'What just happened?' 'No one saw that coming!': A shocking decision on 'The Voice'

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·10 min read

When 20-year-old Cameroonian chanteuse Libianca auditioned for The Voice Monday, it seemed a given that she’d end up on Team Ariana. She infused her cover of SZA’s “Good Days” with Afrobeat inflections, and while the result was very vibey, the challenging song was already unfamiliar to coaches Kelly Clarkson and John Legend, so they didn’t turn around for her. Surprisingly, Blake Shelton did turn, but suffice to say, he isn’t exactly a major SZA fan. Meanwhile, new Season 21 coach Ariana Grande knew exactly what this intriguing song stylist was going for.

“I’m obsessed with you. I respect you so much for picking a SZA song, because she writes in a way that is so unique to her,” Ariana gushed to Libianca. “It’s like a huge undertaking to sing a SZA song, and you did such a beautiful job with making it your own. I was so excited. … I’m freaking out! I really hope you pick me. You’re so good. You’re so beautiful. I’m obsessed. You sound divine. You look amazing.” Ariana continued to babble for a few more sentences, before Blake finally got his chance to speak. 

“I am obviously the coach for you,” Blake interjected — to which Libianca bluntly, amusingly, and understandably asked, “Why?” 

Good question, Libianca! But Blake had a surprisingly good answer.

“What impressed me most about your performance, living down there in your lower register for as long as you did, it would be one thing to kind of touch on it here and there — but you were wallowing in it. You had so much control and there was so much volume. That’s what really shocked me about your voice,” said Blake. “Yeah, I’m the ‘country guy,’ but you know what? I’ve won this show with all different kinds of artists, and the coach/artist relationship is about whatever I can do that can help you be the best at whatever you want to be. That’s my job. I’d be honored to be your coach.”

It was a strong sales pitch, no doubt, but most viewers would have still assumed that it was an exercise in futility. But then… Libianca picked Blake, the “country guy”! This is why he has won eight times over the past 20 seasons. Ariana was absolutely stunned and crestfallen, banging her ponytailed head on her red desk. “I poured my heart out to her! I don’t understand! I can’t talk about it yet,” Ariana lamented, as Blake gloated, “I think Ariana knows for sure now who she’s dealing with.”

Ariana Grande reacts to contestant Libianca's decision on 'The Voice.' (Photo: NBC)
Ariana Grande reacts to contestant Libianca's decision on 'The Voice.' (Photo: NBC)

No one saw that coming,” gasped Kelly. “What just happened?” exclaimed host Carson Daly. Libianca offered some clarity after her audition, telling Carson that God had given her some sort of sign. “Blake said, ‘My job as a coach is to help you be the best at what it is that you want to do.’ I have a feeling that Blake is going to be the one to really just help me do my thing,” she explained, saying this was divine intervention.

“God came down with tablets and said, ‘Pick Blake!’” John joked. Hopefully Libianca’s prayers will continue to be answered in Season 21, because choosing Blake over Ariana was a seemingly riskier move than choosing to do a SZA song.

These were the other successful Blind Auditions of Monday night:

Ryleigh Plank, 20: “Anyone”

Ryleigh, who has struggled with depression since her tweens and was bullied as a kid, dug deep for this Demi Lovato song, and while Ariana noticed she was sharp in a few places and John pointed out “a few execution issues,” Ryleigh more than made up for any technical shortcomings with her pure passion. When her voice cracked and eyes misted up during the “I feel stupid when I sing” line, that was a moment. Plus, she seemed like such a rock star. “You look rad as hell. It’s such a cool vibe,” said Kelly.

Who turned?: Kelly and Ariana. Blake claimed he didn’t turn because he knew had no chance, and in this case he was right. Ryleigh is a proud Clarkson/Grande fangirl who told those two coaches, “You guys have helped me get to where I am.”

Result: Team Ariana, much to Kelly’s disappointment this time.

Jershika Maple, 24: “Can You Stand the Rain”

This background singer for former Voice finalist Rose Short struggled a bit with her lower register in the beginning, but she sounded sublime once she really got going. “You were ready for this moment. … You hit those immensely challenging high notes,” raved John. Kelly loved Jershika’s radiance and presence, and said it would just come down to a matter of her choosing the right songs.

Who turned?: Kelly and John.

Result: Team Kelly. Jershika’s pal Rose was on Team Gwen, so I see why she went with the resident pop queen on the panel.

