Remember when The Voice seemed confusing? Spinning what? Adam Le-Who? Where's Hollywood Week? Now, though, four seasons in, we appreciate the format more than ever, especially the blind auditions.
Unlike American Idol and The X Factor, The Voice doesn't rely on gimmicks (see: William Hung, Bikini Girl) or making fun of people who can't sing or who have lost their grip on reality. For the most part, everyone is good on The Voice. Sure, nerves get the best of some people, but overall no one's making a total ass of themselves on national TV for our "enjoyment."
To the contrary, during the penultimate blind auditions episode, a clear line was drawn among the contestants: seasoned pros with proven industry chops and diamond-in-the-rough newbies. For every twentysomething Jeff Lewis, who was once signed to Idol mentor Jimmy Iovine's Interscope Records but watched the opportunity dissipate, there's a thirtysomething Ryan Innes, who gave up on being a doctor to become a lounge singer. Though they couldn't be more different, both wound up on Team Usher for good reason. (Lewis had a polished, baby-faced “white guy with guitar” vibe singing Usher's "U Got It Bad" while the frumpier Innes channeled Joe Cocker by way of John Mayer's "Gravity.")
More than any other show, The Voice bubbles up contestants who have a proven track record, including many who have already "had their shot" at fame and fortune – whether it be touring with Michael Jackson (the premiere's Judith Hill) or releasing a gold record (former country star Julie Roberts). A perfect example is last season's winner Cassadee Pope, who cut her teeth recording an album for a major label and touring extensively with her band, Hey Monday, alongside Fall Out Boy.
Last night, Lewis filled the "record deal gone bad" quota for the evening, but several other hopefuls have also already had brushes with fame. Thirty-year-old New Yorker Sasha Allen gave up a career as a backup singer for the likes of Christina Aguilera, Alicia Keys and John Legend to start a family. Deciding it was time to get back in the game, she wowed the coaches with the Dixie Chicks' "Not Ready to Make Nice," turning all four chairs before choosing to join Adam Levine's team.
Meanwhile, 45-year-old Shawna P got her start in Nashville as part of the Muzik Mafia, a network of musicians that included country music heavyweights Big and Rich and Gretchen Wilson. She has performed with everyone from George Clinton to Kid Rock. But while her peers went on to bigger things, she was left behind. With a hippie chick/go-go dancer look, Shawna's version of the Black Crowes' "She Talks to Angels" nabbed her a spot on Team Shakira. "Representin' 40 and up, y'all," she quipped after making the cut.
But having friends in high places doesn't always mean a chair will turn, as was the case with 19-year-old Matt Cermanski, whose uncle was (and is) in Grammy Award-winning '70s disco group the Tramps (you know: "Burn, baby, burn, disco inferno"). While music's in his genes, Cermanski's odd song choice – Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," which references makeup-less mornings and skin-tight jeans – and pitchy, spastic performance failed to land him on a team. Usher put it succinctly, saying, "It's always best to sing a song within your range and showcase your ability," rather than trying to shock the coaches with an unusual song choice. (For, like, the third straight week Shakira had to ask her fellow coaches whether she was listening to a man or woman.)
Cermanski's gene pool aside, the aforementioned opportunities these people have previously had didn't just fall into their laps, but it takes a lot to flourish in the music industry and become, say, an Usher or Shakira. Just because you get your foot in the door doesn't mean you'll automatically turn into the next Adele – sometimes you wind up on The Voice looking for a second chance. Which begs the question, is it fair to pit seasoned pros against regular Joes? Honestly, we could argue the case either way.
Previously: Blake Shelton Offers to Adopt Contestant