We”re here at the end of the blind auditions for “The Voice”, ladies and gentleman. Tomorrow night”s one-hour slot will be a recap of the entire audition process, so expect a 60-minute mega-mix of “The Cupid Shuffle”. In the meantime, all four teams have fourteen members, leaving eight remaining slots in total.
Still, after tonight we”ll get Battle Rounds, which will feature a twist in which each coach can steal two contestants from other teams should they be eliminated in that round. Ostensibly, this should produce some chess-like strategy between the coaches. But I”m not sure we”ll get even “Connect Four” levels of gamesmanship between the four of them. But who knows? Maybe Christina Aguilera, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, and CeeLo Green worship at the altar of Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov when not offering up sacrifices to the musical muses to produce a hit single. We”ll just have to see. For now? We need eight more contestants. Eight more sob stories. And eight more chances for me to rewrite those stories should I see fit. Let”s do this.
8:00 p.m. “Three weeks ago, the world”s most exciting singing competition returned!” says Carson Daly. Is that right?
8:00 p.m. Wow. Just checked my calendar. I guess so. Hey, it could be worse. Peter Jackson could be producing the blind auditions.
8:01 p.m. I”m remembering the quality of the performances being shown here in this introductory montage, but I”ll be darned if I can name five of the performers off the top of my head. Remembering fifty-six individual contestants is simply impossible, especially with a quarter or more being selected through montages. These Battle Rounds will hopefully change this. Unless we get “Battle Round Montages”.
8:02 p.m. First up, we meet 15-year old Nathalie Hernandez. Hernandez”s experience boils down to local competitions, with a stage mom by her side that helped Nathalie miss key moments like school dances and her brother”s graduation. I can”t tell if I want her to get picked so she can get some real musical nurturing, or if I want her to fail so she can actually experience life.
8:04 p.m. Hernandez chooses Taylor Swift”s “White Horse”, and it”s a great choice as Shelton and Aguilera frantically try to press their button first. She does tremendously well in the more fragile portions of the vocals, but isn”t nearly as strong when she needs to ascend to a point of power. Still, it looks like she”ll have time to work on that with the coach of her choice.
8:06 p.m. Aguilera and Levine are thrilled to learn that Hernandez isn”t a country artist, feeling they now have a chance. Shelton praises her ability to actually tell a story with her performance. Aguilera follows that point up, calling her a “storyteller” as well as a promising artist.
8:08 p.m. With three choices before her, Nathalie Hernandez becomes the fifteenth member of Team Christina. The men seem devastated, with Shelton saying, “That”s it! You have pissed me off for the last time!” to Aguilera. I would slot her at about the midpoint of Aguilera”s team, talent-wise, but that”s obviously after only a small sampling. Let”s see if what the coaches heard translates more obviously onscreen as the competition continues.
8:11 p.m. Next up, we are introduced to Rod Michael, a former member of the European boy band B3. “He comes alive on stage,” says his mother, who has come along for the ride. Everything about his look screams “mega douche”, but his post-boy band comedown certainly seems to have humbled him plenty. “Pick me, pick me, pick me please!” he says to the monitor backstage broadcasting the judges. Man, that sounds like me trying to get a prom date back in the day.
8:14 p.m. Michael selects Michael Posner”s “Please Don”t Go” to impress the judges. It”s a perfectly solid vocal, but the song doesn”t really allow for much vocal pyrotechnics. A falsetto note in the middle nearly makes Levine press his button, but in the end, no one turns around for him.
8:16 p.m. “The structure of the song doesn”t allow for a big, grand moment,” says Green. (Hey, that”s what I said! It”s almost like I was correct for once. I”m gonna savor this. Won”t happen too often this Fall.) Many of the judges say they wish they could have seen the performance, thereby invalidating the entire concept of a show called “The Voice”. Oh well. Maybe they are watching tonight on NBC, like the rest of us.
