"This is my favorite gig I've ever had. I still get a rush finding amazing talent," said country superstar Blake Shelton as The Voice Season 11 premiered Monday night. The four-time Voice champ must also love a good fight. New coach Miley Cyrus is giving Adam Levine a run for his money as Shelton's biggest rival on the Emmy-winning competition show, stealing country singers from him right and left. The incomparable Alicia Keys is also new to the show and joins Shelton, Cyrus and Levine in competing over a crop of insanely talented, largely undiscovered artists. Here are our picks for must-see blind auditions from the first two episodes.
Male contestants with big, soulful voices are nothing new for The Voice, but the wonderfully named Sundance Head wowed veterans Adam Levine and Blake Shelton with his passionate cover of Otis Redding's classic "I've Been Loving You Too Long." The father of three from Porter, Texas started with a fairly standard interpretation of the heartbreaking ballad before turning it into something so gritty and muscular that it's already possible to imagine his version ringing from a stadium's rafters. Shelton declared, “He’s like a mystery man come riding in here on his country music horse,” before Head gently corrected him, adding “soul country music horse.” But Head had no issue with Shelton comparing him to soulful country greats Travis Tritt, Chris Stapleton and Ronnie Milsap. Though Levine turned his chair around first, Head was Team Blake from the top of his cowboy hat to the souls of his boots. —M.N.
On Tuesday night, Brendan Fletcher delivered a soulful, elegant rendition of Ray LaMontagne's 2004 ballad, "Jolene" (no relation to the Dolly Parton hit). Surprisingly enough, Blake Shelton was the only coach who didn’t turn around for the 26-year-old Brooklyn bartender, who perfected LaMontagne’s folk-soul rasp during his stirring performance. In the end, Fletcher ended up choosing Adam Levine, who had glowing words for the young singer: "It's not about someone that can sing 8,000 notes," said the Marron 5 lead singer. "It's about somebody who can connect with an audience and who can make people feel something that is genuine."— J.B.
A 17-year-old diva in the making from Texas, Courtnie Ramirez earned turnarounds from both Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys for her sassy delivery of Jessie J's "Mamma Knows Best." Her vocals were unflappable on the high notes and had plenty of swagger in the lower reaches, and her obvious comfort onstage stood out once the chairs swiveled. Keys described it as "alive" and "not bashful." Ramirez told the judges she wanted to be a solo R&B singer, but Cyrus convinced her that she may also want to explore other genres and added the young singer to her team. — C.P.
On the opening night of Blind Auditions, 15 year-old Gabe Broussard delivered a rousing rendition of "Lonely Night in Georgia" by Marc Broussard (no relation). Miley Cyrus, who has vowed to try to steal some of Blake Shelton’s country-leaning singers this season, turned her chair around, as did her main coaching rival. Broussard ended up choosing Shelton, who had turned his chair around almost immediately and was visibly moved by the teen's performance. "When you started singing, you sounded like such a freaking stud," Shelton gushed. "You're the guy I've been waiting for." – J.B.
"Now you've found your sound and where you belong musically," Blake Shelton said to Billy Gilman after his spine-tingling interpretation of Adele's "When We Were Young." The Voice coach immediately recognized the 28-year-old contestant upon turning his chair, as the two got their starts in country music right around the same time (when Gilman was just 12 years old). Now a member of Team Adam — after Levine made the hands-down best case of all four chair-turning judges, Gilman told the audience, "To finally be here in a moment where I can finally sing the way I so badly wanted to even then, and to finally stand here and be amongst you, it truthfully is such an honor." — S.B.