When we last left The Voice, on Monday, four-chair contestant DeSz, a former member of Kanye West’s Coachella choir, was struggling to pick her coach. The top of Tuesday’s Blind Auditions episode resolved that cliffhanger (albeit not exactly a cliffhanger of “Who Shot J.R.?” or “The One With Ross's Wedding Part II" proportions), as DeSz chose… Kelly Clarkson. Hmmmm. I’d totally assumed she’d go with former Kanye protégé John Legend — and apparently so did John, who called DeSz “the one that got away” and even boldly argued that DeSz had “made the wrong choice.” But I am sure that two divas like Kelly and DeSz will get alone quite famously.
Of course, all of this got upstaged by the really big Voice news this Tuesday: the newly announced engagement of the show’s other resident diva, Gwen Stefani, and her onscreen co-star/offscreen sweetheart, Blake Shelton. The two met-cute on the Voice set in 2014 when Gwen was still with husband Gavin Rossdale and Blake was wed to fellow country star Miranda Lambert. When their respective high-profile marriages unraveled in 2015, the O.C. rocker girl and Okie country dude turned to each other for comfort, and a seemingly unlikely showmance blossomed. So, will this happy reality couple hold their wedding ceremony on The Voice, with Carson Daly officiating, Kelly and ex-coach Christina Aguliera singing “Love So Soft” for their first dance, and my all-time favorite Team Gwen alumni, Jeffery Austin and Hunter Plake, performing at the reception? My guess is no. But if so, I hope my invitation from NBC doesn’t get lost in the mail.
OK, with that out of the way, it was time for more auditions. Tuesday’s hourlong episode didn’t feature any four-chair performances like DeSz’s… but there was a single-turn contestant, “Cali girl” Larriah Jackson, with whom fellow Cali girl Gwen definitely connected. “Everybody knows I just want a daughter! Is that weird?” squealed Gwen — a mother of three boys, ages 14, 12, and 6 — giving her future fiancé a sly glance as she spun around and giddily realized that she had 15-year-old Larriah all to herself.
While I agreed with Gwen that Larriah had a “rich and warm and dreamy” voice, I can understand why the other coaches didn’t hit their buttons. There was a certain tentative-ness, a school-recital vibe, to Larriah’s “Mariah Carey version” of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There.” (Suffice to say, Larriah is no Mariah— not yet, anyway.) And the fact that the producers didn’t air her entire performance wasn’t a great sign.
But there was raw potential there. And Gwen, who has long displayed a borderline-fetishistic fondness for teen-girl pop contestants, and whose strategy so far this season has been promising to help contestants tell their personal stories, might make her the perfect coach for Larriah. (Larriah certainly has an amazing backstory, which received much more screentime than her actual performance Tuesday: After being abandoned by her dad as a toddler, she later unexpectedly reconnected with two half-sisters at one of her concerts, and then learned about seven other lost half-siblings, thus suddenly becoming part of an adoring extended family.)
“I just really love to work with somebody that’s young like that, because that’s my opportunity to share everything that I learned along the journey,” gushed Gwen, who famously told her own story in the landmark No Doubt album Tragic Kingdom, which just turned 25. (Yes, that’s right: Tragic Kingdom is a WHOLE DECADE OLDER than Larriah Jackson herself. Gulp.) “I know that this is meant to be, so I’m really excited!”
These were Tuesday’s other successful Blind Auditions:
Olivia Reyes, 19: “Falling”
This New Jersey teen displayed a real lump-in-throat cry in her voice; her Harry Styles cover felt raw and real. (Compare her performance to Larriah’s, and it’s interesting to behold what a difference four years can make.) John called her tone “crystal-clear and piercing and gorgeous.” Gwen, once again, promised to help Olivia tell her story and connect to the audience and the material.
Who turned? John and Gwen.
