'The Voice': Season 8 Begins With Cutthroat Battle for Artists

Christina Aguilera returns to the chair after sitting out for two seasons.
Courtesy of NBC
Adam Levine and Pharrell Williams

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the music,” Pharrell Williams says as The Voice returns for its eighth season. The premiere kicks things off with a performance of “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz from the season’s coaches: Pharrell, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, and founding coach Christina Aguilera, returning from a two-season break.

The first singer up in the blind auditions is Sarah Potenza. She sings “Stay With Me,” and gets a four-chair turn, with Levine pressing his button first, followed by Pharrell, Shelton, and Aguilera. Potenza rocks hard with a huge voice, and the judges pitch hard to get her on their side. Ultimately, she goes with Shelton, who fights the least to get her. Potenza clearly knew what she wanted before she even stepped on stage.

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Next, 19-year-old Lowell Oakley takes the stage with Duke Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Anymore,” but first he offers three pieces of advice for being a convincing crooner: dress the part, convince the audience that you can glide around the stage, and never lose your composure. Oakley certainly accomplishes all three, showing off a low, crooning voice that’s hard to believe comes from just a 19-year-old. Levine turns his chair almost immediately, and only Pharrell joins. After both give it their all, Oakley picks Pharrell. Levine looks disappointed, but if Oakley is trying to establish a blend of R&B and old-school jazz, Pharrell seems like the perfect choice to help shape that sound.

Rob Taylor, 22, doesn’t get a four-chair turn with his performance of “I Want You” by Luke James, but Pharrell makes sure to tell him he deserved one. Aguilera turns almost immediately, and Pharrell and Levine join once he hits the high note. “He’s Team Christina all the way,” Aguilera says after the performance, and Taylor agrees, picking her as his coach.

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The news is not as good for Ivonne Acero, whose performance of “Try” by Colbie Callait doesn’t turn any chairs. All of the judges encourage her to work on her craft, figure out who she is an artist, and return to sing for them once she has a clearer idea of her voice. It’s a rejection, but it’s a touching moment and a reminder of just how discerning these coaches are when formulating their teams.

So about halfway through, Pharrell, Shelton, and Aguilera all have their first artists. Is it finally Levine’s turn?

Unfortunately for Levine, first-generation college student Cody Wickline goes into his performance of “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones expecting to pick either Pharrell or Shelton. Sold from the first note, Levine turns his chair in the first two seconds, with the other three coaches only turning near the end of the performance. “Truly brilliant voices transcend all genres,” Levine says, calling it one of the best country music performances he has heard on the show. Shelton shows off his knowledge of the country music genre, and Levine’s impassioned pitch isn’t enough to overcome Shelton’s expertise. That’s two artists for last season's champion Shelton and still none for Levine.

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The daughter of two deaf parents, 16-year-old Treeva Gibson doesn’t give a perfect performance of “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey. It’s pitchy at times, and she has a few problems with breath control, but Shelton and Aguilera both see potential in her. She picks Team Christina, signing the decision for her parents.

For the next contestant, host Carson Daly asks us to play along with the coaches and judge him on his voice and voice alone. The camera doesn’t show Mason Henderson’s face as he sings “Riptide” by Vance Joy. Would you have turned your chair? The coaches don’t, with Shelton and Levine both telling Henderson he needs to reign it in a little more and focus more on vocal control.

Meghan Linsey comes to The Voice hoping to get a second shot at making it big in the music industry. After a few years of success with the band she formed with her boyfriend—the two opened on Brad Paisley’s tour as well as for Voice coach Shelton—a breakup put her career with the band on hold. Despite having sung with her before, Shelton doesn’t turn his chair, but the rest of the coaches are ready to give her the shot at a solo career she seeks. She picks Pharrell, who compares her to Janis Joplin after her performance of “Love Hurts” by Nazareth.

Shelton and Levine are still hot on each others’ heels, both turning around almost instantly for Joshua Davis’ performance of “I Shall Be Released” by Bob Dylan. His soft, folk sound is richly textured, and Levine gives yet another convincing speech as to why Davis should pick him despite being outside of his own genre. But yet again, Levine gets shot down, and Davis picks Shelton.

Bryce Sherlow doesn’t turn any chairs, but when she tells Pharrell she sang “Happy” at a high-school a cappella competition, he hops on stage for an impromptu duet with her. Unfortunately, she shows a lot more confidence here than in her audition.

That just leaves 15-year-old Sawyer Fredericks as Levine’s last shot to land an artist on day one. He gets a four-chair turn, with Levine, Aguilera, and Pharrell hitting the button after his first lilting line of “I’m A Man Of Constant Sorrow.” In a bit of a surprise move, Fredericks goes with Pharrell, meaning Levine closes out the night without any team members. Hopefully he’ll have better luck when the Blind Auditions continue tomorrow night.

While Levine ends with empty hands, Shelton scores three singers from three different genres. Pharrell also walks away with three, while Aguilera has two potential pop stars in her pocket.

Do you think all the artists made the right coach choices tonight?

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