“The Voice” shifted into real time — for night one of the Season 9 live playoffs — on Monday. The first live show of the season is always exciting, if perhaps a bit jarring. We finally get to hear what the contestants sound like when they are unfiltered by time and editing as well as what the coaches sound like when they speak off the cuff — their vocal stumbles, unfinished thoughts, too-long sentences and dud jokes hanging out there for all to see.
Also, thank goodness, we don’t have to keep looking at coaches Blake Shelton, Pharrell Williams, Gwen Stefani and Adam Levine in the same outfits night after night after night, as we do during blinds, battles and knockouts. From here on in, we’ll get to ogle their new looks every single night.
Gone is the angular multilevel hairdo Stefani sported during previous rounds, replaced by a look reminiscent of Brigitte Bardot back in the day. Also a thing of the past is Levine’s foray into baldness, replaced by … hair. (He shaved off the beard he’d grown for knockouts, too, so now it looks as if his facial hair simply packed up and moved to the top of his head.)
Other things sparking an extra thrill on this season’s first live show:
- The coach bring-back (or whatever they’re calling it): Each coach gets to bring back one previously eliminated contestant, for a Live Playoff team of six instead of five. Who knows why they made the change, but it’s gratifying to see worthy singers given another chance.
- Blake and Gwen flirting: Now that we know for sure that Shelton and Stefani are more than just fellow coaches, we get to watch for signs of luurve (or at least chemistry) between them. We definitely got it Monday — with Shelton unabashedly rooting on Stefani’s contestants at the expense of Levine’s and Stefani giggling and beaming as her boyfriend offered his support from the other side of red chair row. Where does that leave Stefani’s old “boo,” Williams? Or Shelton’s bro, Levine? This new relationship definitely shakes up the coach dynamics, which after eight seasons, may not be a bad thing.
And then there was the singing. Teams Gwen and Adam took the stage on Monday. Tuesday it will be Teams Blake and Pharrell’s turn. On Wednesday, we’ll learn the results.
Here’s what went down:
Blaine Mitchell (Team Adam): Mitchell showed off his confident front-man stage moves and easy rock-star charm with INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart,” as his new wife looked on proudly. Levine said all his good attributes were “coming together and congealing at the right moment.”
Regina Love (Team Gwen): Love brought her resonant soulful style to Adele’s “Hello,” showing she could tackle new songs as well as old-school hits. Stefani said it was gratifying to see Love succeed “against all odds,” meaning, one may infer, that she’s much older than the average “Voice” contestant. She also paid tribute to Love’s gospel roots. “You channel,” she said, noting that the singer had prayed before going on. “It’s so beautiful, and it’s so real.”
Keith Semple (Team Adam): During rehearsals, Levine reassured Semple that Mr. Big’s “To Be With You” was the right song choice for the occasion, but I don’t think it was. As Shelton pointed out, the song featured a lot of parts where Semple was silent while the background singers carry the melody. Still, Shelton told Semple he’d “filled in those gaps” well because he was “such a good ad-libber.” And Levine seemed satisfied, telling Semple he’d showed people who he was and what he wanted to accomplish.
Shelby Brown (Team Adam): This 17-year-old powerhouse country singer with pop crossover aspirations sent Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” soaring, as she seems to do with every song she takes on. Shelton, who still believes he is her rightful coach, admired the “break” in Brown’s voice, telling her, “It’s like if Trisha Yearwood’s voice and Carrie Underwood’s voice could have a voice together, that’s what it would sound like.”
Korin Bukowski (Team Gwen): Stefani seems to be trying to reinvent this appealingly quirky indie artist as a beautiful swan — making her ditch her hipster specs, trim her super-long hair, don a flowing evening gown and tackle an equally flowing song, Sarah McLachlan’s “Adia.” Levine said the song had allowed us to discover a degree of “strength” in her voice we may not have realized was there. Stefani said Bukowski was “just growing right before our eyes and blossoming into this beautiful person.” Not sure what that’s saying about what she was before.
Ellie Lawrence (Team Gwen): “You need to be what your hair looks like, because that’s who you are,” Stefani told the blue-haired indie she chose to summon back to the competition. Lawrence really did kick off her heels, dig in and showcase her let-it-all-hang-out charm on Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s” (not to mention afterward, when she told Shelton his compliment might make her pee in her pants — TMI!). “You picked a great time to have your best performance,” Levine told her. “It finally feels like you found something that you do that’s your thing.”
Jeffery Austin (Team Gwen): Austin is emerging as one of the best all-around performers in the competition, singing and emoting like a major pro — which is especially remarkable given that he was slaving away in PR and not really pursuing a singing career before auditioning for the show. “You could really win this whole thing,” Levine said, after hearing Austin sing Jessie Ware’s “Say You Love Me.” “I think you’ve got it all.”
Braiden Sunshine (Team Gwen): Stefani gave another makeover to cute teen Sunshine, and she also gave him a song that maybe wasn’t the best choice: Bread’s “Everything I Own.” Levine noted that the song didn’t really let Sunshine realize his full potential, but he also shared that his wife, Victoria’s Secret model Behati Prinsloo, adored the sweet-faced 15-year-old “probably a little too much for my own comfort.” So there was that.
Amy Vachal (Team Adam): Ethereally gentle singer Vachal applied her soothing vocal stylings to the classic “The Way You Look Tonight,” looking gorgeous as ever herself. She still seemed someone stiff onstage, and I found the performance a bit lounge-y, but that didn’t bother the coaches. “Amy, I don’t know what the chances are, but please do a Christmas album someday,” Shelton begged. “You have the perfect voice for that crooner type of thing.” No argument there.
Viktor Kiraly (Team Gwen): With all of Hungary apparently rooting him on, Kiraly worked with his new coach, Stefani, to stir some soul into Lisa Stansfield’s “All Around the World.” Levine, Kiraly’s old coach, generously declared that Kiraly had “arrived” since landing on Team Gwen and that he was “super proud and happy.” But Shelton couldn’t leave it there, saying he was going to “go way out on a limb here and say Team Gwen overall is whipping the crap out of Team Adam tonight.” Now, Blake ...
Chance Pena (Team Adam): Levine brought Pena back into the competition because he was talented and “wonderful” and young — only 15. He coached him to “simplify” his vocal style, saying it had “too many sprinkles and frostings.” Alas, Pena’s rendition of the Civil Wars’ “Barton Hollow” still came off as overblown and dynamically lacking. “One thing that nobody can take away from you,” Shelton, on whose team Pena had spent time, told him, “you dump 150% of yourself into your performance.” Levine noted that, wherever he ended up going from here, he’d already learned a lot.
Jordan Smith (Team Adam): The remarkably high-voiced Smith gave his own impressive twist to Beyonce’s “Halo,” with which he apparently almost brought Levine to tears during rehearsal. His performance on the show brought all the coaches to their feet and elicited some serious hyperbole. “God has signed your voice. It’s signed. Period,” Williams sputtered. Stefani agreed, “All I can think of is God as well when he sings.” And Levine said Smith wasn’t a singer, but rather “a figure” that “everybody draws energy from,” in a way that was “unlike anything that I’ve ever experienced in my life.” A little over the top, but whatever. It’s live. I guess they got a little carried away in the moment.
Tuesday night, we hear from Teams Blake and Pharrell. Can’t wait!