We open on a montage about how awesome the judges are, set to voiceovers of the judges telling us how awesome the other judges are. Of course, Christina Aguilera’s version of a compliment is that she “can’t wait to be entertained once again by CeeLo and his antics," which seems typically backhanded. Then the camera cuts to CeeLo, solemnly delivering his testimonial as his new pink cockatoo scratches its head.
Welcome back, The Voice.
After American Idol's artsier cousin proved it could pull in consistently high numbers even without a Super Bowl lead-in (and Smash proved it couldn’t), it’s understandable that NBC rush-ordered a fall season. Throw in the imminent premiere of The X Factor and thousands of “Christina vs. Britney!!” headlines, and it becomes clear that NBC has pinned more than a few hopes of grandeur on The Voice. It’s a risky gamble, especially because doubling up means 2013’s spring run will likely feature a brand new set of judges to give the current group a chance to do something other than judge reality TV. (Whatever else you think about The Voice, it is refreshing to realize these judges still give a shit about their careers, and also, that they still have careers to speak of.)
The blind auditions are a fun conceit on their own, so the show should still be entertaining. It will be interesting, though, to see how The Voice might adjust to an entirely new set of people swinging around in those chairs at midseason. More importantly, it will reveal whether or not the chemistry of this particularly quartet really is the reason The Voice has been such a surprise hit.
As if reading my mind, the judges take the first performance. While some of their past collaborations have felt forced, their version of the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” proves to be a great, energetic choice to kick off the season. Most surprisingly, Blake Shelton and Christina sound especially good together. Just think: If they had figured this out in season one, we might have escaped “Moves Like Jagger.”
But this is still a singing competition, and as such, there need to be some actual competitors. The season’s first contestant is Terry McDermott, a “Scottish rocker” who seems to strain his way through The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” Still, he gets turned chairs from everyone but Christina. Adam calls him “rock and roll” roughly a dozen times in a minute, but he ends up with Blake, who drawls through his grin that he just wants to hear Terry’s Scottish accent. If they don’t end up dueting, they could probably make a killing reading children's books together.
CeeLo, who cruelly traded in Purrrfect for the aforementioned pink cockatoo, is immediately furious at being passed over. Losing two seasons in a row has hardened our CeeLo, and he ominously warns that there’s a new rule this season that could allow him to steal a contestant back. The cockatoo pecks at his bedazzled sleeve; CeeLo ignores it. CeeLo officially becomes my favorite character on network television.
Next we have De’borah, a gospel singer in a neon pink suit who delights in her buzzcut and gender ambiguous voice. She sings a slightly too stylized version of Train’s “Hey Soul Sister,” but seeing as it’s the first version of that song I don’t immediately hate, I’m inclined to give her a pass. Also, she is the very embodiment of the word “snazzy.” CeeLo and Christina push their buttons simultaneously, and as Blake joins them, he has a physically hilarious reaction to seeing her. It’s hard not to think that De’borah would have been treated as a freak show over on American Idol, and both she and The Voice know it. “My appearance became more than my voice,” De’borah says. Somewhere, an NBC marketing team cries with joy. The judges fight hard for De’borah, and while it looks like Cee Lo has her locked down, she joins Christina’s team.
Gracia, the 18-year-old country-singer-slash-yodeler, sparks yet another bidding war between the guys, but as Adam admits, she’s obviously a perfect fit for Blake. Adam makes a play by calling her the best country singer he’s seen on the show, but she was a goner for Blake from the first yodel, and so Team Shelton gets another member. Adam throws a small tantrum and follows it up with a dead-on Blake impression. One of these things is cuter than the other.
Not every audition gets the judges riled up, though. Anita Antoinette’s disastrous choice of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” doesn’t impress, and by the time she performs it beautifully a cappella, the judges are facing her, and it’s too late. Sixteen-year-old Garrett doesn’t turn any chairs with his raspy take on Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Jessica Sharpe may have Tami Taylor’s speaking voice, but her merely competent “Son of a Preacher Man” fails to get her a coach. Since The Voice starts several rounds beyond initial auditions, however, none of these zero-chair auditions are trainwrecks. In fact, the judges’ firm yet encouraging sendoffs for these two kids sum up why The Voice is simply more fun to watch than Idol or X-Factor; schadenfreude is only fun up to a point.
The show’s first repeat customer, Daniel Rosa, makes an awesome comeback with a bluesy, nearly unrecognizable version of “Somebody That I Used To Know,” earning a bear hug from Adam and CeeLo as a coach. Bryan Keith wanted to make it as a singer without using his singer father’s connections, and luckily for him, he’s got a good enough voice to do the impossible and make me reconsider my opinion of Bruno Mars with his stellar version of “It Will Rain.” He goes with Adam, and the rest of the judges clearly think they’ve just lost the competition. Zac Efron wannabe Joe Kirkland impresses Adam and Blake with “Give You Hell,” but while Adam compliments his aggressive and controlled tone, Blake compliments his vest. The choice was obvious.
“Small town Texas girl” Devyn Delora provides the weirdest audition of the night by choosing to sing Christina’s own song, “Aint No Other Man.” She’s a little pitchy, has trouble keeping up with the song, and clearly studied the original song’s inflection a little too hard, so it’s surprising when Christina herself enthusiastically turns around. Downright shocking, though, is that Adam—he of the Anguished Hovering Hand—quickly follows suit. Devyn (obviously) picks Christina, who is thrilled at picking up a mini-her who’s also pretty in a CW kind of way, and Devyn trots off to the tune of One Direction’s “That’s What Makes You Beautiful.” This might be The Voice, but it’s still reality television, after all.
The night ends with 18-year-old Trevin from Queens crushing Beyonce’s “Listen” so hard, I couldn’t even hear the end of the song over the crowd’s cheering. The judges give him a standing ovation. Trevin can’t believe it, the audience is going out of its collective mind, his family is sobbing, and his new coach CeeLo literally giggles his way up to the stage to give him a hug.
Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better ending.
- Of course, the return of The Voice also means the return of The Voice-themed NBC commercials. Matthew Perry in a spinning chair has seen better days.
- It’s hilarious that the promotional picture for this episode is Christina Milian, seeing as she turned up exactly once to say, “Follow us on Twitter!”
- Blake’s high conversion rate may have something to do with the fact that he talks to every contestant like he’s buying them a beer.
- Tomorrow: another round of blind auditions!
- Wednesday: another round of blind auditions!
- Thursday: I start dreaming in blind auditions!