'Voice' contestant with 'very unique look' makes Ariana Grande cry: 'I am choked up'

When 30-year-old autism caregiver, mother, and part-time background singer Holly Forbes tried out for The Voice Season 21 Monday, in the episode’s final slot, she declared: “This show is really special, in that it’s so focused on how you sound. That’s a big thing, because I have a very unique look and a very unique voice.”

Holly lost her hair in patches as a child — a side effect of her seizure medication — and she turned to music as a way to cope with feeling different and ostracized. Now she shaves her entire head and owns her look... and she owned the stage Monday during her bluesy, ballsy rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” Her performance was brimming with raw passion, but she truly got emotional when all four coaches turned around for her, bursting into tears and admitting, “I am a crier. I am a big crier!”

However, it was new coach Ariana Grande who really was weeping Monday, her eyes welling up when Holly hit a particularly stratospheric power-note.

“That was so incredibly moving. I am choked up, beyond,” Ariana exclaimed. “Every single second of it was so emotionally charged. I respect and admire you so much, and I would love to work with you.”

Ariana wanted to work with Holly so badly that she “maliciously held back” fellow coach John Legend (her biggest rival on the panel, as they have very similar tastes in contestants), using her one Block of the season on him. “My trigger-finger has been extra-quick today, because I know the Block is coming,” John had cheekily announced earlier, when Ariana had tried to Block him from recruiting another contestant but hadn’t hit her button quickly enough. (According to the rules, the Block must be used on a coach before he or she turns around.) For Holly, however, Ariana was excited enough to be much quicker on the draw.

Ariana Grande reacts to Holly Forbes's powerful performance on 'The Voice.' (Photo: NBC)
Ariana Grande reacts to Holly Forbes's powerful performance on 'The Voice.' (Photo: NBC)

That being said, Holly still had Kelly Clarkson and Blake Shelton, the two current coaches with the best overall track records, to choose from. And… well, we will have to wait until Tuesday’s episode to find out which team she joined, as Monday’s Blind Auditions episode ended in a rare (and annoying) cliffhanger. If Holly doesn’t join Team Ariana, Ariana might be crying again on Tuesday, and they won’t be happy tears. But regardless of which coach Holly chooses, it’s very likely that her coach will take her all the way to finals, because she’s exactly what The Voice is all about.

Holly Forbes (Photo: Tyler Golden/NBC)
Holly Forbes (Photo: Tyler Golden/NBC)

These were the other, less cliffhanging auditions of Monday night:

Raquel Trinidad, 23: “I Wish”

This hippie chick (and former top 20 contestant from American Idol Season 17) had a big, sassy personality. Kelly called her a born “entertainer.” But I don’t know if this Stevie Wonder song was the right choice for Raquel; Stevie songs always sound so wedding-band when sung by anyone other than Stevie himself. But the coaches loved her playful, girly update on an old-school sound. “Your voice is like a fresh of air. … Your voice sounds like you’re from the ‘60s, but at the same time from today,” observed Ariana. John loved Raquel’s “super-soulful runs,” and Kelly gushed, “I don’t know if I’ve ever heard someone do a run as quick as you. Your runs were so quick and crisp and clean, it was insane.”

Who turned? John, Ariana, and Kelly.

Result: Team Ariana. Kelly thickly laid on the praise, but as John noted, the Ariana influence was very evident in Raquel’s performance from the start, so this was a done deal.

The Joy Reunion, “Boondocks”

The second trio to try out this season, these middle-aged lifers are still waiting for their big break, and are hoping The Voice will finally give them the opportunity that has long eluded them. Perhaps good things do come to those who wait, because the Joy Reunion came to Season 21 very ready for prime time. They showcased easy-breezy harmonies, a natural rapport, and a CMT-worthy professional, polished stage act. True to their band name, they simply exuded joy onstage.

Who turned? John and Blake — but not Kelly, because she already has a folk trio on her team, Girl Named Tom.

Result: Team Blake, unsurprisingly. “It’s really cute that John thought he had a chance,” Blake chuckled.

