‘The Voice’ recap: Gwen Stefani gets warm welcome back in Season 9 premiere

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘The Blind Auditions Premiere’.

With all due respect to former coaches Christina Aguilera, Usher, Shakira and CeeLo Green, the foursome sliding into the spinning red chairs on “The Voice” on Monday for the show’s ninth season is my very favorite musical-mentor panel.Pharrell’s hip beret and Blake Shelton’s shameless imitation of it – which garnered him the nickname “Captain of the Love Boat” – ultimately could not distract from the talent on display.The Voice is now entering its ninth season, but you’d be forgiven if you thought you were still watching season 8, and NBC had just chosen to take a slightly extended commercial break.

The Voice’s ninth season debuted on NBC tonight, with season-eight coaches Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Pharrell Williams all returning to their chairs. It’s been a few months since Sawyer Fredericks took home the Season 8 crown, and in case viewers had begun to forget during the offseason that the principle innovation of this show is bred from the blind auditions, there were plenty of opportunities to remember during Monday night’s premiere.

It’s been a mere four months since we last checked in with these crazy kids, and Sawyer Fredericks is still a fond memory whose voice has not yet faded into the recesses of time — though, considering what’s become of his fellow winners, I predict the he’s got precisely 37 days left before Mark Burnett presents his pristine vocal cords as a ritual offering to the Neilsen Ratings Company. (That’s what happens to unsuccessful Voice stars, right? That’s not to say Levine and Shelton don’t get in their mutual funny-mean bro-pokes and Stefani and Williams don’t sometimes push their goo-goo-eyed “boo” routine right up to the brink of acceptability.

But there’s just something about this judging panel that works. “It’s going to be a fun season,” Stefani, returning after a break for her second season, said at the outset of the premiere, before the coaches launched into a musical lovefest in which they covered one another’s songs: Stefani brought a reggae inflection to Shelton’s twangy “Neon Light,” while Shelton did a faithful version of her band No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak.” Williams performed Maroon 5’s “Sugar,” and then that band’s lead singer, Levine, returned the favor with Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” a song co-written by and featuring Williams. Because they’re both divorced now! (Life & Style says their chemistry is “off the charts,” for what it’s worth.) Shelton even added some fuel to the fire: Not only were those rumors suspicious because Shelton effectively denied it with his snarky tweet, but also because NBC’s “The Voice” — on which Shelton and Stefani are both judges — happened to premiere on Monday night. We know it’s not the one, but I’m glad you’re excited.’ ” “[It’s] just truth,” Gwen said of her album theme. “Just being clear and being true to myself.

Then everyone sang together and hugged it out. “The connection with the other coaches has definitely gone to another level this season,” declared Stefani, whom the other coaches welcomed back with warmth, flowers and, in Shelton’s case, a little baggie of something made by his dog. Mark Hood: This energetic 24-year-old performer from Chicago, whose big claim to fame was being cast as a dead guy on a TV show, came in with his cap set for Shelton and then turned all four chairs and earned a standing ovation with his riffy rendition of “Use Me.” Levine complimented Hood on his “infectious energy” – “You high-fived the stage!” he exclaimed – and begged him to join his team. As commercials cut through the action at almost obnoxious frequency, viewers were promised that the opportunity to sit in the coaches’ chair for the first time was fast approaching. It’s really quite selfish.” As well as developments in her professional life, Gwen is also preparing for another big landmark in her personal life as her 46th birthday is fast approaching. Stefani, off to a shaky start, said she wanted to be around someone with “that kind of energy and … love of life” while working on her own record, admitting that it was “very selfish” of her.

All four made passionate pitches, and Hood ended up changing his mind about Shelton, going with Team Pharrell, which does seem to be the better fit for his jazzy sound. Finally it came, and though everyone at home was expecting exactly what happened, Jordan Smith’s spine-tingling performance still managed to defy expectations, turn chairs and melt hearts. A faux-showmance can work in different ways: Fake rumors that helps build intrigue around a TV series or film, or a romance sparked on set that is actually real but will nonetheless give the project attention.

