 percent committed rendition that kicked off S4? Shakira’s harmonica was a nice surprise, though!
* Who else howled over Shakira going after Adam’s comment about Jess’ Adele influences before he’d even finished his thought — and before Jess had even decided which team to join? Also: Interesting that Jess didn’t choose the “She Wolf” singer, no? Maybe because Shakira pointed out her intermittent pitch problems?
* I actually liked Leah Lewis (the 15-year-old who was adopted from China and had an intriguing twist in her voice on “Blown Away”) more than 16-year-old Danielle, but the former got no turns while the latter got everyone to turn except Shakira. What’d I miss, folks?
* On a similar note, I’d have ranked James Irwin’s low-key cover of The Script’s “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” among the night’s Top 4 or 5 auditions, but he got totally ignored. I wish the coaches would sometimes hop aboard the “less is more” bandwagon.
* Methinks Carson Daly may have oversold it a bit when he declared at the top of the show that “one of the biggest surprises in Voice history will shock our coaches.” I mean, come on, Kris Thomas’ voice was high, but even without the visual, the coaches had to know there was a 50 percent chance he was a dude, no?
* Christina Milian is back as social media correspondent.
Okay, your turn. What did you think of The Voice Season 4 premiere? Who was your favorite? Who got a spot on a coach’s team that left you scratching your head? Who got unfairly snubbed? Take our two polls below to grade the premiere and vote for your faves, then expand on your thoughts in the comments! And for all my reality TV recaps, interviews, news and exclusives, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!