8:21 p.m. Forget about Caitlin Michele, our next contestant. Who is her friend with the handlebar moustache? That dude is awesome! Michele”s hair is also awesome, as it looks like an American flag draped over her head. She suffers from panic attacks, and turns to music rather than drugs to combat her fears. Know what I”m afraid of? That we”ll never learn whom Ol” Timey Strongman next to her is! (I assume that”s her brother, but the mystery is just too delicious.)
8:22 p.m. Of COURSE she”s singing a Florence + The Machine song. I mean, look at her!
8:22 p.m. The song is in question is “Cosmic Love”, and maybe it”s my Boston bias coming into play, but she sounds great from note one. It”s not pitch perfect, but it”s got emotion to spare. (Give me proper emotion over the right note any day.) Shelton is the first one to press his button, which I wouldn”t have predicted. Levine presses his near the end, which is less surprising.
8:25 p.m. “Oh my gosh, but that was powerful!” gushes Shelton. “There were some pitch things…and that would usually hold me back for good,” say Levine. “But the power with which you finished your performance was epic.” Shelton was impressed with her note control, especially her lack of vibrato. In what might be the most interesting coach dynamic to date, Green and Aguilera try to give pros and cons for the two coaches that pressed their buttons, with Aguilera selling Levine as the better coach for Michele over Shelton”s “normal” approach. Wow. As scripted as their interactions have been, that felt improvised, and Shelton certainly seemed surprise. Aguilera”s Fan waved frantically in approval throughout the whole exchange.
8:27 p.m. After hearing the coaches weigh in, Caitlin Michele becomes the fifteenth member of Team Adam. “Sorry, but I”m the furthest thing from normal,” she apologizes to Shelton. (Blake is going to steal her later on. Just you wait.)
8:32 p.m. Moving on, we meet 18-year old Nicole Johnson. She and her mother made forty trips in one year to Nashville before their family moved there full time. (Do we have a count on Nashville-based contestants this Fall? It seems like a non-small percentage.)
8:34 p.m. Johnson hits the stage and performs a country-fied version of Kelly Clarkson”s “Mr. Know It All”. Green is all over it, pressing his button early on. He”s quickly followed by Shelton. Johnson has stage presence to spare, and seems to charm the pants off both coaches throughout the duration of her performance. But not literally. (With Green, you never know. Dude wore pajamas during one audition.)
8:36 p.m. “Was that a country song? Because all I heard was a perfect vocal!” (CeeLo Green: not a Kelly Clarkson fan, apparently.) Both Green and Shelton praise her technique, with Shelton further stating, “I am 200% believer in you, and I would be honored to be your country music coach!”
8:37 p.m. But does she actually want a country music coach? Apparently so, as Nicole Johnson becomes the fifteenth member of Team Blake. On that team, I bet she”ll go far.
8:42 p.m. A middle-school French teacher, Kameron Corvet, is our next performer. Man, I want Kameron Corvet to sing Prince”s “Raspberry Beret”. I”m a sucker for rhymes. He”s worried that if he fails tonight, he”ll never hear the end of it at school.
8:43 p.m. (Side note: There”s a refreshing lack of histrionics in the backstories tonight, with the bare minimum time given to set up the contestants. That”s not a complaint. That”s complete and honest praise. “The Voice” should use tonight as a template for future audition episodes in future cycles.)
8:44 p.m. With guitar in hand, Corvet launches into Seal”s “Crazy”. The coaches seem to be into this jittery arrangement, but all seem to be waiting for Corvet”s vocal performance in the chorus before deciding if they want to turn around. Alas, the chorus doesn”t do much for them, and no coach presses a button. I can”t get mad about that, but it does seem a little curious, if not outright “crazy”.