She eventually started a rock band called Bad Wolf, but she decided to go more of a soul route for her Blind Audition and sang “Bring It on Home to Me.” Shelton compared her to Cyndi Lauper, but Wade said she has idolized Stefani since she was five years old, so she picked Team Gwen. Either way, you’ll probably, magically, start to see some headlines when a show’s ratings drops, generally confirmed by anonymous sources close to the couple. (Publicists.) Why would viewers even care? Still, after sifting through the cheap tears and pity compliments, the return of Gwen Stefani as another strong female voice in a room dominated by testosterone and Smith’s genuine message that “it’s ok to be yourself” both shone through and showed promise for this new season of the Emmy award-winning show. Returning to the show after a season hiatus, Gwen Stefani played quite a few different hands to land her two young performers in Kota Wade and Braiden Sunshine.

In this case, NBC is hoping you’ll tune in to watch the show, and pay extra close attention on the season premiere when Stefani compliments Shelton wearing Pharrell’s hat. One of them was Braiden Sunshine, whose innocent smile and giddy excitement – true to his name – lit up the stage as he listened to Gwen and Pharrell fawn over his performance of Blues Traveler’s “The Mountains Win Again.” Though both coaches turned their chairs at the last possible second, it was Gwen who showed Braiden the light by asserting her role as a mother who could take him under her wing. While the other judges mock, she pipes up with, “I actually think it looks cute on him!” The list of examples is long: “Dancing With the Stars” slyly feeds the faux-showmance machine particularly well, particularly as its pro dancers and celebrity contestants are in such close quarters. Stefani complimented Semple’s “range” and “dynamics” and said she’d love to work with him, but Levine warned Semple he’d regret not going with him.

Maks Chmerkovskiy is linked to his partners without any evidence they’re actually dating, like when he had some sizzling chemistry with Olympian Meryl Davis. So far Gwen has been held under the guise of the fountain of youth, but she’ll need to pick up some larger, more experienced voices to balance out the equation. Semple picked Levine, who later said he’d found “’Voice’ gold right there.” Siahna Im: This 15-year-old soul singer from Auburn, Wash., who is, she told us, “half Korean and half French-Canadian,” is also 100% adorable, and when she sang a surprisingly mature rendition of “Fever,” she turned 75% of the panel: Stefani, Shelton and Williams. In one particularly contrived instance, Nickelodeon star James Maslow was paired up with Peta Murgatroyd after the two had been on a date once — the show constantly tried to make it seem like they were one step away from falling madly in love. (They weren’t.) Even now, you’ll see that US Weekly had “multiple sources” confirm that Chace Crawford has a new girlfriend — who happens to be Rebecca Rittenhouse, his co-star on ABC’s new “Blood & Oil” that debuts this week, and is getting some pretty bad reviews. Paul, would be a perfect fit for Blake (though the former Army medical engineer bared a slight resemblance to Yosemite Sam), but Shelton and the rest of the coaches passed up on him.

Skateboard P.” Shelton tried to undercut Williams’ lure, accusing him of “laying it on” thick, but it didn’t work. “I would really love to be on any of your teams,” Im said, “but I think I pick Pharrell.” Phigures. It was then down to the final four singers, and Blake found an unlikely match in Nadjah Nicole, whose take on the Janelle Monae classic “Tightrope” was upbeat and hit some tough notes.

Blake admitted to not knowing who the heck Janelle Monae was, and even Nadjah’s mother was surprised at the pick – she could be seen exclaiming “oh my gosh” afterwards – but the show’s most decorated coach has a knack for uncovering talents that don’t fit his criteria. Instead, to preserve the element of surprise – that he was a guy with a high voice, and not a girl — we were invited to play coach and listen to his audition truly blind. His “Chandelier” was spot-on, but am I the only one who felt that, when we were finally allowed to spot him, the normality of his looks was something of a letdown? I dunno, I expected someone more boundary-pushing than a more or less regular-looking, cardigan-sporting, glasses-wearing dude from Harlan, Ky. “That was the most trippiest turn-around blind audition freakiest thing I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Stefani declared. “And that’s what makes it super cool,” Williams added.

