Back when singer-songwriter Tony Lucca auditioned for The Voice Season 2, his former Mickey Mouse Club co-star, then-coach Christina Aguilera, didn’t turn around for him, and she didn’t even recognize him. Awkwardness ensued, and tensions between Christina and Tony’s eventual coach, Adam Levine, flared all season long. Adam and Christina are of course long gone from The Voice. But as the series’ one original coach, Blake Shelton, returned for a 20th season this Monday, he committed a similar faux pas — failing to realize that one auditioner, 45-year-old Pete Mroz, was actually his bandmate from 25 years ago.
However, unlike the Aguilera/Lucca situation, this gaffe was smoothed over amusingly and amicably (fellow coach Kelly Clarkson thought the entire situation was hilarious, and she was right). And in the end, there was a Young Riders reunion of sorts, because in this case Blake had turned around, thus giving Pete the opportunity to join his team. “We’re getting the band back together!” exclaimed Blake.
Let’s backtrack here for a moment. When Pete Mroz was 19 years old, went by the stage name Pete Mitchell, and had aspirations to be “the next Garth Brooks,” he used to gig around Nashville with a rotating collective of songwriters dubbed the Young Riders – and one of those songwriters making those rounds was a pre-fame Blake. Pete’s life obviously took a very different post-Young Riders path, as he became a sales rep and family man while Blake went on to become one of country music’s biggest stars. At first, it seemed like Pete might have hard feelings on Monday’s Voice episode: When Blake spun around, Pete cocked an eyebrow and pointed deviously in his direction, then later told Blake, “Oh, I’m gonna get to you.” Said Blake, “Uh-oh. Sounds like there’s some history there! That’s not normally a good thing with me!”
Eventually, Pete revealed his identity, much to Blake’s delight and shock, and he jokingly accused Blake of stealing his bass player back in the day. But this wasn’t a real feud — apparently Pete and Blake have a similar sense of snark — so there was little chance that Pete would sign up with the one other coach who’d turned, John Legend, to “settle the score.” Instead, in a “full-circle” moment, Pete happily joined Team Blake. (As soon as they started to reminisce about Blake’s ‘90s mullet, it was obvious that Pete was going to “go with the old cowboy.”) Blake said of this Pete reunion, “It’s just gonna be a blast to catch up with him and work with him. But the main reason that I’m excited he’s on my team is I think he’s a helluva singer.” And so, the not-so-Young Riders (Pete described himself as the token “old guy” on The Voice) will ride again.
To be honest, I’m actually surprised that Blake hit his red button for Pete. Pete didn’t perform a country song (he warbled Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”), and his vocals were unexpectedly high and twang-free, and even a bit lightweight. (“Helluva singer” was excessive praise.) Blake later recalled that when Pete first arrived in Nashville years ago, he was “more of a blues guy.” Actually, if there was any coach I would’ve expected to go for Pete, it would have been the similarly high-pitched Nick Jonas. But I think Nick recruited a couple contestants on Monday’s Season 20 premiere — including my current favorite, Raine Stern — that have much better chances of making the semifinals than the more generic Pete.
Yes, Nick is back on The Voice, JoBros fans. He made his Voice coaching debut last spring and got to third place with his worthy finalist Thunderstorm Artis, but he definitely did not get the full Voice experience, as that season was derailed by COVID-19 and had to switch to remote filming for the Live Playoffs. So Nick is due for a do-over. Blake’s fiancé, Gwen Stefani, filled Nick’s red chair last season when the show returned to the Universal lot, and she finally had her first win as a coach — so, will Nick follow Gwen’s lead and score his first victory this year? Not if the hyper-competitive Blake has anything to do with it. But, based on Monday’s episode, young rider Nick seems on a roll.
Speaking of rolls… enjoy Nick’s Rickrolling reunion with his Voice castmates above (can Rick please be a coach on Season 21?), and the other Blind Auditions of Monday’s Season 20 premiere below:
Kenzie Wheeler, 22: “Don’t Close Your Eyes”
Speaking of mullets, Kenzie had what Blake called a “triple-threat” version of the notorious hairstyle, with shaved sides plus “a rare widow’s peak.” But apparently Kelly thought Blake was the real threat here, so she used her one Block to ensure that Blake couldn’t recruit Kenzie. Considering that this was the very first performance of the entire season, and there are contestants who sound like Kenzie every season, I think this was a rash move on Kelly’s part. But Kelly was just crazy for Kenzie’s “deep ‘80s/’90s” vintage sound, screaming, “Pick me! I’m gonna fight so hard for you!”
Who turned? All four coaches. Blake turned just on principle, even though he knew he was already out of the running.
Result: Team Kelly. Thankfully, her Block did not go to waste.
Dana Monique, 41: “Freeway of Love”
This fierce show-woman took a big risk taking on Aretha, but thankfully, she was up for the task. Vocally, she reminded me of former Voice coach Jennifer Hudson (who’ll be playing Aretha Franklin in the forthcoming biopic Respect). This former cruise singer commanded respect with her mighty pipes, exciting ad-libs and vamps, and veteran stage presence.
