NBC’s Emmy-winning “The Voice” is finally back for Season 12 with the blind auditions kicking off on Monday night. Pop superstar Gwen Stefani returns this season joining previous coaches Blake Shelton, Alicia Keys and Adam Levine in the big red chairs. Although the process remains the same as in previous seasons, one significant rule change moved the age minimum of competitors from 15 down to just 13 years old. It remains to be seen how this change could impact the season, but it appears the producers of “The Voice” may be trying to lure in a younger audience.
Here are my power rankings for Monday night’s first blind auditions show from the best to the worst:
1. Felicia Temple – “All I Could Do Was Cry” (Age 28; Teaneck, NJ)
The most eventful audition of the night was saved for last, with this powerhouse belting her way into the hearts of Alicia, Blake and Gwen. Temple has all of the qualities it takes to advance deep into the competition, and although I’m not prepared to say she can win it all, she’s off to a solid start. It was no surprise she chose Alicia as her coach, after the pair engaged in an impromptu duet of the coach’s hit “Fallin’.”
2. Joshua Hunter – “Sexual Healing” (Age 29; Albany, GA)
The soulful giant had NBA aspirations before an injury steered him into focusing on his music. Within seconds of belting out the classic Marvin Gaye hit, Adam turned his chair and Alicia followed closely behind. As he continued to show off some vocal elasticity, Blake and Gwen couldn’t help but to turn this into a four-chair turn. Hunter appears to be a consummate professional with untapped potential, but this cliché audition song was just good, not great. Hunter shocked everyone when he chose Gwen as his coach.
3. Lauren Duski – “You Were Meant for Me” (Age 25; Gaylord, MI)
The unique tone of this country singer is what will continue to make her stand out from other country singers this season. Vocally, she incorporates pop and soul into her sound and was able to convince Adam, Blake and Gwen to all turn their chairs. After a strong debate between the coaches, Duski went the predictable country route in choosing Blake as her coach.
4. Anatalia Villaranda – “Runaway Baby” (Age 16; Temecula, CA)
This pint-sized powerhouse has been singing for much of her young life and it was evident by her confidence on stage. The grit and range of her voice inspired all four coaches to turn their chairs. Although she is clearly talented, her performance was a bigger hit with the judges than me – I just don’t see a potential winner in Villaranda. She chose Alicia as her coach.
5. Stephanie Rice – “Piece by Piece” (Age 27; Texarkana, TX)
It takes an impressive singer to cover Kelly Clarkson convincingly, but Rice did so with a rock-tinged pop vocal that lacked a bit of range, but was full of character and emotion. Her performance convinced Blake and Gwen to turn their chairs, resulting in the first head to head battle between the lovebirds. In the end, Rice chose Gwen as her coach.
6. Mark Isaiah – “Mercy” (Age 19; Mt. Pocono, PA)
The young pop singer showed solid control while going up and down the scale throughout his performance. He has a radio-friendly voice and the looks that will appeal to young girls voting at home. He isn’t the strongest singer, but he was still able to convince Gwen and Adam to turn their chairs. Moving forward, his charisma and star potential will benefit him. Isaiah ended up choosing Adam as his coach.
7. Johnny Hayes – “Try a Little Tenderness” (Age 29; Mobile, AL)
After being rejected by all the coaches in season 11, the soulful rock singer returned seeking redemption. Within moments he had convinced both Adam and Gwen to turn their chairs, while he charismatically moved around the stage showing off his gritty, yet not real inspiring vocals. Hayes is likable enough, but didn’t give a memorable performance. Neither Alicia nor Blake turned their chairs, and Hayes chose Adam as his coach.
8. Brennley Brown – “Stupid Boy” (Age 14; Apple Valley, CA)
The young country singer may have only been 14 years old, but wasn’t lacking confidence on stage. Her vocals didn’t appear to impress the coaches at first, but she was eventually able to convince both Blake and Alicia turn around. Vocally, Brown leaves quite a bit to be desired but, at her age, she has potential to grow exponentially throughout the season. She chose Blake as her coach.
9. Branden Martin – “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)” (Age 25; Owingsville, KY)
The husky, bearded country singer is such a dead ringer for last season’s champion, Sundance Head, it was a bit of a shock that none of the coaches turned their chair for him. Perhaps he lacked the same confidence in his voice or perhaps the judges just didn’t want someone on their team that was so similar to last season’s winner. Whatever the reason, Martin’s season was over before it ever really began.
10. Shaun Chrisjohn – “You are the Best Thing” (Age 31; Philadelphia, PA)
The R&B crooner had a likable personality and unique sense of style, but wasn’t able to put together an impressive performance. Unable to earn a single chair turn, Chrisjohn may have to try coming back another season with a better song choice.
11. Skyler Harris – “One and Only” (Age 25; Murfreesboro, TN)
The soulful singer with a background in gospel music has a powerful voice, but doesn’t seem to have full control over it. At times she seemed to be off key, which could have been due to nerves. Unfortunately, she was unable to convince any of the coaches to turn their chair.
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