Welcome back to The Voice. It’s time for another round of singing and competitive banter, this time with some much-ballyhooed new folks along for the ride.
As is par for the course by now, we open Season 4 with a coaches’ performance. It’s The Beatles’ “Come Together,” featuring Blake Shelton and Usher on guitars and vocals, Shakira bringing her own voice, and Adam Levine drumming his heart out. Appropriate song choice is appropriate, and this foursome sounds pretty good together, too, as you’d expect them to. One of The Voice‘s few disappointments is that you cannot obtain the coach performances on iTunes, outside of duets with their team members. If you could, this would be climbing the charts like nobody’s business. (You can watch it again at the end of this recap.)
But this show isn’t about the coaches, it’s about the artists, so let’s find some, shall we? We need to find forty-eight new singers – twelve for each team (down from the sixteen of Season 3, back to the same quota from Season 2). First up are the Morgan Twins from New York, who say they “do everything together,” including dressing alike. Their rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Fallin'” immediately draws the attention of both Usher and Blake, while Adam and Shakira turn their chairs a little later on. “Is this really happening right now?” Blake asks. “This is a dream come true for most men.” The ladies have their choice of coaches, and despite saying in their pre-audition package that they’d be excited to work with Usher, they sign up with Team Blake, despite Blake’s slightly flawed argument.
Adam: Blake basically just said ‘I have a wife and you’re sisters, therefore we’re alike.’
The Maroon 5 front man wastes no time ribbing Blake about how his wife might take this development, showing that the epic Adam-Blake banter has not dulled one iota since we saw them last.
Next, the show travels to Austin, Texas to meet Jess Kellner, who’s balancing her musical aspirations with her hairdressing career. Jess talks about her difficult relationship with her mother, who is a recovering alcoholic, and the support she received from her stepmother. Jess’s performance of the classic “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” with a unique sound to her voice somewhat like Xenia Martinez from Season 1, almost immediately catches the ears of Shakira and Usher. Adam’s just excited to watch the new coaches fight each other, although Shakira interrupts him, much to Blake’s glee.
Blake: By the way, you’re losing.
Adam: That’s true.
Jess decides to join Team Usher, which prompts a mock pout from a disappointed Shakira. After a brief skit (because it does come off as obviously scripted) with Usher, Shakira and Blake wanting to plot against Adam, it’s time to meet Mark Andrew, who’s lost two members of his band and is now dedicating his audition performance to them. He comes out with Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” Adam turns for Mark fairly quickly, followed by Shakira. Adam pulls out the “I won one year” card, but Mark thinks his wife won’t forgive him if he doesn’t pick Shakira, so he becomes the first member of Team Shakira.
Next up is Janetza Miranda, who’s got dance moves and bird calls, but whose version of “Titanium” doesn’t turn any chairs. She sounds just a little too much like Sia, if Sia was belting every possible note. Janetza takes rejection really hard, and it doesn’t take her long to freak out, causing Adam to leave his chair, come up on stage, give her a hug and tell her everything is going to be okay. Blake calls the rendition “a little too dramatic” but encourages Janetza to come back for another attempt, and Usher reaffirms that “this isn’t the end for her.” It’s another heartwarming moment in Voice history, also reminding those of us playing at home why this show is unlike any other of its kind.
Carson reminds everyone that Adam is waiting for his first pick, and then we meet 16-year-old country singer Danielle Bradbery. Danielle’s rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Mean” earns button pushes from Usher, Blake and Adam, in that order. Blake is very unhappy with having competition, and equally shocked to find out that this is Danielle’s first major performance. Meanwhile, Shakira calls herself stupid for being the only one not to turn around.
Usher: I would feel stupid too if I were you.
Adam and Blake debate if Taylor Swift is really a country artist, only for Usher to drop the Justin Bieber bomb (if you didn’t know, he’s credited with discovering Bieber), which causes Adam to stop arguing with Blake and start laughing.
Adam: Are you bribing her with Justin Bieber tickets?!
Then we learn that Usher didn’t do so well in geography.
Usher: …Nashville is a state.
Adam: It’s a city.
Blake: (after Usher tries to keep talking) I’m still fascinated by Nashville being a state.
Blake: And he’s from there.
Adam: (laughing) It’s one of the 60 states.
Once everyone calms down, it’s decision time for Danielle, who makes the right choice and signs up with Team Blake. Setting aside her genre, it’s a perfect pick given Blake’s talent for mentoring the younger artists (see: Xenia, RaeLynn). As Blake celebrates his victory by trying to dance, Usher isn’t afraid to make fun of himself a little bit more.
Let’s meet Vedo, who talks about how he’s glad to see Usher given that he’s singing Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend,” but then turns serious when he reveals that his mother is dying of cancer. He almost passed on his audition to stay home and take care of her, but she insisted that he go for the opportunity, and in fact she’s in attendance to watch his performance. Vedo only gets one chair to turn, but it’s the right one. He joins Team Usher.
