Some of the best coaches in the history of The Voice have been talent competition alumni themselves, like American Idol’s Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson. Now, with Kelly taking time off from the show after eight consecutive seasons, another superstar with a singing-competition background is filling her red chair: Camila Cabello, who famously got her start in the X Factor girl group Fifth Harmony. And after last season’s disappointing showing of Gen Z-friendly pop-star coach Ariana Grande, followed by The Voice’s unprecedented year-long hiatus, so far the likable Camila seems to be exactly what this series needs. To employ a favorite catchphrase of Kelly’s, Camila just might have the best shot of navigating this show this year.
“It feels very full-circle, because I also started on the singing competition show,” Camila explained on Monday’s Season 22 premiere, although – just like Kelly and J.Hud before her – she conveniently never mentioned the actual singing competition show that gave her her big break. Even the contestants took great pains not to mention The X Factor on the air. And there was a funny bit later when Camila’s castmates mistook her for someone who’d appeared on America’s Got Talent, Star Search, or America’s Funniest Home Videos, but not The X Factor.
As for those castmates, occupying the other chairs this Voice season are three returning coaches: EGOT-winner John Legend (Camila’s “bestie,” because she served as his team adviser last year) and meet-cute Voice power couple Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani. Blake seemed delighted to have Gwen back on the show (this marks their first time sitting on the panel together as husband and wife), but the incumbent coach was clearly was threatened by Camila, who came to the set with attitude, spunk, and actual cunning strategy that seemed to be working. At one point, Camila even dared Blake to turn for a country singer, Orlando Mendez, specifically because she wanted to spar with Blake. And (spoiler alert), Blake lost!
Blake was having a rough night overall – he didn’t recruit a single contestant for his team during the two-hour episode — so he pulled out all the stops, at one point bringing out a furry, hooved, ultimately uncooperative mascot that reminded me of that kidnapped goat Raquel from The Brady Bunch. (Because Blake is supposedly the G.O.A.T. of The Voice, get it?)
Blake also introduced a shady Season 22 tactic/gimmick, commanding stagehands to mute Camila’s microphone whenever she got too mouthy. Blake tried to cut Camila off during Monday’s first audition by country/pop singer Morgan Myles, and he was still trying during the final audition by Kacey Musgraves-channeling songbird Kate Kalvach. But Camila was so determined, she just couldn’t be silenced. And that’s when the hilarity ensured.
Below are the successful Blind Auditions of Monday’s Season 22 premiere:
Morgan Myles, 35: “Hallelujah”
Wow, seriously? This overdone song, right out of the gate? Obviously there have been many lovely, often Jeff Buckley-inspired renditions of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on The Voice (and Idol, and X Factor, and every other TV talent show), so I’m not sure we needed another one. That being said, Morgan’s version was “so pretty,” as Gwen noted, and when this “edge of country” industry veteran dirtied it up a bit and let out that growl, she caught all of the coaches’ attention. John called her performance “exquisite” and even “one of the best Blind Auditions I’ve seen in a long time.” Camila told Morgan, “You have a gorgeous tone. I want to hear records from you.”
Who turned? All four coaches, but Camila blocked Gwen! “I did my homework. I know how Blocks work, and I thought immediately, ‘Gwen’s going to want her,’” the crafty new coach explained. “The new kid on the block blocked me!” Gwen gasped.
Result: Team Camila! I guess Camila comparing Morgan to Rihanna was more convincing than Blake sharing war stories about his own early, struggling Nashville days. “We all should be a little scared of Camila,” John noted.
Omar José Cardona, 33: “Separate Ways”
Omar the showman had such theatrical tendencies, I wish he’d reenacted Journey’s laughably bad “Separate Ways” music video, with Paul Mirkovich’s band miming along to air instruments in the background. I think that might have improved this performance, honestly. I appreciated Omar’s mic-stand-brandishing and ‘80s rock influences, but he noticeably strained to reach those Steve Perry power notes. Gwen was way too enthusiastic when she gushed, “I haven’t heard a voice like that since the ‘80s,” and Camila was downright blasphemous when she said Omar possessed “Freddie Mercury vibes.” Maybe this performance sounded different/better in the room.
Who turned? All four coaches, surprisingly. Everyone seemed especially surprised that John spun first.
Result: Team Legend! I thought for sure Omar would go for ‘80s queen Gwen, but it seems John’s comment, “You’re the kind of artist that can win The Voice,” sealed the deal. I’m not sure John is so right about that, though.
