‘The Voice’ Brings A Twist (And The Return Of Frenchie Davis) To Singing Competitons

NBC’s The Voice kicked off last night with a two-hour premiere that set out to prove the show is not like that other longstanding reality TV singing competition we’ve all been thinking it’s a knockoff of. And it succeeded for the most part. The bits that did give off an Idol-esque vibe: Carson Daly’s Seacrest-esque voice-overs and — wait for it — the small-screen return of Frenchie Davis! Read on. As we learned from last week’s sneak preview of The Voice, judges Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton are actually branded here as coaches. Their goal is to each select a team of eight artists from a pool of talent pre-selected by the series’ producers to audition. In the current round, the so-called blind auditions, the four coaches have their backs to each hopeful so that they can base their decision to choose or pass up a singer based solely on their voice. Ah, now we’re starting to get it!

If a coach likes what they hear, he or she hits a big buzzer in front of them and their chair (which looks like a giant red clam shell) swivels around. This brings us to the real competition —  between the stars of the show; if more than one judge hits their buzzer during an audition, they must each vie for the wannabe crooner to pick their team.

So far the first episode demonstrated just how competitive Adam and Blake are with both each other and the other coaches (though Adam was the slowest one to build his team). Meanwhile, that unspoken bond between Cee Lo and Xtina that we first picked up on during their performance of “Crazy” became more apparent last night with their on-camera exchanges. Aguilera also asserted herself as the source of charming comic relief by predicting what Cee Lo would be saying to hopefuls here and ribbing Adam for his to-the-point pleas (“I want to win this fucker!”) to those auditioning there. The only two who didn’t seem to interact much were Blake and Christina.

Anyway — sigh — I guess we’ll just come out and say it: we’re hooked.

When all was said and done, this is who each coach wound up with on their teams so far:

CHRISTINA AGUILERA

* Thirty-one-year-old Tarralyn Ramsey from Jacksonville, Florida states, “I would not be here if I didn’t feel like it was my last chance — I ain’t gettin’ no younger!” before belting out Faith Hill’s “Breathe.” Xtina and Cee Lo both turn their chairs around, but Tarralyn ultimately chooses the “Genie In A Bottle” songstress as her coach. * Disqualified American Idol Season 2 contestant (nude photos — they’ll always come back to bite you, folks) Frenchie Davis, also 31. Xtina is the only coach to turn around while Frenchie sings Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl,” but Cee Lo appears to be the only one who recognizes her. (“Frenchie, where do we know each other from?” he asks Davis, who is shocked that Green knows who she is.) * Beverly McClellan, 41, from Fort Lauderdale. This head-shaved, chin-pierced, combat boot-wearing rocker chick nails Janis Joplin’s “Piece Of My Heart” and goes with Xtina over Adam. In a funny moment afterwards, Beverly points out the red lipstick mark on her cheek backstage and says to her girlfriend, “Christina kissed me! That’s okay, isn’t it?”

CEE LO GREEN

* Vicci Martinez, 26, from Tacoma, Washington. This soulful singer explains that she came out to her religious parents at age 16, and that her dad passed away five years ago. Her rendition of Adele’s “Rolling In The Deep” impresses Cee Lo and Xtina, but Vicci goes with Green. * Twenty-year-old Kelsey Ray from Florida is a pretty young thing who’s racked up a lot of YouTube views with her music videos. Her take on Estelle’s “American Boy” hooks Adam, Xtina and Cee Lo. She chooses the latter, and says how happy she is to be judged on her voice rather than her beauty. Of course, dear. * Tje Austin, 27, from (no kidding) Austin, Texas is a self-proclaimed goofy guy who loves to read science fiction and play video games. He wins the award for having the biggest Afro of the night (and probably even the week, as far as the rest of NBC’s programming is concerned), hands down. His rich vocals get Adam and Cee Lo’s attention, while Christina admits she’s mad she didn’t turn around for him once she sees him.

ADAM LEVINE

* Jeff Jenkins, 22, from Jones Creek, Texas. Jeff, whose mom has passed away, leans toward country but clearly has multi-genre appeal. Xtina says, “You’re voice triggered my instinct like that!” Adam wins this one on his team. * Atlanta native Rebecca Loebe, 27 is actually homeless and living in her 1992 Toyota Camry station wagon. She completely reinterprets Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” as a slowed-down, alt-ethereal number that gets Adam and Christina to turn around. Rebecca praises Aguilera but chooses Levine’s team because she says his career has followed a trajectory similar to her own. * Javier Colon, 33, is a family man from Connecticut with a wife, two young daughters and a hell of a voice. All four coaches spin around while he puts his heart and soul into singing Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Javier is the third and final hopeful of the night to land on Adam’s team.

BLAKE SHELTON

* We saw country-crooning Nashville native Patrick Thomas, 20, in the preview of The Voice last week. He’s the first to fall under the guidance of Shelton. * Elonowen is a duo made up of married couple Josh and Nicole Johnson from Nashville. The pair’s cutesy-ness borders on annoying (just sayin’), so we’re keeping an arched eyebrow trained on them. At any rate, the folky pair harmonize impressively on Oscar-winning Once ballad “Falling Slowly.” They go with Blake over Cee Lo, and their dreams of getting out of Nicole’s parents’ basement (where they live) is one step closer to becoming a reality. * Shelton’s final team member is shy 16-year-old Xenia Martinez from Temecula, California. Her rich voice is well suited for The Script’s “Break Even,” and it causes Blake and Cee Lo to duke it out over her.

Who didn’t make it: Alas, none of the four coaches turned around for bald rocker Jarred Blake, 24-year-old fox Sonia Rao (though Cee Lo is pained at his initial apathy toward her once he sees how beautiful she is) or 56-year-old New Jersey mom Janne Rizzo.

Next week: It’s more of the blind auditions, as Adam, Xtina, Blake and Cee Lo continue to build their arsenals of eight singers a piece ahead of them having to then ultimately cut their teams in half.

Let us know what you thought of the very first episode of The Voice! Was it what you expected, or were you pleasantly surprised?