I’m not sure what the sidewalks in your town are looking like right now, but where I live in Jersey City, they’re covered in a terrine of mud-blackened ice; found objects (I kid you not, I spotted a half-finished bottle of Arizona Iced Tea lodged in a snowbank today); wayyyy too many dog droppings (sigh); and sadness.
But just when you start thinking about crawling into a cave for another six months of hibernation, along comes the Season 6 premiere of The Voice — reality TV’s equivalent of a bright-eyed robin landing next to a brave and early daffodil bloom on a 65-degree day.
I know, I know, I sound like I’ve been infected with the same hyperbolfluenza that the NBC singing competition’s judges come down with during Blind Auditions. But honestly, I can’t think of a better tonic for Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka “When Is It Not Going to Be Gray and Freezing Anymore?” Syndrome) than two hours of Shakira, Usher, Blake Shelton and People’s Sexiest Man Alive goofing off and going gaga over a crop of crazy-good, crazy-charismatic singers.
The show-opening mashup tonight of the coaches trading off on each other’s hits — Blake covering “Whenever, Wherever” was the oddest, and the most exciting — set a feel-good tone but didn’t detract from the real work at hand: Advancing eight acts into the Battle Rounds (while rejecting three other not-quite-ready hopefuls in the kindest, gentlest way possible).
Let’s rank the successful auditioners — and review ’em — in order of least- to most-promising. And was it just me or were at least three of these ladies (one in a duo) quite possibly good enough to win?
8. Biff Gore: Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” (Team Usher) | The 45-year-old worship leader certainly has a winning personality, but — even as someone who side-eyes the show’s usual treatment of 40+ contestants in the Battles and Knockouts — I didn’t understand what exactly about his pedestrian (and oddly paced) version of Sam Cooke’s soul classic prompted a four-chair turnaround. If you disagree wildly, please feel free to school me down in the comments section.
7. Kristen Merlin: Sugarland’s “Something More” (Team Shakira) | I loved Shakira’s passion for the adorable country blonde with the Shaki-esque vibrato. (That bit about how her 20 million Twitter followers dwarf Adam, Blake and Usher’s combined was hilarious). But Kristen’s rendition of “Something More” lacked a certain nuance — almost as if the fleet pace of the lyrics left her unable to infuse ’em with true meaning. The gal is super-likable, though, and that can’t be underestimated.
6. T.J. Wilkins: Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” (Team Usher) | I appreciated that T.J., who’s got a warm, rich quality to his vocals, didn’t want to spit out a carbon copy of Elton’s original. It’s just that there was a slight hint of “Lido Deck on the Norwegian Jewel” to the end product (even the shiny blue sportscoat, which I nevertheless covet). Plus, dude could’ve dialed back the falsetto riffs on the closing “Bennies” by at least half, no? (I know, I know…I’m probably just ruined by Haley Reinhart’s never-to-be-topped Idol Season 10 exit performance.)
5. Christina Grimmie: Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” (Team Adam) | Didn’t hit a single bad note and took some really pretty melodic risks on Miley’s big recent smash. That said, I’m not sure I heard quite enough distinctiveness in her tone to rank her any higher than midpack. Which doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a big shot to win the whole thing, of course.
4. Jake Worthington: Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes” (Team Blake) | Jake’s not a perfect singer — though his opening a cappella notes proved he’s got serious skills/guts — but he infuses so much of his humble self into the music that it’s hard not to fall for him. I loved how even with his innocent babyface, he managed to sell the story of a man who’s begging his woman not to dream of a former lover. I also loved his response to Shakira’s description of his performance as “perfect” — “You’re perfect, Shakira!” — and the way he hugged Coach Blake like he never wanted to let go. Maybe those are terrible reasons to rank him at No. 3, but dammit, it’s Season 6, and this is how I’m rolling — for one night only, anyhow.
3. Jeremy Briggs: Bad Company’s “Bad Company” (Team Shakira) | Did I rank this classic rock dood too high? Probably. After all, my scribbled notes from the start of his performance say “energy is a little low.” But this untrained bar band singer displayed near-perfect intonation (Harry Connick Jr., stay outta my brain!) and there was a Bon Jovi-esque combo of grit and power in his instrument. If Shakira taps into her early (or even Laundry Service-era) rock roots, this could be a match made in Voice cielo.
2. Dawn & Hawkes: The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face” (Team Adam) | Mr. Levine went a tad overboard with his “favorite performance I’ve ever seen on The Voice” critique. (What? Did he not coach Amanda Brown when she tackled “Dream On”?) But that doesn’t mean this romantic couple didn’t slay the Beatles-sized dragon that was standing in front of ’em. There was so much warmth and complexity to the blend of their voices, I could’ve basked in two hours of tunes from ’em. And that’s a pretty good sign for their trajectory on the show — and in their post-Voice careers, too!
1. Bria Kelly: James Taylor’s “Steamroller Blues” (Team Usher) | Holy hell! I know The Voice sneak-previewed her full audition on YouTube last week and gave her the coveted pimp spot tonight, but there’s so much whiskey-stinging, sandpaper-on-the-floor authenticity in this teenager’s voice, that I understood when chairs started spinning based on her opening glory note alone. (Sometimes, hype is earned, y’know? Also, Bria looks a lot like Reese Witherspoon in the face, or is it just me?) Anyway, watching the judges squabble over Bria somehow made her all the more appealing — especially that zinger about “if you’re really cool, you can turn your Grammys into shoes — like Usher did.” And I think she’s gonna be glad she chose Usher over the other three coaches — especially if he digs as deep into her Voice journey as he did with another happening lady named Michelle Chamuel.
And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of The Voice‘s Season 6 premiere? Who were your favorite wannabes? Did you disagree with any of the coaches’ or contestants’ decisions? Take our poll below, then expand on your thoughts in the comments! And for all my reality TV-related news, interviews and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!