Indeed, while more than a few fans of NBC’s Emmy-winning singing competition feared Cyrus’ addition to the Season 11 coaching panel would be marked by ghastly interludes of twerking, tongue-protruding and general obnoxia, the reality — based, at least, on Monday’s premiere — turned out to be quite the opposite.
The Artist Formerly Known as Hannah Montana burned Adam Levine with simple mathematics*; scored one of the night’s biggest laughs joking that she’d just run into an 8-year-old wearing the same ridiculous, flower-covered outfit as her own; and came across as downright thoughtful when courting various contestants to join her “squad.” (OK, yes, points deducted for use of the S-word, but I suspect Cyrus’ edict from producer Mark Burnett didn’t have much to do with courting exhausted, fortysomething dads with an aversion to Twitterspeak.)
*For those of you who tuned in late, Cyrus mocked Voice vet Adam’s boast that he’d won the show on three separate occasions. “Three out of 10?” she asked, mockingly. “It’s basic math and it did take me a second, but I don’t know… I wouldn’t have said that if I was you.”
Oh, and hey, Cyrus’ fellow newbie Alicia Keys? She’s wonderfully in touch with her muse, deeply generous when she loses out to a fellow coach, and yet competitive enough to drag Adam (punching bag’s a good color on him, BTW) if she really has her mind on a particular contestant. That dig about Adam not being as “deeply rooted” in soul was the TKO punch that won her the season’s first four-chair turn.
BUT ENOUGH ABOUT THE COACHES! The show’s producers will take care of their all-stars from now through December. Instead, let’s rank the nine vocalists headed for the Battle Rounds in order from least- to most-promising.
9. Riley Elmore, “The Way You Look Tonight” (Team Adam) | It seems like every season there’s a dapper teenage boy who convinces the coaches his Frank Sinatra obsession makes him the second coming of Michael Buble. But Riley’s Blind Audition packed less of a whallop than a koala swatting a fruit fly off a slice of nectarine.
8. Courtnie Ramirez, “Mamma Knows Best” (Team Miley) | Perky Texas teen had no trouble handling the bombast of Jessie J’s hit, but her pacing on the verse was a tad sluggish, and her tone stretched into pterodactyl territory at the tippy top of her range. I’m more likely to want a flower off her coach’s hideous pantsuit than a download of Courtnie’s Blind Audition cover. In other words, I wish Courtnie had waited two or three years and gotten a full understanding of her instrument before bringing it to national television.
7. Gabe Broussard, “Lonely Night in Georgia” (Team Blake) | Nerves seemed to get the best of Gabe once Blake and Miley hit their buttons and ensured the 15-year-old’s spot in the Battles, but prior to that, he showcased an appealingly achy-breaky tone and a surprising amount of texture for one so young.
6. Christian Cuevas, “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” (Team Alicia) | The night’s closing slot went to this sweet 20-year-old who recently lost his dad to cancer. And while it was hard to deny the emotional tug of Christian tackling Michael Bolton’s mournful anthem in the wake of his own personal loss, I wish the coaches had mentioned how the guy’s borderline tearfulness had an adverse effect on his vocal control, and how his boombastic steamroller eliminated any hope of nuance. Granted, dude might soar if Alicia helps him balance feeling with technique — and steers him away from early-’80s dreck — but for now, I stand by my contention that Christian made a less-than-thrilling conclusion to an above-average premiere.
5. Sundance Head, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (Team Blake) | There was a lovely, soulful string of notes toward the end of this audition from Sundance, who happens to have been an early favorite during Season 6 of American Idol. And while maturity may help him avoid the kind of vocal collapse he endured once Idol’s live shows began, Sundance needs more nuance and less reliance on howling — plus a pair of scissors to remove that unfortunate, braided beard — if he wants to emerge as a Team Blake dark horse.
4. Jason Warrior, “Living for the City” (Team Alicia) | Chicago theater major dressed like he was angling for a spot in an ’80s-era New Edition cover band, but his Gospel-infused twist on a Stevie Wonder classic showcased a sweet, smoky lower register that outweighed the handful of wobbly notes that crept in at the top of his range.
3. Dana Harper, “Jealous” (Team Blake) | Daughter of NBA pro Derek Harper can hit some ridiculous — and glorious — low notes, but chose touse them sparingly for her Lite FM reworking of Nick Jonas’ pop-R&B ode to the green-eyed monster. Dana’s sweet, slightly shy vibe makes her an easy contestant to get behind, but Blake might have to call Alicia on her offer to help him with song selection if Dana wants to go deep into the season.
2. Ali Caldwell, “Dangerous Woman” (Team Miley) | Like a Jason Statham antihero, Ali’s tone may be rough-around-the-edges, but it’s anything but dull. I loved how she brought genuine sensuality and a grown-up sensibility to an Ariana Grande song that’s always been the equivalent of a tapioca pudding in a world of thrilling dessert options. Better still, Ali’s pitch control extended beyond the big, belty choruses, and covered her more nuanced work on the verses. Miley may not need to win another four-chair turn: Ali’s got the type of talent to contend for the Season 11 crown.
1. Dave Moisan, “Sex and Candy” (Team Alicia) | Based on his pre-performance package, I doubted the charmisma quotient of this former junior Olympian who once got spanked (in the competitive sense of the word) by Michael Phelps. But the way he reinvented Marcy Playground’s late-’90s jam as a lascivious, Robin Thicke-y lounge track turned my opinion around like Phelps doing a flip turn at the end of a lap. The fact that Dave gravitated toward Alicia over Adam — despite his falsetto’s similarity to the Maroon 5 frontman’s — is further evidence that dude might turn out to be more than a pretty voice, but an intriguing innovator, to boot.