Manny Keith, 31: “Break My Heart”

Manny is “the biggest Ariana Grande fan ever” (although there are many Voice contestants this season who’d beg to differ), and Ariana liked his voice, which she compared to JC Chasez’s. But I can see why she did not turn for him. He had a warm, sweet tone that John described as “welcoming,” but this Dua Lipa bop didn’t allow for any standout, showboat moments.

Who turned?: Just Blake. That surprised me — and I think it surprised Manny too!

Result: Team Blake... although Ariana hugged Manny and said, “Hopefully I’ll have the chance to steal you at some point!”

KJ Jennings, 21: “Put Your Records On”

This Berklee School of Music jazz student and second-generation musician had a “cool” and “very floaty” voice, according to Blake, even though he also heard some fluttery nerves. John called KJ “charming” and said, “I feel like you’re an adventurous singer and you’re bringing that jazz sensibility to pop music.”

Who turned?: John and Blake.

Result: Team Legend. Of course KJ had to go with her fellow jazzbo.

Sabrina Dias: “Garota de Ipanema”

We only got a montage snippet of this groovy bossa nova performance, but John, who obviously was in the room for the whole thing, was impressed. “I love that song. It’s such a classic. … And what I loved about your version is you introduced some edge to it.”

Who turned?: Just John.

Result: Team Legend by default, but that seems like the right fit for Sabrina anyway.

Xavier Cornell, 17: “Teenage Dream”

This was another montage, but I appreciated Xavier’s vulnerable, beyond-his-years ballad version of Katy Perry’s teen anthem — as did Kelly.

Who turned?: Just Kelly, who raved, “I’m so stoked that I don’t have to fight for you. I think that you’re going to be a dark horse in this competition, in the sense that I don’t think everybody knows how gifted you are. I don’t even think you know.”

Result: Team Kelly.

Sophia Bromberg, 16: “Heather”

Childhood self-esteem issues led this sensitive teen to battled anxiety and anorexia/bulimia, but with the help of her parents’ and the creative outlet of music, she was able to recover. She delivered a sultry and confident performance that had shades of Tate McRae, Halsey, and Lana Del Rey (“There are so many people in your throat box,” said Ariana); however, that Ariama-wannabe whistle note at the end was gimmicky, unnecessary, and borderline-unpleasant. Sophia, with her slurry, rounded indie tone and unique phrasing, didn’t even need to show off like that. John called this a “riveting performance,” and Kelly told Sophia, “You paint with your vocal cords. and I think that’s incredibly cool.”

Who turned?: John, Kelly, and Ariana. Blake said he didn’t press his button to “protect someone” similar already on his team, though he didn’t specify who. (It was probably Hailey Green.)

Result: Team Ariana, of course. Ariana said that odd whistle note “sounded like me,” but she seemed excited to help Sophia “solidify” her sound and find her own voice.

Wyatt Michael, 24: “Mack the Knife”

Wyatt used to play lead guitar in a rock band with his brother, but he decided rock was too difficult a genre for him to make professional in-roads, so he switched to… jazz crooning, which apparently he believes is a more marketable style. (Yup. Rock is indeed dead, everyone.) Wyatt had the basic chops, but I can’t imagine he will have an easier time in the business, or on The Voice specifically, singing Great American Songbook standards. Unoriginal crooners like him show up every season, but they usually aren’t versatile enough to go very far in singing competitions.

Who turned?: Kelly and Ariana. Blake, Michael Bublé’s No. 1 fanboy, didn’t turn because he didn’t hear enough personality, and jazz fan John didn’t turn because he thought Wyatt’s delivery was too “spoken-sounding.” Uh-oh. Not a good sign.

Result: Team Kelly. Ariana said she believed Wyatt was “capable of so much more,” indicating that she’d push him out of his comfort zone with left-field song choices, but he went with the coach whose game plan was to let him stick to traditional big band music.

Brittanybree, 26: “Call Out My Name”

A praise and worship leader singing outside of church for the first time, this mom of two made a spectacular secular debut with this passionate Weeknd cover, really selling the drama. “I think intention is really important, and I think every choice you made added so much emotional value,” marveled Ariana. “Sometimes we hear that voice that just grabs us, and the energy explodes from the stage,” raved John. “You’re such a great storyteller. … If your voice isn’t in the finale, something’s wrong,” Kelly attested.

Who turned?: All four coaches, although Blake didn’t turn until the last possible second.

Result: Team Legend. “I needed that!” John exclaimed victoriously.

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