‘The Voice’ Season 7 Premiere Is Hella Good, Thanks To Gwen Stefani And Pharrell Williams: Recap
If there was any question as to who NBC views as the main selling point of The Voice Season 7, it was answered within about 2.5 seconds of the season premiere. No medleys, covers or country hybrids were so much as hinted to, as Gwen Stefani led backup performers/fellow coaches Pharrell Williams, Adam Levine and Blake Shelton in a performance of No Doubt‘s hit “Hella Good.” The split-screen performance was hella meh, and the highlight was the look on Pharrell’s face that screamed, “I would have never let this country singer near this song when I was producing.”
And so begins this season of the ratings juggernaut, complete with self-congratulatory Emmy mentions, new alliances and a whole lot of Starbucks product placement. Joining perennials Adam Levine and Blake Shelton are new coaches Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams. As their coaching styles emerge, it begs the question of which voids they might fill. Will it be laid back Usher? Poetic Shakira? Brutal (but fierce) Christina Aguilera? Exotic-pet-toting-and-kind-of-cool-before-all-this-controversy Cee Lo?
Or something new altogether?
The coach personalities and alliances begin to take shape as the Blind Auditions begin.
Luke Wade, 31 – Texas
It’s not a lead-off contestant on The Voice without a bit of a traumatic backstory! Not only are Luke Wade’s parents total hippies who used to dress him up as a sequined bunny as a child, but he also had a gun accident when he was 13 that left him blind in one eye. But seriously: sequined bunny?
Luke sings The Youngbloods‘ “That’s How Strong My Love Is.” He’s got a soulful raspy voice, which earns him spins from all four coaches.
“You’re going to win, and it’s going to be on my team,” says Adam, promising the first (but not last) contestant of the night a surefire victory.
“I’ve been in a band since I was 17 years-old,” Gwen says, giving highlights from her resumé. “The experience I have, I can really project it into you.”
“I know a thing or two about blue eyed soul,” Pharrell tells Luke. “You can ask Justin. You can ask Robin.” Ahhhh – so Pharrell’s coaching style is name-dropper.
“I know a thing or two about winning this show,” says Blake. “You can ask Jermaine. You can ask Cassadee. You can ask Danielle.” Blake, on the other hand, could use some name-dropping coaching.
Luke chooses Pharrell, the more eloquent of the two name-droppers. Score one for the fresh meat.
Clara Hong, 22 – Georgia
Up next is Clara Hong, a transplant from South Korea who learned English by listening to American music. Clara sings Rickie Lee Jones’ classic “Chuck E’s in Love,” and her sweet tone earns spins from Pharrell, Adam and Gwen.
“That tone is like silk,” says Pharrell.
“I have years and years of experience, and I think I can help you,” says Gwen. She then takes the stage to prove it. Never has a weaker example of getting an audience to hollaback been demonstrated on national television, but on the plus side, the exercise revealed Gwen’s Pilgrim socks.
Adam takes the time to write Clara a (terrible) poem. “I’ve been in this chair for three solid years/ I know what it takes, so please have no fear.” Stay in school, kids. Moved by his poetry, or turned away by the Pilgrim socks, Clara chooses Adam.
Bryana Salaz, 16 – Texas
Of course the 16-year-old sings Ariana Grande. Of. Course. Bryana Salaz belts out “Problem,” and it’s okay as far as Ariana Grande covers by 16-year-olds go. The song is a challenging one, but it’s surprising when Adam, Blake and Gwen all turn around.
“You’re already so much better at singing than Blake is,” says Adam, who then goes on about how much more experience coaching he has than the new coaches.
“Ok,ay but I think I have the longest career,” retorts Gwen. “It’s obvious I’m going to relate to you more than any of these three guys because I’m a girl,” she adds. Pharrell forms a temporary alliance, and pipes in to support his “boo” Gwen.
“Your willingness to take chances is awesome,” says Blake. “To take nervous energy and turn it into a power moment means everything.”
Bryana picks Gwen, who, we find, has prepared Team Gwen t-shirts. Thanks, L.A.M.B.!
Damien, 35 – Louisiana
Damien (no last name needed) is a TSA agent who was working at LAX when a gunman opened fire last year, killing one of his co-workers. He took this as an eye-opener, and decided there is no time like the present to follow his dreams. Damien sings G.C. Cameron’s “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday,” and earns spins from Pharrell, Gwen and Adam right off the bat. Blake spins in at the last minute, giving Damien the elusive four-chair spin.
It then gets awkward, because Damien sobs on stage in a big way. So many tears are involved. Gwen gives him a hug…but, again, it’s a lot of tears for the Blind Auditions.
