The Voice Season 4 Premiere Recap: Love Shak, Baby, Love Shak!

shakira the voice season 4Diva-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!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Ian S. says:

    Love the new judges!

    Kris Thomas flipped the gender in the lyrics (“no other girl’s gonna dooooooo”) and his voice sounded male to me the whole time. Also, after they played up that Shakira didn’t react when she turned for him, I rewound my DVR to see that not only did her jaw drop about a foot and a half, but she turned towards the other judges with the shock on her face clearly visible.

    Thus far none of the contestants has knocked my socks off a la Amanda Brown, but the auditions are still young.

  2. Ruby says:

    I laughed out loud for a good 10 mins at Usher’s “Nashville is a state!” comment, and Blake & Adam’s unrelenting harrasment about it. That was hysterical! I have never liked Usher but he might have won me over with that. Shakira was awesome. What’s this everyone is saying about them being temporary judges? I thought they were replacing Christina and Cee-lo permanently.

    I am really hoping Avery Wilson shows back up this season. I was so bummed when he got cut last year. (Deservedly, but still.)

  3. CS Glo says:

    2 hours of Kareoke!
    And love the product placement!
    Pablum for the masses.

  4. Marco says:

    After last night’s The Voice, I must say, it’s a better show than Idol, better concept, better judges, and better talent. Let’s move Candice, Kree, Angie and Burnell over to The Voice, put one on each coaches team, and shut down American Idol for the season.

  5. KB says:

    I love the new additions but I just can’t forgive Usher for introducing us to Bieber….

  6. It bugged me that Christian Porter was labeled ‘innovative’ when he used teen Noah Guthrie’s arrangement of ‘I’m Sexy and I Know It’. He did a good job, but it’s tainted for me.

    I absolutely love the addition of Shakira and Usher to the coaches panel. They were awesome. I’m loving the show this year.

  7. MAS says:

    I wasn’t going to watch…but I tuned in and found myself laughing at the ridiculous judges. It was too much fun. What I like best about the back stories is how they started singing and any struggles they had to be a singer. Those are interesting to me, and reminds everyone that the music business is not easy. Sob stories just seem manipulative and I want talent to win out over backstory.

  8. John says:

    While I was a bit turned off by the packaging, I thought the twins were one of the best acts of the night. But Judith was in a league all by herself.

    • Teeny Bikini says:

      Love the twins. Too bad they were first. I totally forgot them. But their harmony was insanely good. Def the best duo I’ve heard on this show. Usually the duos suck. Can’t wait to hear how they handle future songs…

  9. Teeny Bikini says:

    Judith Hill. Christian Porter. Next. Who are the rest? Dang, I love this show for being so current. The song choices just leap off the screen [NIGEL, HELLO?!!!!] Loved it. Love the new judges, better than other ones. And I didn’t think I would. Shakira knows how to be charming and snappy at the same [HELLO, XTINA?!!] I’m in. All the way in.

  10. Leela says:

    James was very good & comfortable on stage but his performance was very monotonous – no range. If he’d done a more dynamic song he’d be right up there with Judith. I expected so much from Leah, all the talk about country, then she sang in a register so low she was almost inaudible. But the real problem is that her voice isn’t “a voice.” She sounds like an average kid, untrained, no tone. Only experience will give her that.

  11. RD says:

    Certainly don’t miss Xtina or Cee-Lo-the two mentors that most believed in their own hype. Time will tell how the new ones play out but the potential is there for a decent season.All down to song-choice……..

  12. waterbug says:

    I love Usher and Shakira. Usher is so cute and personable and Shakira is so down to earth and funny. Are they just stepping permanently or is Xtina and Ceelo just taking a hiatus?
    I will be watching both AI and the Voice because I know I will have favs on both shows. Actually I love Nicky and Keith on the AI. They bring two different spectrum to the show that I enjoy while still giving the contestants actual advise they can use. Not too impressed with Mariah.

    Anyway this thread is about the Voice and I thought they started the season off with a great start. I know the stories get sappy, but they want to push an instant connection with the contestants and audience. I can see their logic. I think all the stories do not have to be about gloom and sadness. I would like to hear uplifting background information, then shut information during the show and maybe one more time with the finalists.

  13. Timmah says:

    Judith belongs on Idol. Full of vocal tricks but no emotional connection to what she’s singing.

  14. Chris says:

    Hands down I prefer Candice’s version of “Come Together”.

    I miss CeeLo. I am confused on the no turns because of the comments that followed (why send someone away if they are 99% there)… Tis’ what it is I suppose.

    Loving Judith Hill but the rest were just OK to me.

  15. MrTemecula says:

    I thought Daniella was top three…and Blake was pretty stoked to get her. She seemed freakishly gifted in her control and phrasing. Dang, 16 and you can do this?! She’s a strong contender. I think she will make the live shows since Blake, finally, got a real country singer and I just don’t see Blake sending Daniella home after 3 seasons of looking for the real deal.

  16. HitTheGroundRunning says:

    Hah Shakira whips out the “English to Country” dictionary tonight. :)

  17. HitTheGroundRunning says:

    Wow, Sarah was awesome!! Now THAT is precisely what AI is missing this year.
    Man she shoulda went Team Shakira though. I got the feeling she might not know about Shakira at all or something since she said she switched from Blake to Adam because Adam could also handle her rock element but man Shakira is the one of the four who actually has the raspy rock it out plus delicate, what she said she was after was pure Shakira who goes all soft and delicate and folk and then gets all dirty and harsh and rocks it out like mad too.

  18. Sally says:

    How did Usher not recognize Judith Hill? He was part of the Heal the World sing she sang at MJ’s memorial service….

  19. Bobby says:

    “saving all my love for you” – how didn’t they know it was a dude when he changed the lyrics to fit a guy? did they think she was a lesbian instead?

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