The Voice Recap: Blind Auditions Part 1 (Season 4 Premiere)

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NBC’s blockbuster show, The Voice, is back for a fourth season, but this time with two new faces on the judging panel: Latin-pop sensation Shakira (AKA She-Wolf) and R&B superstar Usher (AKA The Original “Belieber”). While I secretly miss Christina Aguilera’s bitchiness and Cee Lo Green’s ear for the weird yet talented, Usher and Shakira are fitting right in with the popular singing show. Usher is eloquent and effervescently charming; just don’t ask him to differentiate a state from a city. Shakira, meanwhile, is palpably passionate for the contestants and knows how to fire back at her male cohorts without resorting to snark. Sometimes her responses and general feedback do sound a bit rehearsed, so I hope in future episodes she’ll trust in her instincts more instead of awkwardly responding in a calculated, Miss Universe-esque manner. Still, I cannot complain with either of the two since their chemistry with perennial coaches Blake Shelton and Adam Levine is as spontaneously perfect as could be. Speaking of the fan favorite judges, Adam and Blake are a lot more selective this season and are are taking their time before pressing their buttons. As much as I enjoy newcomers Shakira and Usher, hats off to Adam and Blake who still know how to play the game better than anyone. With that said, let’s turn to last night’s contestants and review…

The first audition of the season came courtesy of twin sisters Rhian and Cara Morgan, known by their stage name The Morgan Twins. Their pre-audition video package dripped with cloying sweetness, and I was positive they’d be blaring sirens in my ears. Despite a lazy song choice (Alicia Keys’ “Fallin”), the twins were surprisingly in tune and harmonized as one gargantuan sound of vocal excellence. Their tone wasn’t very distinctive nor dynamic, but there’s no doubt their voices were tailor-made for R&B/pop. The Morgan Twins passed the test and joined Team Blake, though I think their vocal flavor sits more comfortably in the loving arms of Team Usher.

Performance Review: (***)

Next to show the coaches what she had to offer was a soul singer with pop influences, the potentially fantastic Jess Kellner. I stress “potentially” because you can tell the girl’s silky, lilting tone has a lot more to offer than the shaky demonstration we saw. Jess has an endearing shyness that will probably attract a lot of fans her way, and her song choice of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was refreshingly disarming. Stronger diction and rangier notes would have elevated this wonky performance, I feel. I just worry that Jess’ voice is naturally too low and soft for primetime, but I guess she’ll have to cross that bridge with Usher when she gets there. For now, though, I remain intrigued.

Performance Review: (***)

Werewolf lookalike Mark Andrews was next to sing, and while he came with a heartbreaking story of recently losing two of his close band mates, it didn’t deter him from performing a respectable version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” Mark’s voice is rich and easy to soak in, but he needs more confidence. There were times during the performance where you could see the fear in his eyes, and even his strut on stage seemed nerve-stricken. I fear Mark will got lost among the more colorful contestants, so I hope Shakira sticks by her word and does all she can do for this team member of hers that caught her immediate attention.

Performance Review: (***)

Unicorns and rainbows magically appeared during 16-year old Danielle Bradbery’s performance of “Mean.” I kid, I kid, but the adorable factor this young country artist has going for her will send her further in the show than her underdeveloped voice probably deserves. Despite the coaches’ decries of a superstar in their presence, I definitely detected issues with pitch and lyrical connectivity. I think because Danielle was so nervous — as this was her first time performing in front of a large audience — she prioritized vocal gymnastics over all else. Still, a spot on Team Blake seems most appropriate, and I’m almost scared to see how great Danielle will be the next time we see her perform. She could be the dark horse of Season 4.

Performance Review: (***)

R&B singer Vedo had an incredibly difficult back story to stomach. His mother is currently in the final stages of her terminal cancer, and seeing her at the auditions to support her son was enough to make anyone reach for the Kleenex box. This makes it even harder for me to properly do my job and give an honest opinion, but that’s the task at hand so here I go. While not completely terrible, Vedo struggled to stay on key, and his version of “Boyfriend” lacked the energetic bounce that made the original such a chart-topping smash. His voice has a straight-forward quality that’s easy to manage for a coach, in this case Usher, but finding the eccentricities could prove challenging. I’m not sure Vedo will last long, but his effort last night was respectable even if not entirely satisfactory.

Performance Review: (**½)

Every once in awhile on The Voice, some kooky personality will appear and completely rock your world despite not having a thing in common with you, musically. This is what happened with folk/pop artist Christian Porter. I’ve since learned that his seemingly unique arrangement of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” isn’t so original after all (singer Noah Guthrie came up with that sensuous version), but I couldn’t care less. Christian knows that he has a warble in his voice that can be coated over any song and make it that much better, ergo sexier. I love when musicians know who they are artistically. There’s a zen quality to your musicianship when you’ve reached total understanding of your talent, and Christian has achieved that. Every lyric in his performance was delivered with style, charisma, and just the right amount of raunchiness to get a fair share of women to faint in their seats. Christian’s voice is distinctive and exciting to the ears. I cannot wait to see his next showstopper. The one thing I will suggest is that he not get so wide-eyed and self-conscious after performing. An artist must always remain professional as long as the cameras are on them or else the fans will renege on their investment. I sure hope Blake won’t be blinded by the country gals on his team and ignore the talented Christian Porter.

Performance Review: (***½)

The penultimate performer of the evening was alto vocalist, Kris Thomas. I’m always impressed when a man can cover Whitney Houston and do her proud, but Kris’ onstage energy wasn’t on the same level as his vocal chops. It was almost like he didn’t know how good he was until the coaches told him so. I’m not sure if it’s nerves or cockiness, but Kris’ aura is borderline depressing. I also thought he got too carried away with his falsetto range, and his mid-range notes contrasted sharply in quality as a result. Shakira was attracted to Kris’ high register, but the rest of the men on the judging panel all refused to turn their chairs around. I’ll side with the guys on this one, since Kris’ tone isn’t as “friendly” to the ears as some of the others we’ve heard so far.

Performance Review: (**½)

Like they do in so many season premieres, The Voice once again saved the best for last. This honor was bestowed upon vocal gladiator Judith Hill. Hill was previously selected as one of Michael Jackson’s backup vocalists on his “This is It” tour right before his untimely death. After singing Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants” better than the pop diva herself, it’s abundantly clear why the King of Pop was so keen on Judith. Hill is half African-American and half Japanese, making her somewhat of a rarity in the music world, especially as a female artist. I honestly pray America — and the world, like Usher mentioned — sticks by Judith because her dynamic range and emotionally unlimited timbre are the marks of a singing legend. I know a program like The Voice has yet to follow through on its promise to find America’s next success story, but even I’m hopeful of Judith’s chances. I’d be shocked if she’s not one of the last four standing. If she leaves before the live rounds, I bet a third of America would quit watching The Voice altogether. This is how confident I am in Judith Hill’s talent and longevity in this competition. By the way, so is her coach Adam Levine.

Performance Review: (****)

Here’s how I rank the teams so far:

1. Team Adam (Judith Hill)
2. Team Blake (The Morgan Twins, Danielle Bradbery, and Christian Porter)
3. Team Shakira (Mark Andrew & Kris Thomas)
4. Team Usher (Jess Kellner & Vedo)

Now I turn it to you, Voice fans. Who were your favorites? Is Judith Hill’s frontrunner status too good to be true? Do you like the additions of Shakira and Usher on the judging panel? And of course, do you even miss Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera? Sound off in the comments section!