One of the great joys of "The Voice" blind auditions is the we-know-something-they-don't-know thrill of seeing the auditioning singers when the coaches cannot.
It's such fun to watch the pretty people in the big red chairs strain to pick up aural cues and struggle to piece together just what the artist behind them might look like.
Is the aspiring artist wearing cowboy boots? Did he or she trip on his way out (as they concluded one contender did on Tuesday)? Is the contestant old or young, male or female, playing an instrument or not?
These details, so clear to us, are, at least temporarily, a mystery to the poor sensorially deprived celebrity musicians. For once, we humble folk at home have something on the stars. We may not have big mansions and record contracts, but at least we can see plain as day that the person onstage is an attractive young woman wearing cowboy boots and playing guitar.
Another great joy of watching "The Voice": Seeing how far the coaches will go to snag a singer for their team, especially when other coaches really want that singer. Christina Aguilera broke new ground on that front in part two of the Season 10 premiere Tuesday, kissing a singer whose eye she wanted to catch — boot-wearing Nashville cutie Kata Hay (whose hilarious father needs his own TV show) — and promising there was more where that full-on lip lock came from.
Aguilera's bold move — after Hay's spirited rendition of "Redneck Woman" had impressed her as well as Adam Levine and Pharell Williams — worked in her favor; she got the girl. (I'm sure there's a "What a Girl Wants" reference to be made here.) But the moment did not please Hay's girlfriend, who had been certain that Hay would pick Levine as her coach. It certainly pleased Williams, who felt he was living a "dream."
Nicely played, Christina.
So, who, apart from Hay, made it through on Tuesday? Well, now that you ask:
Joe Vivona, 27, from Verona, N.J., whose family runs, he says, "the world's largest traveling amusement park." His emotionally resonant take on John Mayer's "Dreaming With a Broken Heart" turned Levine, Williams and Blake Shelton. Levine complimented Vivona on his "very different" tone and ability to tell the song's story. Williams promised to help him conquer his nerves. Shelton said that he'd "moved" everyone with his music and "electrified" the room. Ultimately, Vivona went with his 95-year-old grandpa's favorite: Williams.
Fifteen-year-old Shalyah Fearing, who lives with her "big family" — she has three sisters and four brothers — in Hudson, Fla., and is the lead singer and keyboard player in her family's band. Aguilera was the only one who turned for Fearing's take on "What Is Love," and she was delighted to scoop up the talented teen so easily. " 'The Voice' gods are shining down on my chair today," Aguilera said. "I didn't even have to fight for that one."
New Hampshire native Adam Wakefield, 33, who has been pursuing a career in Nashville after losing his brother, with whom he had started a band, to a drug overdose. Wakefield's take on George Jones' "Tennessee Whiskey" turned first Levine and then Shelton; both coaches welcomed Wakefield to the show with a standing ovation. Levine tried to appeal to Wakefield to branch out and explore, telling him he heard not only country, but also southern rock and blues in his voice. "Why does country … get to have its own club?" Levine griped. Shelton defended country music's exclusivity. "It's up to us as country artists to protect who's in that club," he said. "Otherwise, it gets too far away from what the heart and soul is of country music." Wakefield clearly wanted to be in Shelton's country music club. "I pick Blake," he said, as we knew he would.
Caroline Burns, an elfin, classic-rock-singing 15-year-old Season 9 returnee. Levine turned early and Shelton late for Burns' version of Carole King's "So Far Away." Levine told her he remembered her from the previous season, marveled at the way she had grown "leaps and bounds" in the intervening months and called her a "special one." Shelton agreed that Burns was "extra special" and complimented her on her grip on pitch and "composure." "A 15-year-old that can sing like that can easily win 'The Voice,' " Shelton said, adding that he knew because he'd helped it happen before. "It's hard not to get excited about the future of music when it includes people like you," Shelton said, laying it on perhaps a bit thick. Shelton's hard sell didn't work, though. Burns picked Levine, whom even Shelton admitted might have been a better coach for her.
Emily Keener, a 16-year-old from "middle-of-nowhere" Wakeman, Ohio, who showed off her unusual tone and turned all four chairs and brought all the coaches to their feet with Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." Shelton, who had been the first to spin his chair, told Keener her voice was "like nothing I've ever heard before," "just a completely new sound." Levine said he'd been "drawn magnetically" to Keener's "pure" vocals. Williams called Keener's voice "breathtaking" and complimented her on using "the entire tapestry of [her] vocal cords" and her "super-fresh, effervescent approach to singing." Aguilera also went all in, telling Keener her voice was "so beautifully controlled and true and honest" and her talent derived "from pure passion." "I think you are the voice that can speak to a new generation," she said with bar-raising hyperbole. Shelton promised success, pointed to his track record and declared himself a "super-fan." But Keener only had eyes for Williams, who said, after she had chosen him as her coach, that she was "different" and that he knew "how to nurture different."
Laith Al-Saadi, 38, a balding, bearded gigging musician from Ann Arbor, Mich., who has opened for B.B. King (twice) and Gregg Allman but is looking to move up to "the next level." (Speaking of different) Al-Saadi's rendition of "The Letter," on which he shredded the guitar, sparked a battle between Shelton and Levine. And Al-Saadi's subsequent guitar solo, at Williams' request, upped the ante. "There are singers who play guitar and there are guitar players who sing, and I've always considered myself to be a guitar player who sings," Levine told Al-Saadi, adding that it made "the most sense" for Al-Saadi to join his team. Al-Saadi apparently agreed, saying Levine had appealed to his inner "rocker."
Angie Keilhauer, an El Salvador-born, Georgia-raised cruise-ship singer, who turned all three male coaches with her take on Dierks Bentley's "I Hold On." Williams complimented Keilhauer's "control." Levine admired the "raw break" in her voice. Shelton marveled at her "very undisciplined," "wild," "loose cannon"-like performance style and said it was "about damn time" that "a girl" took "that approach in country music." Naturally, Kielhauer chose him as her coach.
Finally, after a blind-audition montage in which three contestants — Lacy Mandigo, Jonathan Bach and Katherine Ho — found their way onto Aguilera's, Williams' and Levine's teams, respectively, Hay had her big moment with Aguilera. But not before she also embraced Levine and Williams and shared a special memory with Shelton.
They had sung together, when she was 3, at the Oklahoma Opry. At the time, Hay recalled, Shelton "had a mullet."
Levine loved that, of course, and Aguilera apparently relished her "make-out" session with Hay and the dividends it had reaped. The female coach called her new team member a "firecracker" — "spunky" and "sassy" and promised to propel her to "new heights."
Earlier, Aguilera had observed that this season's talent was "crazy" and "quirky," which about sums it up. More next week.