Who turned? Nick and John — but surprisingly notKelly. (She explained that she didn’t think she had a chance against John.)
Result: Team Jonas! Wow. Maybe Kelly should have turned after all.
Cam Anthony, 19: “Lay Me Down”
A former child prodigy who once sang on Ellen and Showtime at the Apollo and even for the Obamas at the White House, Cam started soft and slow, and masterfully building the drama of this Sam Smith ballad. What a tasteful and lovely performance. He seemed like total Team Legend material, but Nick blocked John. However, seeming outlier Blake made a big play for Cam, vowing to “keep that lane open” and not recruit any similar soul/pop/gospel singers that would compete within the Team Blake ranks with Cam.
Who turned? Nick, Blake, and a blocked John.
Result: Team Blake! That was another surprise result. Blake’s bold promise clearly worked. He better not renege on that.
Christine Cain, 27: “Watermelon Sugar”
Christine confessed that, due to the bullying and body-shaming she endured in high school, she struggled with confidence. She also revealed that this was only her fourth-ever public performance. I don’t think she was quite ready for The Voice. She had a cool rasp and an interesting song choice on which she put her own soulful spin, but her delivery was timid. She never let loose and got to where I’d hoped she’d go. I figured this would be a no-chair audition, but the “little crackle” in Christine’s voice perked up John’s ears, while Kelly appreciated her “whole vibe.”
Who turned? John and Kelly.
Result: Team Legend. John could be the just the guy to help Christine elevate her crackling craft.
Devan Blake Jones, 35: “Hard Place”
Devan is a member of an Afrobeat band and can “sing from the heart and soul” in multiple languages, so I expected more dimension from his H.E.R. cover. This was a tepid vocal, and Devan seemed to be holding back. I felt the same frustrations I’d had with Christine Cain’s performance. But Nick was impressed and intrigued with the upper part of Devan’s register — “I feel like there’s so much there,” he said — and gave him a chance.
Who turned? Only Nick, but I’m sure Devan, a self-avowed Nick fanboy, was just fine with that.
Result: Team Jonas, obviously.
Raine Stern, 22: “Electric Feel”
Here comes the Raine! This badass was my standout of the night. From the mid-aughts hipster song choice, to the groovy electro-pop guitar shredding, to her out-and-proud queerness, this self-described “black sheep” was checking all the boxes for me. But it was her skillful use of dynamics that impressed me most. Just when I thought the performance had nowhere else to go, she kept taking it higher, and she absolutely exploded at the end. Maybe that’s why it took the coaches so frustratingly long to buzz in — they were too enraptured by what they were hearing. Blake later told Raine, “You really know how to milk a performance. … You are a rare find,” while Nick (upon finding out that Raine leads a nine-piece band, for which she arranges and composes everything) called her “one of the most unique creatives and performers we have seen on the show.”
Who turned? John, Blake, and Nick.
Result: Team Jonas, understandably. I feel Raine and Nick will be an electric pop-rock combination.
Corey Ward, 34: “Dancing on My Own”
Corey was a no-chair reject last year, but what a difference a season makes. Returning to sing a song that “fits me better as a person and as an artist” — a Calum Scott/Kings of Leon-inspired rendition of Robyn’s hit, and opposed to last season’s shouty, try-hard “Way We Go Down” — the James Arthur/Damien Rice fan was so fantastic that two coaches turned almost right away. And his genuinely passionate big finish was a moment. Along with Raine, Corey is my other new favorite.
Who turned? Surprisingly, only John and Kelly. I thought Corey’s performance was four-chair-worthy. Regardless, I’m glad he secured a spot this season. He’s ready.
Result: Team Kelly. Kelly, who’d been unusually stingy with her turns all night, was thrilled with this result, calling Corey a “can’t-miss artist… a dream artist to have on your team.” She definitely scored with this one.
Victor Solomon, 22: “Glory”
This stepper and college campus leader sure was ballsy to do a John Legend song, a tactic that often backfires with John Legend. But Victor’s version was so majestic, John didn’t just turn — he also gave Victor a standing ovation ,and even claimed Victor had done a better job with it. John later dueted with Victor on another one of his famous compositions, “Ordinary People,” which Victor had performed during his 8th grade talent show. Victor won that talent show, and judging by how well he held his own singing with John, he could win this much more high-profile show now. (Side note: Victor’s audition led to Blake’s other sidesplittingly funny faux pas of the premiere, when he didn’t even realize that “Glory” was John’s song. Apparently Blake didn’t watch the Oscars in 2015.)
Who turned? Blake, Nick, and John.
Result: Team Legend, of course. But props to Victor for creating some Oscar-worthy drama when threatened to “shake things up”… and made it seem like he was about to pick Blake instead. Psych!
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