8:45 p.m. Aguilera feels the performance never actually “went anywhere”, noting that consistency actually worked against him in this particular instance. Green seems to insinuate that had Corvet auditioned earlier in the process, he might have had a better shot. I don”t know how “The Voice” chooses the order in which its contestants perform, but it does seem to heavily favor those in the middle third of the overall scheme of things. It”s like the story of Goldilocks: early porridge is easily passed over, and late porridge is endlessly picked over. But middle porridge? That”s the sweet spot. I swear to God this metaphor made sense in my head when I started typing it. (In plain English: If a coach has twelve slots instead of two, he or she might be more willing to go for someone who delivered a performance like this. Guess there”s no getting around this, given the nature of the competition.)
8:51 p.m. Back-up singer Chevonne is up next. Recently, she performed on Lady Gaga”s last tour. “It was larger than life!” she notes, mistaking Lady Gaga for The Backstreet Boys, I guess. “I want to tell stories and be fearless like her,” Chevonne tells the camera.
8:52 p.m. Hitting the stage in an outfit that is half “mall girl”, half “Game Of Thrones,” Chevonne launches into The Pretenders” “Brass In Pocket”. I did not expect that song choice at all. But it”s a welcome surprise. “That”s right up your alley, CeeLo!” shouts Shelton. Daly also implores Green from backstage, while simultaneously looking like he just ate a bad taco. It”s Daly”s finest performance to date.
8:53 p.m. “I”m special!” shouts Chevonne near the end of her performance, although she looks less than special with four chairs still facing away. But on the last note, Shelton and Green both press their buttons for her.
8:54 p.m. “Tell me some of your stories!” asks Green, who may or may not be asking Chevonne to fill him in on the soap operas he”s been missing while conducting auditions. “You know, I”ve had pretty good luck with back-up singers!” notes Shelton, trying to sell himself over Green. Green asks about the source of the pain in her voice, at which point Chevonne reveals a history of eating disorders. Green promotes his ability to help her mine music to further overcome grief, whereas Shelton promises to help her step out in front of the stage as an artist with something to say. It”s taken a while for these sales pitches to move beyond the bland and/or esoteric, but it”s a welcome change.
8:57 p.m. After those two pleas, I”m honestly not sure where she”ll go. Reality show editing logic says it”s Green, because he hasn”t landed a contestant yet. And wouldn”t you know it, Chevonne becomes the fifteenth member of Team CeeLo. One to go for each coach now.
9:02 p.m. 17-year old Kayla Nevarez is up next. Her father, recently diagnosed with liver disease, could not join the rest of the family backstage. “He used to be so strong…but now he”s the weakest person in the world.” With her father sick, and her mother becoming the sole provider, the seven-person family moved into a two-bedroom apartment where she sleeps on the coach. Nevarez doesn”t play the “woe is me” card, though, noting that she understands many have it much worse than her. Subtlety in a sad backstory? Who knew?
9:03 p.m. Estelle”s “American Boy”? Another surprising song choice tonight, and Nevarez owns it from the first note. Levine turns around first, with Aguilera and Green following soon after. That might have been one of my favorite auditions to date. Nothing too showy, just a fun song confidently performed and executed with enough personality thrown in to make it more than just a carbon copy of the original. It will most certainly NOT hurt her chances from this moment on that she looks like a ready-made pop star. Her voice made the coaches turn around, but she”s got the total package ready to go.
9:06 p.m. Aguilera doesn”t mince words. “You have a smooth quality, an effortless quality. I feel like you can do anything with that voice. I have to have you on my team!” “That sounded very seasoned for a young lady!” Green notes. “Who did you listen to growing up?” “Christina Aguilera!” she replies, at which point Green says, “I give up.” “I just want to refresh you on the facts,” says Levine, pointing out that he turned around first AND once coached a winner on the show. “Without a doubt in my mind, I know you”re the one for [the last spot on my team].” I half-expect these judges to start throwing money at her in order to secure her on their team.
9:08 p.m. “I love you so much,” she tells Aguilera. “Don”t do it to me!” Christina pleas. But it”s no use, as Kayla Nevarez becomes the sixteenth and final member of Team Adam. Huge get for him. That”s a star right there.