Ian Harrison, 20: “The Night We Met”
This season’s token indie folky, Ian did a lovely rendition of Lord Huron’s song, dedicated to his musician father who died by suicide when Ian was 9 years old. He wasn’t a power-singer – more of a Lewis Capaldi/Damien Rice type, with oddly British-sounding rounded vowels — so the coaches took their time turning around. But Gwen, an artist who often wears her own heart on her designer sleeve, seemed particularly intrigued by Ian’s “character voice” and vulnerability. “You’re a super-interesting artist. You showed your heart, and it was very pure,” she said.
Who turned? Blake, John, and Gwen.
Result: Team Gwen, of course.
Emma Brooke, 19: “California Dreamin’”
Emma’s dramatic, slowed-to-a-crawl rendition of the Mamas & the Papas’ classic kind of reminded me of the Lion from The Masked Singer Season 1 (this was a good thing; the Lion, aka Rumer Willis, was robbed!). Emma is classically trained, and it showed, it both good ways and bad; she would do well to dirty things up herself in the future.
Who turned? John and Gwen.
Result: Team Legend. John is classically trained as well, so this pairing made the most sense.
Orlando Mendez, 26: “Beer Never Broke My Heart”
This one could have gone either way. As a Cuban-American singer born in Miami – Camila’s hometown –Camila seemed like an obvious coach for Orlando. But… Orlando is a country singer, who sings about beer! (Blake’s incentive/congratulatory prize to his team members this season is a customized beer cozy.) Gwen seemed to want this confident performer as well, trying to convince Orlando, “Basically, I’m country now.”
Who turned? All four coaches. Camila actually urged Blake to turn because she wanted to have the satisfaction of luring a country contestant away from Team Blake. Bold!
Result: Team Camila. “Camila, let’s do this thing, girl!” Orlando shouted. This was Camila’s second four-chair contestant of the night — and the episode was far from over.
David Andrew, 25: “Falling”
A pro background singer for the likes of Ed Sheeran, Mickey Guyton, and Kane Brown, David had stage presence and a really cool look. In fact, he kind of looked like John Legend, and had once been John’s stand-in on a TV taping, dueting with Carrie Underwood during rehearsal. But David’s “dream is to be centerstage,” and he deserves that chance. I liked his sophistication, restraint, and pure tone, as did Gwen, who called him “literally mind-blowing” and praised his “style, energy, vibe, and sparkle.”
Who turned? John and Gwen, who both gave him a standing ovation.
Result: Team Legend. Of course, David had to go with his short-haired doppelganger.
Jay Allen, 36: “‘Til You Can’t”
Jay’s mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and died three years ago at age 54. He wrote a benefit single in her honor, “Blank States,” which eventually raised more than $50 million. Later in Monday’s episode, he performed that song for the coaches, and it was way more powerful than the more conversational Cody Johnson cover he auditioned with; in fact, it almost felt like a winning coronation song moment. But there was no denying Jay’s star quality from the get-go. Blake joked that Jay tattooed heartthrob looked like a UFC fighter, and Jay could put up a good fight on this show.
Who turned? Blake and Gwen.
Result: Team Gwen! Jay did say he has a “rock side,” so apparently that gave the country-music-moonlighting No Doubt frontwoman the edge here. “Blake, I’m a giant fan and I respect you so much, but I have to choose your wife,” Jay explained sheepishly.
Kate Kalvach, 27: “Rainbow”
The daughter of traveling musical pastors, Kate began singing secular music with the encouragement of her Czech-Republic-born husband and mentor. I expected a big churchy gospel voice, but Kate had more of a winsome indie vibe. At first I thought her enunciation was too closed-off and garbled, but when she started opening up, both vocally and emotionally, the magic happened and the coaches finally spun around. She does have a truly unique style. “I don’t think we have had anyone who can go in and out of their head voice and chest voice so flawlessly,” Gwen remarked.
Who turned? Blake, Gwen, and Camila — all at the last minute.
Result: It’s a cliffhanger! We’ll find out when the second Season 22 Blind Auditions episode airs Tuesday. Blake did his best to mute Camila as she made her big sales pitch, of course, but she just hopped up out of her chair and yelled her words of praise to Kate. Meanwhile, Kate grumbled, “Blake was my first choice, and he even fight for me,” so I don’t expect Blake’s luck to turn around in the opening minutes of Tuesday’s episode. See you then.
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