The Voice's Season 4 Premiere: How Will Usher and Shakira Measure Up?

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The Voice S04E01: "Blind Auditions Premiere Part 1"

Hey there, guys and gals. It’s time for another season of The Only Way NBC Gets Ratings These Days, a.k.a. The Voice. Original Recipe judges Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera are on hiatus to concentrate on their own careers instead of those of the newest class of noobs. Holding down the fort for Latin sensation Xtina is Latin sensation Shakira, while soul/hip-hop/R&B artist Usher has claimed the chair of soul/hip-hop/R&B artist Cee Lo. Don’t mess with the formula, right NBC?

Maybe it’s because Shakira seems eager, excited, and maybe even a little bit nervous in her position—whereas Christina Aguilera spent most of last season looking bored out of her mind—but I’m really digging the new judges. Shakira is just as much of a serial hugger as Aguilera, though honestly, the hugging-it-out levels were generally through the roof during last night's season premiere. Even Adam Levine was getting in on it—and he was having a hard night, all things considered. Adam typically trails during the the recruitment portion of the competition due to his very specific tastes. The man doesn't just turn his chair for anyone. But on the occasions where he did, the contestants tended to choose one of the other judges. Adam Levine is that really INTENSE guy at the coffee shop who is really dreamy and smart, and like, TOTALLY DEEP... but also kind of scary. 

Blake Shelton was, well, he was Blake Shelton. He pulled out the I'm-married-to-Miranda-Lambert card early in the game, but also had the track record of two consecutive winning seasons to dangle in front of wannabe team members. He made good with three solid additions to his budding team: harmonizing singing-sisters duo The Morgan Twins, bullying awareness poster child Danielle Bradbery, and Christian Porter, whose sob story basically consisted of "This one time my parents thought I was deaf... but I wasn't." Precious. There were so many precious contestants in the first chunk of blind auditions, but the adorableness was necessary to combat the utter depression trailing many of them. I jest about the warm-fuzzies aspect of the premiere, but seriously, hug it out, guys. The one thing that's clear so far is that NBC isn't going to have to work hard at wringing an emotional response out of any viewers who possess feelings. 

Due to the quantity and the quality of his newest team members, I'm gonna have to declare Team Blake the strongest team after the first night of auditions. Team Adam certainly caught a good one with his last-minute acquisition of former Michael Jackson back-up singer Judith Hill, but he struggled to convince many of those he turned his chair for to commit to his team. At times, Levine's high standards have left him scrambling to fill empty spots toward the end of the audition round, forcing him to fill those seats with talent that isn't quite up to snuff. (Though admittedly, no judge has fallen so hopelessly into this pattern as our dearly hiatus-ed Xtina.)

Usher seemed in his element, and it honestly isn't surprising that the artist responsible for rocketing Justin Bieber to stardom is so enthusiastic to to suss out new talent. I get the sense that he's thinking of the viability of hopeful contestants well beyond their tenures on The Voice. Usher also, unsurprisingly, has quite a way with words and threw out some of the most eloquent sales pitches in an attempt to draw conflicted artists to his team. When Blake Shelton offered to make Danielle Bradbery a star in Nashville, Usher told her, "You have so much more potential than Nashville," and offered her the world. (He also accidentally called Nashville a state but, eh, geography is hard.) In a battle with fellow interim judge Shakira for the affiliation of Jess Kellner, Usher followed up Shakira's polite, constructive criticism and promises to work on Jess's weaknesses in rehearsal with, "Don't you wanna last forever?" I mean, who can argue with that? Kellner didn't. 

Shakira noticeably altered her sales pitches later on, after her friendly honesty and genuine enthusiasm caused some obvious difficulty in getting the new kids to swear their undying allegiance to her. Constructive criticism is still criticism. You have to butter them up before you break them during rehearsals. It's the Xtina way. 

Yeah, on second thought, ditch her way and do your own thing. 

While the real test of Shakira and Usher's skill in molding new musicians (and kicking the competition's asses) will come during the mentoring segments and eventual battles, I think the new judges are off to a solid start.


What about you? Are you watching this latest season of The Voice?



NOTES

– The Morgan Twins have the distinct honor of being one of the few harmonizing groups to audition for The Voice who don't suck at harmonizing. However, I can't decide whether their insistence on dressing identical even though they're almost thirty is cute or creepy. Thoughts?

– In an attempt to woo Danielle Bradbery to his team, Blake pointed out that he has a good track record working with teenagers and getting them acquainted with the Nashville scene. Don't you compare her to RaeLynn, Blake Shelton! Don't you insult her like that! 

– Anyone willing to bet that Jess Kellner's formerly estranged mom gets to be a special guest at some point this season? The Voice can be predictable like that. 

– The opening performance of "Come Together" was definitely one of the better coach performances The Voice has given us recently. Definitely better than anything they cobbled together last season. 

– Who are your favorite contestants so far?

– How do you think Usher and Shakira will do as judges?

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