9:09 p.m. TEAM ADAM MONTAGE! Nice to have a quick visual reminder of the team as a whole, even if we only hear half of them actually perform. “Every single person on my team can win,” says Levine. Well, that”s a stretch. But what else is he gonna say?
9:14 p.m. A third-generation singer, 16-year old Celica Westbrooke, is up next. She once had a record deal, and was on the verge of touring with Justin Bieber. Well, she dodged a bullet there.
9:15 p.m. Westbrooke chooses Christina Perri”s ballad “A Thousand Years” for her audition song. And a good choice it is, as Aguilera turns around within moments. Green and Shelton also turn around, making it a partially unanimous choice. (I just made that phrase up. I”m not proud.) This feels like Aguilera”s contestant to lose.
9:17 p.m. “Me and Christina have some soft spots in common,” says Green, once again creating imagery I wish I could unsee in my brain. “You need to be on radio like, now!” praises Aguilera. Shelton tries to connect with her Southern roots, while Christina tries to offer a world outside of what she knows to broaden her musical horizons. Furthermore, Shelton notes that while certain contestants her age had years to go to mature as an artist, she only has days.
9:20 p.m. After all that, Celica Westbrooke becomes the sixteenth and final member of Team Christina. Not a shock. “She just became the enemy,” says Shelton, trying on his Evil Supervillain guise on for size. It…does not fit him.
9:22 p.m. TEAM CHRISTINA MONTAGE! “In this season, pop came on very strong,” says Aguilera, summing up her choices over the past few weeks.
9:26 p.m. The last UNSUCCESSFUL CONTESTANT MONTAGE! I will not miss you. At all.
9:28 p.m. Let”s meet Jessica Cayne, whose biggest fear is insecurity stemming from past bullying and body issues. So, naturally, “The Voice” displays photos of times Cayne would rather forget. It”s not callous, but it”s slightly tacky all the same. We understand the story without seeing the evidence.
9:30 p.m. No insecurity on display as Cayne unleashes Carrie Underwood”s “Good Girl” upon the audience. But while the intensity is there, the vocal doesn”t quite match, nor is the emotion truly there. And while Shelton almost presses his button, it”s a no go for the two remaining coaches.
9:32 p.m. The judges all respect the performance, with praise for her performance of a song Shelton describes as even at the top of Underwood”s considerable range. But what makes this post-mortem so great is Cayne”s reaction to every bit of positive feedback. It”s like her birthday each and every time someone says something nice to her. After sharing her story with the judges, she thanks Aguilera in particular for helping her through hard times through Christina”s music and earns a hug from the coach in return. That was a lovely little few minutes there, a pause before the final two are picked and the competition starts properly.
9:36 p.m. So. Many. Commercials.
9:38 p.m. 46-year old Rudy Parris is up next, a Kiss-inspired musician who settled down with his wife and child instead of pursuing a life on the road. Now 22, her daughter is there to help jumpstart the career he postponed in order to raise her.
9:40 p.m. I want this guy”s hair. I want any hair, actually. I”m not picky at this point. “This is the biggest audition in twenty-eight years of music,” he says before hitting the tage.
9:41 p.m. Aguilera can sense country in the air as Rudy walks out. It”s like “The Sixth Voice Sense”, I suppose. Parris plays a country-tinged version of The Police”s “Every Breath You Take”, and his voice fills the auditorium with room to spare. Man, if Green sees Parris, I”m afraid what he”ll do to claim Rudy for himself. And sure enough, when Green turns around, he lets out a primal, “Yeah!” It”s ON, people.
9:42 p.m. “Damn, you look cool! I want your hair!” (SHUT UP, CEELO, I CALLED DIBS.) “You damn sure don”t look like country, but it”s in there,” says Shelton. Green points out that the type of fusion Parris just performed is right up CeeLo”s alley.
9:44 p.m. When all is said and done, because his roots are in country music, Rudy Parris becomes the sixteenth and final member of Team Blake. No shock there.