Particularly sharp Voice fans will already have seen this next blind audition, which was also leaked before tonight: it’s bar musician Christian Porter, looking to make that jump to the next level of his career, and doing an incredibly different arrangement of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” This is not as novel as, say, Chris Cauley’s version of Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” from Season 2. It does, however, get Shakira to make a hilarious face just before she pushes her button. After the guys laugh at each other for awhile, Blake finally decides to join Shakira, and Usher gives in too, making Adam the lone holdout. The Grammy winner quips that he thought it was possible he was listening to something non-human.
Adam: I think I was just perplexed because it was so unique and different, and maybe I’m just not ready for it.
Christian elects to go for Team Blake, putting the defending champion ahead in the “number of artists collected” tally. After a completely needless break for the lovely Christina Milian to tell us things we already know, it’s time for our first montage of people who were not lucky enough to make the cut.
If you weren’t depressed by that montage, it’s followed by 15-year-old Leah Lewis, who credits her father as her major musical influence and wants to be successful so that he doesn’t have to work as he gets older. Her rendition of Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” doesn’t earn any turnarounds, though, and the coaches tell Leah that she just needs more time and practice, with Adam encouraging her to keep at it as she leaves. Leah needs a second afterward, but who can blame her? Thankfully, there’s a commercial break afterward so we can all take a moment to cheer up.
Kris Thomas arrives, explaining how he had “creative differences” with label executives that caused him to lose a record deal, and ended up in a bad state. He snapped to his senses after passing out at the wheel and nearly driving into someone’s house, and now he’s determined to earn a second chance. Kris proves that a guy can sing Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love For You.” Shakira is the only one to turn around for him, but everyone seems surprised that this is not a woman. While this is treated as a huge shocker, it’s worth noting this isn’t the first time one of the coaches has mistaken a male artist for a female one (see: Tim Mahoney), although it’s definitely impressive that a guy can pull off a selection by one of the biggest female singers of all time.
Next we meet James Irwin. He has another sad story, talking about how he and his wife lost twins before successfully giving birth to a son. Can we stop making people cry on camera? Anyway, James’ version of The Script’s “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” doesn’t get anyone’s attention. Adam calls his performance “a little bit subdued” and Shakira suggests that he deserves to come back next season.
The final performer of the night is the one Voice fans met last week: Judith Hill, who worked briefly with Michael Jackson and performed at his memorial service. One hopes she won’t be constantly associated with him the way that Jermaine Paul was regularly referred to as Alicia Keys’ backup singer. All four chairs turn around for Judith’s version of “What A Girl Wants” (one wonders what Christina would have thought!). Adam climbs the furniture to give her a standing ovation, says she did the song as well as Christina, and makes an awesome declaration, saying that he’s “going to claw everyone’s face” to become her coach, and if that’s not enough…
Adam: I am going to light myself on fire to make sure.
This seems to work, because Judith becomes the first member of Team Adam Season 4. For his part, Blake is just disappointed that she doesn’t make Adam light himself on fire. Adam, for his part, declares that he can go home and faux-makes to leave before sitting back down.
With that, chapter one of season four is in the books. At the end of the night, it’s Team Adam 1/12, Team Blake 3/12, Team Shakira 2/12, and Team Usher 2/12, and the Adam Levine Expletive Counter sits at a surprising 0.
There are a lot of good things to say about this first look at Season 4. The new coaches mesh perfectly with the old ones, and their arrival has eliminated the moments of tension that were obvious in Season 2 and even a little in Season 3, as well as some of the things that could occasionally get distracting, like the flirtatious comments toward artists. That’s helped put the focus more completely on the competition. It also seems like the pacing of the show itself has slowed down, which is fantastic. Season 3 sometimes felt rushed, like the decision to go to two cycles a year disjointed the production, but this is more like the Voice of old.
If there’s any criticism to be had of this premiere episode, it’s in the editing. By now, it’s not really a secret that the pre-taped portions of the competition are not shown in the same order in which they were filmed. This is a fairly common practice in reality TV, so that’s not a big deal. But the editing in this case is particularly obvious, and made moreso by the voiceovers. It’s eyebrow-arching enough to arrange the episode so it looks like Adam Levine can’t land anyone for his team (which, by the way, also happened to Adam in season two), but to have Carson continually remind the audience of Adam’s apparent misfortune before every blind audition is just too much. There’s enough suspense in this show without having to manufacture more.
And while sneak peeks and previews have been around since forever, the decision to make the night’s best audition the one you choose to reveal early is a bit of a head-scratcher. It certainly built hype for the season, but it also seemed to take the air out of the end of the episode.
Having said that, this is a tantalizing first look at what could be a very strong season for The Voice. Although the enjoyment is dampened somewhat by the fact that eagle-eyed Voice fans already saw the best audition of the night when NBC released it last week, there’s still enough here to make you curious about what comes afterward. It’s important to remember that the talent level of each season isn’t so much judged by the artists’ blind auditions, but by how they develop over the course of the competition. Most of the best Voice artists didn’t start out as our favorites; they became great. We won’t likely know how strong season four is for a few weeks yet…but this is a solid start.
The Voice continues tomorrow night at 8 PM ET/PT on NBC.
For more on The Voice and its artists, you can visit BFTV’s dedicated The Voice blog, Big Red Chairs.
(c)2013 Brittany Frederick/Big Red Chairs. Excerpts appear at Starpulse and Examiner with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @bigredchairs.