The Voice Season 23 Premiere Recap: Blake Shelton's Farewell Tour Begins — Plus, Grade the Rookie Coaches

And now the end is near, the final curtain… at least for Blake Shelton’s storied tenure in a red swivel chair on The Voice. Monday’s Season 23 premiere of the NBC sing-off was the beginning of the end for the last remaining OG coach, who announced this past fall that his next team would be his last.

Needless to say, the episode did not let the occasion go unmentioned. Kelly Clarkson joked that she’d only returned after a season off to beat Blake one final time. The souvenir that he gave his recruits read, “I’m on Blake’s last team, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.” Every time he pitched a singer, he mentioned that this would be his last hurrah. (Thank God I didn’t make a drinking game of it!) And Niall Horan, who along with Chance the Rapper, was new to the coaching panel, did a dead-on impersonation of the country superstar playing the “It’s my last time as coach” card.

Speaking of the rookie coaches, how much fun were Chance and Niall! Chance was chill but spirited, and Niall was just a hoot, a goofy live wire who quickly established a playful “father/son” shtick with the show’s GOAT.

Oh, and lest we forget, Monday also trotted out the first of Season 23’s Blind Auditions. Did anyone stand out to you? I thought a couple of contestants were really good and one, extraordinary. Let’s discuss the contenders who earned a coveted chair turn, shall we, then you can play favorites in the poll below.

The Voice Recap Season 23 Premiere Chance The Rapper Niall HoranNeil Salsich (Team Blake), “Honky Tonk Blues” — Grade: B+ | Season 23 got off to a spirited start with this four-chair turn and his rollicking cover of Hank Williams’ classic. Besides managing to turn “honky” into a three-syllable word in the coolest way possible — it was “a yodel thing,” Blake suggested — Neil struck me as the type who could follow the same path as Season 18’s winner, dad next door Todd Tilghman.

Sorelle (Team Chance), “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy” — Grade: B | Though this sister act was inspired by Season 21 victors Girl Named Tom, the three-part harmonizers were more Season 22’s The Marilynds. The social-media influencers’ take on Queen was perfectly enjoyable but only got chair turns from Blake and Chance, who said that he’d been drawn in by the theatrical quality of their performance.

Holly Brand (Team Kelly), “Mississippi Girl” — Grade: A- | This former Miss Mississippi, who opened for Blake back when she was 10 years old (!), wowed all of the coaches but Blake with her record-ready version of Faith Hill’s hit. She has range, power, control and an ear-catching whistle note to (cowboy) boot. Maybe for once Blake was even more tone-deaf than your friendly neighborhood recapper?

the-voice-recap-season-23-premiere-chance-the-rapper-niall-horanTasha Jessen (Team Blake), “River” — Grade: B+ | Hoping to instill a can-do attitude in little girls in Pakistan, this 20-year-old, who fled from her home country at age 12 with her family, delivered a rendition of Leon Bridges’ heart-tugger that built in passion until ultimately, Blake, Chance and Niall were moved to turn their chairs for her. I agreed with them that it was absolutely lovely but somehow still wound up… unmoved. (Just me?)

Ross Clayton (Team Niall), “Blue Ain’t Your Color” — Grade: A- | After putting his career on hold for his family, this father of three came roaring back with a Keith Urban cover that was rock-solid — as far as we could hear. There was almost as much of Carson Daly and the coaches hollering as the four-chair turn singing! Nonetheless, Ross’ soulful country tone was so impressive, it inspired Niall to beg on bended knee to recruit the standout.

Michael B. (Team Niall), “Save Your Tears” — Grade: C+ | Having come close (but no cigar) to realizing his dream of performing on Broadway, this personable P.A. put a sorta show-tuney spin on The Weeknd, earning a chair turn from Niall with a vocal that probably fell closer to Clay Aiken than Ben Platt. As much as I’d love to see a theatre kid do well on the show, I doubt Michael’s gonna be the one.

the-voice-recap-season-23-premiere-chance-the-rapper-niall-horanD. Smooth (Team Kelly), “Perfect” — Grade: C+ | Technically, there was probably nothing wrong with this 25-year-old barber’s Ed Sheeran cover. Well, aside from the “sour note” that, bless his heart, Chance pointed out. It just felt like the song was sung emphatically almost the whole way through — not a lotta modulation — so the potential impact of the performance was blunted.

The Voice Recap Season 23 Premiere Chance The Rapper Niall HoranAlex Whalen (Team Blake), “Help Me Make It Through the Night” — Grade: B | This former London tube driver — whose beard braid definitely wins him the season’s Most Memorable Facial Hair prize — sold me the minute he let out the cry in his voice. But he was just getting started. He went on to let out a throat-shredding rasp as well. Not the most “flawless” singer we heard Monday but arguably the most interesting.

NOIVAS (Team Chance), “A Change Is Gonna Come” — Grade: A | Ordinarily, I’m skeptical of singers who insist on all-caps names. (Why are you yelling at us?) But this Texas girldad, I had to admit, deserved it. From note No. 1 of his Sam Cooke cover, the four-chair turn was serving power, feeling and absolute conviction. So forget what I said about Alex — NOIVAS definitely had the most interesting voice of the night. Straight to the Live Playoffs for him.

So, what did you think of Season 23’s premiere? Chance and Niall? The Blind Auditioners? Vote in the polls below, then hit the comments.

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