Hailey Mia, 13: “You Broke Me First”

This was a very relevant, fresh, modern performance of Tate McRae's emotive indie ballad, delivered with soul and range that utterly belied Hailey’s 13 years. Yes, that’s right: thirteen! “I could tell that you were young, but I didn’t think this young,” gasped Ariana, who described Hailey's almost too-big-for-her-body voice as “phenomenal” and “spectacular,” An equally amazed Kelly said, “For you be this young and have that kind of gift?. ... I love that you have the power to belt, but you also have that control that you needed in the verse. You really can sing anything you want with that kind of power.” Blake even predicted that Hailey could be the youngest singer to ever win The Voice.

Who turned? Resident pop divas Ariana and Kelly.

Result: Team Ariana. Once again, Kelly made a compelling and aggressive pitch, but she couldn’t compete with the shiny new pop coach on the panel.

Jeremy Rosado, 29: “Here Comes Goodbye”

Jeremy was the second ex-American Idol contestant to audition Monday, and the second whose Idol past was of course not mentioned at all. Jeremy went even further than Raquel on Idol — all the way to 11th place on Season 13 — and I recall him being an early frontrunner. He later put his music career on hold when he legally adopted his biological niece seven years ago, and while his Rascal Flatts cover (which — fun fact! — was co-written by another Idol alumnus, Season 6’s Chris Sligh), wasn’t note-perfect this week, he creatively made the song his own, adding some R&B flavor to his expressive, fluttery delivery. “That’s what we do on Team Kelly, because that’s what I love to do personally,” said Kelly, who praised Jeremy’s “overwhelming talent” and stressed, “I would go for emotion over pitch, every time.”

Who turned? Kelly and Blake.

Result: Team Kelly, of course. It’s an Idol mini-reunion!

Carson Peters, 17: “Tulsa Time”

A farm boy known as “Fiddle Boy,” this prodigy was playing on The Tonight Show and with bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs at the Grand Ole Opry when he was just 7 years old. Skaggs even sent Carson a pep-talk/good-luck video message before his Voice audition. But this likable teen now wants to prove that he is more than just “Fiddle Boy,” so he showed up Monday with an acoustic guitar and put the focus on what Kelly called his “authentically country” voice.

Who turned? All four coaches, which surprised me a bit. I thought Carson has a solid voice, yes, but hardly a four-chair-worthy one.

Result: Team Blake, of course. John and Ariana pointed out that they had “open lanes” for a country artist on their respective teams, and Carson had even once expressed a desire to join Team Ariana. But he was understandably persuaded to sign up with the coach with the most country expertise. “Let’s not mess around with what this opportunity is for you. Let’s do this right,” Blake advised him.

Keilah Grace, 15: “Never Tear Us Apart”

This pint-size powerhouse intrigued me. She was sweet, but with an edge (when John compared Keilah to Olivia Newton-John, Kelly noted that Keilah was a lot “darker than that”), and she stomped the stage with attitude as she delivered this wailing, theatrical vocal. I appreciated her unique mix of operatic acrobatics and rock ‘n’ roll growl. (How do all these big voices end up in such little bodies?) “What a journey you took us on vocally. Your voice has a lot of energy. It just radiates from the stage,” raved John. Kelly called her a “little rock star.”

Who turned? Kelly, John, and Ariana.

Result: Team Legend. John was very pleasantly surprised, as was I. I thought for sure Keilah would go with former teen star/fellow actress Ariana. But I do think John will do a great job with this soulful kid.

Samara Brown, 32: “Sweet Thing”

Samara’s sister is Amanda Brown, who completed on The Voice Season 3 and nine years later still ranks as one of the greatest Voice contestants of all time. I am not sure if Samara is at Amanda’s level, but she’s definitely one of the best contestants of this season so far. Her performance of the Rufus & Chaka Khan slow-jam got off to a slow start, but then it masterfully built in intensity, finally inspiring Ariana to shout, “Oh my God!” and bow down on the floor. “You killed it,” declared John.

Who turned? John and Ariana. Ariana the newbie actually tried to block John, but she just didn’t hit her button fast enough, so this was the one that got away.

Result: Team Legend, much to Ariana’s chagrin. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise, because then Ariana still had her Block in play when Holly came around. But we will have to wait until Tuesday to find out whether or not Ariana wasted that Block. See you then.

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