7:07pm PT by Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya
'The Voice' Season 12 Kicks Off With Gwen Stefani
Season 12 of The Voice premiered on NBC tonight. Season 11 coaches Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Alicia Keys returned, with season nine coach Gwen Stefani replacing Miley Cyrus. Given Shelton and Stefani’s relationship outside of the show, the coaching dynamics are already a little different this season.
The first artist to audition for season 12 goes by the stage name JChosen and has been trying to kick-start his music career in Atlanta while working during the day as a special-education teacher. JChosen sang “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye, and Levine turned instantly. He was soon followed by Keys. Shelton and Stefani followed not long after, and the first Blind Audition of the season locked in a four-chair turn. Perhaps channeling the former coach Pharrell, Levine rushed the stage after JChosen’s performance. Levine was pumped up about JChosen, but the other coaches made passionate pitches, too. “You even have the Marvin growl,” Levine said. Keys said Gaye was clapping in heaven and praised JChosen’s vulnerability, and Stefani said he has true artistry. Shelton played the “winningest coach” card. JChosen chose Stefani, giving the returning coach an early victory.
Lauren Duski, who recently moved to Nashville, was up next, singing a slowed-down version of “You Were Meant For Me” by Jewel. Levine turned first, followed by Shelton and Stefani. It was a gorgeous rendition of the song, and Duski seemed like a seasoned performer. “There’s not a lot of singers that use every part of their voice,” Stefani said, impressed with how much Duski was able to showcase during the short audition. “You’re somebody who clearly can win this thing,” Shelton said. Though Duski said she doesn’t want to be confined to any one genre, she does lean country, so she chose Team Blake.
Johnny Hayes, who auditioned during season 11 but didn’t turn any chairs, returned for a second chance tonight. With support from his father and wife, he hasn’t given up his dreams of singing professionally. He sang “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding, saying that it reflects who he is. Levine and Stefani turned right away, and Hayes found himself in a much different position than last season. “I love her, but I must destroy her,” Levine said of Stefani, trying to undercut the other coach vying for Hayes’ attention. Shelton advocated for Gwen, saying that she has a comeback narrative just like Hayes does. Hayes became the first member of Team Adam.
Skyler Harris is a full-time police officer, but music is a huge part of her life. When she was in an abusive relationship, she stopped singing. Getting out of that relationship led her back to her love for music. For her Blind Audition, she sang “One and Only” by Adele. Unfortunately, she was just a little flat, and the coaches did not turn for her. Stefani and Keys urged her to return next season.
Sixteen-year-old Anatalia Villaranda, who loves to sing karaoke with her family, sang next. She got close to getting a record deal with her singing and dance group when she was younger, but the group broke up before it could happen. She sang “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars and brought a lot of energy and grit to the performance. She got the second four-chair turn of the night. “This is more than just a voice, this is an artist unafraid to express herself,” Keys said. Villaranda joined Team Alicia.
Stephanie Rice, the daughter of a Baptist preacher, has been estranged from her family ever since she came out as gay. She came to The Voice with her fiancee and sang “Piece by Piece” by Kelly Clarkson. Shelton turned first, but he was followed by an enthusiastic Stefani, who rushed the stage and immediately threw Shelton under the bus. Keys took Stefani’s side. Rice joined Team Gwen, which was definitely the right choice for the folk-rock-soul music she wants to make.
Branden Martin came to The Voice hoping to get a turn from Shelton. He sang “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)” and played guitar. He has a classic country voice, but no one turned for him. Keys said in a talking head that she’s looking for a country artist but that this wasn’t the one.
Next up was Mark Isaiah, who won a Justin Bieber contest as a young boy, and came to The Voice with a little more experience under his belt. He sang “Mercy” by Shawn Mendes and got Levine and Stefani to turn. Stefani touted her long career in her pitch, but Isaiah ultimately went with Team Adam.
Brennley Brown is only 14 years old, but she was able to audition this season because the age requirements were lowered from 15 to 14. She sang “Stupid Boy” by Keith Urban, and Shelton and Keys turned at the last second. Shelton seemed like the obvious choice, but Keys could definitely handle a country artist on her team. “I love you both so much!” Brown exclaimed. But she took the predictable route and joined Team Blake.
Up next, Shaun Chrisjohn, who temporarily set aside his musical pursuits to take care of his grandma, sang “You Are the Best Thing.” It was a solid performance, but he unfortunately didn’t turn any chairs. Keys urged him to be proud of himself.
Registered nurse Felicia Temple was the last person to audition tonight. Last year, she was diagnosed with cancer, which almost ended her singing career. But she’s back and ready to start a new chapter of her life. “Life is short, and I want to live my dream,” she said. She sang “All I Could Do Was Cry” by Etta James. Shelton, Stefani, and Keys all turned, so she didn’t quite get the four-chair turn, but it was an impressive performance. Felicia said that one of her nicknames used to be “Felicia Keys” because she always did Alicia Keys songs at talent shows. Levine wanted an Alicia Keys/Felicia Keys duet, so the two women sang “Fallin’.” Unsurprisingly, Temple joined Team Alicia.
That brought an end to the first night of the Blind Auditions. They continue with more artists tomorrow night on NBC.