9:46 p.m. TEAM BLAKE MONTAGE! Given how often he goes after country artists, he does have a fairly diverse group of singers on his team.
9:51 p.m. After the final commercial break, it”s a TEAM CEELO MONTAGE! I guess “The Voice” couldn”t wait for Green to pick his final member. There are some serious lows on this team, talent-wise, but also some heavy hitters than will cause some noise before all is said and done.
9:52 p.m. Our final contestant in the blind auditions (Lord, it”s beautiful to type those words) is rodeo performer Cody Belew. “I do believe that in a past life, I was an elderly black woman.” Alllllrighty then. Belew is a CeeLo Green acolyte, hoping for his hero to press that button.
9:55 p.m. To impress Green, Belew sings The Black Crowes” arrangement of Otis Redding”s “Hard To Handle”. Belew is great in the low registers, but slightly weaker in the high ones. Green presses his button at the last second, which Belew misses while turning upstage to hide his disappointment. Defeat turns to elation (and a ton of bleeped-out swearing) in an instant. “You curse more than I do,” says Levine. He tells Green he likes to entertain the crowd with a little “bam bam”. These guys are PERFECT for each other. I have no idea if Belew will actually go anywhere in this competition, but he”ll be entertaining while he”s around. In any case, Cody Belew becomes the sixteenth and final member of Team CeeLo.
9:58 p.m. The Battle Rounds are previewed, with our first look at “advisors” Michael Bublé (Team Blake), Billie Joe Armstrong (Team Christina), Mary J. Blige (Team Adam), and Rob Thomas (Team CeeLo) and glimpses of how those steals will work.
10:00 p.m. And that”s a wrap on the Blind Auditions. Let”s do this again in 2013. Preferably in a more truncated, streamlined fashion. But still!
Final updated team rosters, ranked in order of strongest to weakest…
Team Adam: Bryan Keith, Joe Kirkland, Samuel Mouton, Loren Allred, Nicole Nelson, Melanie Martinez,Brian Scartocci, Alessandra Guercio, Adanna Duru, Collin McLoughlin, Benji, Michelle Brooks-Thompson, Sam James, Brandon Mahone, Caitlin Michele, Kayla Nevarez
Team Christina: De”Borah, Devyn Deloera, Adriana Louise, Aquile, Nelly”s Echo, Lisa Scinta, MarissaAnn, Beat Frequency, Paulina, Joselyn Rivera, Dez Duron, Laura Vivas, Jordan Pruitt, Sylvia Yacoub,Nathalie Hernandez, Celica Westbrooke
Team Blake: Terry McDermott, Gracia Harrison, Eric Musicman, Julio Caesar Castillo, 2Steel Girls, Liz Davis, Kelly Crapa, Suzanna Choffel, Michaela Paige, Ryan Jirovec, Lelia Broussard, Terisa Griffin, Charlie Rey, Cassadee Pope,Nicole Johnson, Rudy Parris
Team CeeLo: Daniel Rosa, Trevin Hunte, MacKenzie Bourg, Domo, JR Aquino,Nicholas David, Avery Wilson, Todd Kessler, Ben Taub, Emily Earle, Mycle Wastman, Diego Val, Alexis Marceaux, Amanda Brown, Chevonne, Cody Belew
Even though I rank CeeLo”s team last overall, I think he”s got a handful of team members that could win the whole thing. (He also has Domo, who might actually try and fight someone during the Battle Rounds.) Nevarez was the pick of the night, boosting Levine”s already first-place team even higher overall heading into the Battle Rounds.
And now individual grades…
They Stood Out: Kayla Nevarez, Nicole Johnson
They Scraped By: Cody Belew
They Got Robbed: I can”t really argue with anyone rejected tonight.
What advice would you give the show concerning the next iteration of the Blind Auditions? Which team looks strongest heading into the Battle Rounds? Are you excited about this year”s twist? Sound off below!