The blind auditions have closed for "The Voice," and coaches Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, and Pharrell Williams have filled their ninth season teams to prepare for upcoming battle rounds. I now rewind through their performances during the first round and choose my favorite two contestants from each team plus a couple of wild cards.
Who has the best chance of going all the way to the end as the champ of this season? Granted, many things can change over the next few rounds, but here is my official list of top 10 contenders thus far. Note to Gwen: get ready to hit that steal button because you need some help once again!
10. Korin Bukowski (Team Gwen)
The pre-med student from Miami was not one of the most memorable blind auditions, but she displayed a unique stage presence that most of Team Gwen is lacking. Her audition song, “Cecilia and the Satellite” (by Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness) was an odd choice, but showed a unique sense of style and decent range even though Stefani was the only one to turn her chair.
9. Andi & Alex (Team Adam)
These twin sisters from Green Bay were the duo to beat with their blind audition to Dido’s “Thank You.” Their seamless harmonies, musicality and country flare earned them a four-chair turn from the coaches, who seemed eager to work with them. This is despite the fact only one duo has ever made it to the finale (Swon Brothers in season four). With the right song choices, these sisters could go deep into the competition.
8. Darius Scott (Team Pharrell)
The R&B crooner from Atlanta showed vocal dexterity, range and agility with his blind audition by taking on the Usher classic “You Make Me Wanna.” He faltered on falsetto notes, but his stage presence and charisma strike me as someone Pharrell can help improve throughout the season. Scott also plays multiple instruments, which will allow him to switch up his performances and keep things interesting from week to week.
7. Viktor Kiraly (Team Adam)
Hailed as the “Hungarian Soul Singer,” Viktor seems to have the full package it takes to be a pop star. His soulful rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “What’s Goin’ On” earned a four-chair turn that left Blake exclaiming, “He’s white!” I’m hesitant to place him too high on my chart at this point simply because he is a little “too perfect.” He has never been what the show is about, and isn’t typically what wins. He is a good-looking and talented guy, but I’m not certain he will hold the interest of America for long.
6. Jeffery Austin (Team Gwen)
Gwen was the lone chair to turn around for this balladeer from Chicago, and I’m not completely sure why. He proved he is able to knock ballads out of the park with a difficult blind audition song, “Lay Me Down” by Sam Smith. With the right song choices, I can see him winning over viewers with show-stopping ballads that most contestants won’t be able to match vocally.
5. Amy Vachal (Team Pharrell)
Nobody blew the coaches away quite like Vachal, the Brooklyn beauty who mesmerized with a sultry, jazz version of “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Adam was crushed when he was unable to turn his chair for her due to his team being full, but the other coaches were salivating at the opportunity to work with her. Pharrell won out in the end, but I’m not sure she’s as much of a lock as the coaches think she is. We have yet to see such a reserved, understated performer win it all, and I’m not sure she has what it takes to go all the way.
4. Tyler Dickerson (Team Blake)
Dickerson’s story is one we’ve seen before on this show: someone on the cusp of a budding recording career who had it all taken away. Although Blake was the only coach to turn his chair during Dickerson’s rendition of “Hard to Handle” by The Black Crowes, it was exactly the right fit. Dickerson’s Southern country-rock style is reminiscent of season seven winner Craig Wayne Boyd. His experience as a performer will go a long way when faced with the pressure of performing live each week. I expect Dickerson to be more of a threat than most predict at this stage of the competition.
3. Evan McKeel (Team Pharrell)
The minister from Virginia showed immediate versatility when he persuaded all four coaches to turn around to his energetic performance of Mutemath’s “Typical” and followed it up with a spontaneous version of Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.” Pharrell scored a sleeper-threat here who I suspect will be a fan favorite and encompass everything America loves about this program – watching an average Joe become a star.
2. Shelby Brown (Team Adam)
With arguably the most memorable blind audition of the season, the 16 year-old from Alabama shocked the coaches with her effortless power and clarity on the Grace Potter and the Nocturnals song “Stars.” She’s a little bit country plus a little bit Adele and surprised many when she chose Adam over Blake – much to Adam’s delight. With her infectious personality and powerhouse vocals, she is a real contender to win it all.
1. Krista Hughes (Team Blake)
This country singer from West Virginia might be a surprising choice to top my list, but her understated rendition of the Bonnie Raitt classic “Angel from Montgomery” earned a four-chair turn. It was also obvious she left a lot in the tank. Blake stated country music needed an artist like her and he is right. In recent years the genre has been dominated by singers who look like homecoming queens – Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and the like. There is a void for an edgier, country-rock sound with which Gretchen Wilson once dominated country music. Hughes will appeal to country and rock lovers alike, and because her initial audition was low-key, expect her to surprise viewers going forward.
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Photo courtesy of NBC.