The next artist, Jordan Smith, sang Sia’s “Chandelier,” which is an ambitious song choice, but he proved to have strong vocal control and secured a quadruple chair turn. By the end of a whirlwind premiere, it was easy to forget 24-year-old Mark Hood’s vibrant rendition of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” because he was the first performer, but he managed to impress four coaches right out of the gates. After Smith shared that he often gets called “ma’am” on the phone and in the drive-though lane, Levine was moved to proclaim, “I think that not just the show but the world needs a person like you and I think you’re the most important person that’s ever been on this show.” What? Kota does add a nice growl here and there, but her voice isn’t particularly distinctive and, considering the talent we’re sure to experience over the next two hours, I don’t see her having a huge impact this season.

It was a fitting coupling and a poignant moment as Adam and Jordan met at the stage, but the pair has to make sure not to get wrapped up in similarities. Keith sings “I’ll Be There for You” (the Bon Jovi hit, not the Friends opening theme, though that would have been a zany turn of events, wouldn’t it?). Shelton joked about Nicole’s first name sounding like “nausea” and confirmed that he had no idea who Monae was, yet by telling Nicole she looked and sounded “like a star” and could “make a difference and have an impact,” Shelton unexpectedly won the singer over.

Braiden Sunshine: Hoping to follow in the footsteps of last season’s teenage winner, Sawyer Fredericks, this sunny 15-year-old singer accompanied himself on guitar as he sang “The Mountains Win Again.” Things looked pretty grim until the very last minute, when Williams and Stefani suddenly spun. While Keith’s trying to choose between the two, Blake helpfully weighs in: If it were his call, “I could spend the season in rehearsal room with Gwen,” he raises his eyebrows suggestively, “or with Adam,” he frowns, to demonstrate that, with Adam, Keith would probably have to see his coach as a human equal. Stefani took a different tack, begging the young singer not to look at Williams and saying that, as someone who started in the business as a teen and was now the mother of three boys, she knew “how to fight for someone that I really care about and find out who you really want to be.” Shelton noted that the whole thing felt like a custody battle. Following Sunshine, Michael Woolery, the son of long-time game-show host Chuck Woolery, sang “Say” byJohn Mayer, and the coaches were not impressed enough to turn their chairs.

Sunshine picked Stefani, later explaining that there was something about her that made him feel “more at home.” Barrett Baber: Last but not least, this 35-year-old country-singing dad from Fayetteville, Ark., who, back when he was in college, had saved people in a commercial air crash, turned every chair with “Angel Eyes.” If you didn’t know Baber was going to choose Shelton before, you sure did after the country coach invited him to “call in the hogs,” which I guess is an Arkansas Razorbacks thing. He sang “Angel Eyes,” and all four coaches turned almost immediately. “I’m trying to pioneer a new sound,” Baber told the coaches, expressing an interest in combining country and soul and carving out his own place in music. When Carson asks Siahna what got her into soul, she tells him, “When I was in the third grade [like six months ago], I heard Ray Charles, and that’s when I decided to sing soul music.” Now, hold that quotation in your mind, and imagine Marcel the Shell saying it, and you will have an exact representation of Siahna Im.

Still, Levine apparently held out hope. “I will destroy for you, I am on fire for you, I want you on my team so badly,” the Maroon 5 singer begged. Gwen, Pharrell, and Blake love her, too, and they all turn for her after hearing her go to town on Peggy Lee’s “Fever.” (Girl, you should not be singing about sex things, you are like still in the womb.) After much pleading and cajoling, Siahna joins Team Pharrell. Let’s do it,” Baber said. “I pick Blake.” Shelton was impressed. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anybody walk across the stage with the swagger that Barrett had,” he said.

Turned away after turning no chairs were San Diego nursing student Alyssa Sheridan, who dedicated her performance to her stepdad, a Marine killed in Afghanistan; a 66-year-old retired electrician who goes by Dr. I am 100 percent behind that — more Voice singers should aspire to be funky and weird and progressive and trend setting — but “Tightrope” is not the best audition song. Nadjah was obviously nervous, and barely moved an inch, but she helped herself by rearranging certain phrases to show off more range, including a high note that made Adam whip his head around. Braiden tells us that, like Sawyer Fredericks, he’s also from a small town (Lyme, CT), and last season’s winner inspired him to try out for the show.

Pharrell, in his first untruthful-sounding moment of the night, tells Braiden, “There will never be a voice like yours.” It seems as though Sawyer’s former coach has Braiden’s full attention, but the kid pulls a fast one and joins Team Gwen.

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