Don’t roll your eyes too hard when The Voice host Carson Daly slips into a state of acute premiere-induced hyperbole (i.e. promising viewers are about to “experience the most shocking blind audition” in show history).
After all, as the erstwhile host of MTV’s Total Request Live, Carson ushered millions of teenagers through the Boyband-Britney Industrial Complex — without a single one’s head exploding like a watermelon at a Gallagher concert (at least not on camera). Now, 15 years later, if he’s slightly overselling “small-town Kentucky fella singing the tar out of a Sia jam,” well, so what?
And in the spirit of total honesty, while Jordan Smith’s cover of “Chandelier” fell well short of “shocking” — I reserve that adjective for acts such as peeling back one’s skin to reveal V-style alien scales or expressing the opinion that Mike Huckabee is just too far to the left on social issues — I’d argue it falls under the headings of “gorgeous,” “chill-inducing,” and “Gospel hand-activating.”
So go on with your excitable self, Mr. Daly. The Voice‘s Season 9 premiere delivered at least two or three folks who could conceivably still be in the mix when you’re arguing with your feisty aunt over who belongs in the finale during Thanksgiving dinner. Throw in a few choice Blake Shelton one-liners, three (rather than the typical two) no-chair turns and the shiny, distracting red object that was Gwen Stefani’s dress, and we’re off to a pretty promising start!
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With that said, let’s count down Monday’s eight Battle Rounds-bound vocalists from least- to most-promising:
8. Braiden Sunshine, “The Mountains Win Again” (Team Gwen) | Yes, the Season 8 premiere gave us a wide-eyed teenager who went on to win the whole shebang, but unlike emotional-beyond-his-years Sawyer Fredericks, Braiden’s voice carried all the gravitas of a dish of buttered elbow macaroni.
7. Kota Wade, “Bring It on Home to Me” (Team Gwen) | Not a promising start for the Judge Most Likely to High-Kick With Excitement: Kota’s vocal tone hits the ear as harshly as a fondue fork, her tone reminiscent of a car riding the edge of a guard rail going up a steep incline. There’s a strain that’s present from the first note to the last — and her lack of dynamics only punctuates the problem.
6. Nadjah Nicole, “Tightrope” (Team Blake) | Nadjah looks like a pop star, has the right name to be a pop star and — while her Janelle Monae cover isn’t particularly rangey — proved on the “high, hiGH, HIGH” riff she might have the pipes to be a pop star. That said, Nadjah’s failure to work the stage with authority and the “running through my grocery list” lack of intensity she brought to the lyrics has me worried she’s ultimately no more than a bank teller in pop star’s clothing.
5. Keith Semple, “I’ll Be There for You” (Team Adam) | I’ll give credit to the Irish dad for a far-better-than-competent cover-band vocal, but his performance never really broke out of the Bon Jovi template, did it? Great hair and a handsome face may carry him through the first few weeks of votes, but a distinctive approach may be the one key that’s missing from his Voice keychain.
4. Siahna Im, “Fever” (Team Pharrell) | Babyfaced teenager’s emotional breakdown after scoring a three-chair turn has me worried she’s not quite ready for the grueling obstacle course that Cassidy Pope, Tessane Chin and Josh Kaufman have conquered before her. But on the flip side, The Voice voters have a soft spot for quirky-voiced chicas of a certain tender age, and Siahna’s smokey lower register is a nice juxtaposition against her Betty Boopian delivery.
3. Barrett Barber, “Angel Eyes” (Team Blake) | Survivor of an airline disaster in his college years, the hunky Barrett adroitly balanced his maudlin backstory with an inspirational survivor’s attitude. More importantly, though, he brought a magnetic authority to the Voice stage that most of his Night 1 rivals lacked — and he didn’t hit a bum note in the process, either.
2. Mark Hood, “Use Me” (Team Pharrell) | I loved the little scratches and hiccups and jazzy inflections he brought to Night 1’s most high-energy song choice — and the fact that his pitch held strong even as he broke out the funky dance moves could be a big edge on his rivals moving forward. Yeah, his tone gets a wee bit closed-off in places, but his buoyant personality offers the perfect counterbalance.
1. Jordan Smith, “Chandelier” (Team Adam) | I don’t know why the judges were so out-of-their-minds surprised that Jordan turned out to be a guy — my ears told me it could’ve gone either way — but he’s definitely a prime candidate for a Battle Rounds makeover. (Heck, even an Adam-sanctioned bowling shirt would be edgier than Jordan’s pedestrian choice of gray cardigan and plaid shirt.) Ultimately, though, I don’t think anyone’s going to care if Jordan shows up in cut-off sweats and a T-shirt emblazoned with the face of Christina Milian — just as long as he keeps delivering effortlessly range-y, deeply felt vocals that add a little somethin’-somethin’ stank on the original.
On that note, I turn the mic over to you. What did you think of The Voice Season 9 premiere? Vote for your favorites in our poll below, then expand on your thoughts in the comments!