“When someone tells you no, it doesn’t mean that you stop,” says Pharrell. “Today should be four confirmations of yes.”
“You touched us,” says Gwen.
“When we fall in love with something, especially me, I fight as hard as I possibly can for that person,” says Adam. “In the way that we said yes to you, I’m asking for a yes from you.”
Damien gives Adam that yes, and joins the returning champ’s team.
Allison Bray, 18 – Kentucky
Ladies and gentlemen: we have our first returner! Country singer Allison Bray is back on The Voice after a rejection in Season 6…and, oh, how The Voice loves a good comeback story! Allison sings Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go ‘Round,” and earns spins from Blake, Gwen and, eventually, Adam.
“Your voice is a breath of fresh air,” says Blake. “This is the most excited I’ve been sitting in this chair in a long time.” Interestingly, Pharrell then joins the Blake bandwagon, endorsing his second boo of the evening.
“One of the first people I wrote with outside of No Doubt was Pharrell,” says Gwen, taking another walk down “Remember How Great I Am?” Lane. “People who you don’t think you would go with, sometimes that makes magic.”
Magic is cool and all, but a bleach-blond country girl is hard pressed to pick anyone other than Blake. Better luck next time, Gwen.
Taylor John Williams, 23 – Oregon
Next up is the most Portland-y Portland individual that has graced the television screen ever. Three-named Taylor John Williams works at a dog-hotel-slash- human-bar, where he takes time from pet care to entertain both humans and canines with his music. To confirm: TJW not actually a character on Portlandia: he is real life. Taylor sings an acoustic guitar version of Kanye West’s “Heartless,” and earns turns from both Adam and Gwen.
“That was so rad,” says Gwen. “I need to work with someone like you in a greedy kind of way because I need to write a record, and I feel like if I’m around someone like you, it’s going to push me.”
“Every single note you hit was perfect,” says Adam. “I’m going to cry like a baby if you don’t choose me.” Pharrell gives Adam a quasi-endorsement here, now having planted seeds for all three alliances.
Pharrell’s endorsement is to no avail this round. Get ready to cry some tears, Adam, because TJW joins Team Gwen.
Elyjuh René, 18 – California
While it’s typically irresponsible to endorse matching mother-son outfits, Elyjuh René and his mother pull of the subtle black and white leopard ensembles so well that they may have just created the trend of the season. #Parentcore? In any case, Elyjuh takes the stage sans matching-mom to sing Beyonce’s “XO.” The song is challenging, and it’s arguably the weakest performance to earn chair spins.
There are hints of vocal chops during his runs, but the turns from both Adam and Pharrell are surprising.
“The first word that came to my mind when I heard your voice was ‘anointed,’” says Pharrell, taking a page from Shakira’s big-word playbook. “You are one of the most amazing vocalists that I’ve seen in a long time.”
“I have won, and I would like to win again,” says Adam. “You, my friend, can definitely do that.” For those keeping track, that’s the second championship promise of the evening.
Knowing such talk is cheap, Elyjuh joins Team Pharrell.
James David Carter, 34 – Georgia
Closing out the evening is James David Carter, a former aspiring football player who chose the much more secure music profession after a football injury. James sings a country-fied version of Babyface’s “Nobody Knows,” and gets yet another four-chair spin. If his voice was not charming enough, he then thanks Gwen for teaching him how to spell “bananas.” It’s pretty heroic.
“You were totally in key. You had so much finesse. As a coach, this is what you dream for,” says Pharrell. “You are the total package.”
“I have nobody on my team like you,” says Gwen. “What’s going to happen on Blake’s team is that he’s going to have all the country artists, they’re going to battle, and he’s going to wipe out people left and right.” Pretty wise assessment, newbie.
“That may be the best country audition that I have ever heard,” says Blake. James then reveals that he once opened for Blake, so it’s a done deal.
“I hate losing, and I just know you can win this thing no problem,” Adam says to yet another contestant. “I guarantee victory if you choose me.”
The guaranteed-win promise fails – yet again – for Adam, as James joins Team Blake. Though the chemistry – or thinly veiled hatred – of past seasons’ coaches has yet to emerge night one, there is some promise. Gwen has already flexed her girl power muscle, and Pharrell appears to be playing all sides to keep friends in his corner.
Blake and Adam’s bromance is still going strong, though their burns seem a little phoned-in in these early stages.
All bets are off once the first real power struggle emerges…which could be as early as tonight. Night two of performances, witty banter and Starbucks continue tonight with more Blind Auditions!
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