Result: Team Legend. I thought Gwen had a slight advantage with Olivia, because Olivia’s best friend’s dad is Season 2 Team Blake winner Jermaine Paul, and Blake was really advocating for his bride-to-be. But this time, Olivia was Gwen’s “one that got away.”
Sam Stacy, 27: “Fire and Rain”
This Nebraska troubadour and former banker did a nice job with a classic by last season’s Mega-Mentor, James Taylor, and he had a pleasant voice. But he didn’t exactly do anything new with the song. To put it simply, there wasn’t much fire to this performance. John later explained that he hadn’t turned because of Sam’s “unsteadiness.” Kelly did appreciate Sam’s intimacy and warmth, but she promised to push his range. Meanwhile, Blake argued that Sam didn’t need to bring any “razzle-dazzle” with big notes and he should just jeep doing what’s doing.
Who turned? Blake, Gwen, and Kelly — all at the last minute.
Result: Team Blake! That was a bit of a surprise. “Blake, you’re a wild card. I don’t know what your coaching style is like, but I kinda wanna figure it out, so let’s do it,” said Sam. I think Sam went with the safer choice — Kelly would have brought out more fire from Sam — but Blake has a good track record with singer-songwriter types, so maybe they’ll “figure it out,” as Sam put it.
Payton Lamar, 23: “Never Alone”
I loved the cutesy, distinctive Clare Grogan squeakiness of this Nashville songstress’s voice; she was a bit theater, but not in a bad way, and I was impressed that such a big voice was emanating from such a little body. But Payton got shouty in parts (“Your lower part of your register wasn’t your strong suit,” noted John), and she definitely needs to work on that. This is probably why only one coach turned around, and why Payton’s performance was also not shown in full.
Who turned? Just Blake.
Result: Team Blake, by default. But since Payton is the only female pop artist on Blake’s team, he might be able to give her the special attention she needs. Hopefully pop expert Gwen can pull double-duty and stop by Payton’s rehearsals on occasion.
Van Andrew, 29: “Behind Blue Eyes”
I liked indie-rock singer-songwriter’s fluttery, gossamer tone, but this Who barnstormer was not a good song choice — Van didn’t have nearly the lung power or range of prime-era Roger Daltrey. I didn’t think anyone was going to turn for him, and he probably didn’t think so either, since when he finally did get a couple chairs, he lost his composure and ended this epic rock ballad with an anti-climactic fit of giggles. That was admittedly kind of cute… but if Van makes it to the Love Playoffs, he better keep it together.
Who turned? “America’s cutest couple,” Gwen and Blake.
Result: Team Gwen, of course. Not only did it make sense for a rock contestant to sign up with a rock coach, but Blake freely admitted that he didn’t even know this Who song. That’s almost worse than him not knowing Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’” and three of the coaches not knowing Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” on Monday’s episode!
Tanner Gomes, 28: “Cowboys and Angels”
This Arizona country crooner had to grow up fast: When he was 7 years old, his mother was in a car accident and subsequently developed an addiction to opioid painkillers, and by age 10, Tanner had stepped up to be the man of the house. “I honestly think I can make it through anything after that,” he said through tears. After hearing his harrowing story, I expected a lot more passion and pain and pathos in his performance, but it was rather stoic, slow, and steady. He showcased a professional voice, but I didn’t feel any palpable connection.
Who turned? Gwen, John, and Kelly… but not Blake, the one coach that Tanner’s family was rooting for. This was probably a bad omen. Blake explained that he already had too many country singers on his team… but come on, since when has Blake had a country quota?
Result: Team Kelly. Kelly not only turned first and was the obvious choice (given her own country-adjacent career and her two previous Voice victories with country contestants), but she also raved, “Your voice sounds like everything I love about ‘80s and ‘90s country!” Gwen’s attempt to “ride Blake Shelton’s coattails” by bragging that she had “access to the greatest country star in the world” was not convincing... but maybe that sales pitch will work better in future seasons, when she officially becomes Mrs. Stefani-Shelton.
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