‘The Voice’ Season 14 premiere: ‘The Kelly Clarkson Show’ comeback

Hello, and welcome to The Kelly Clarkson Show! Um, I mean The Voice Season 14. The Original Recipe Idol made her coaching debut on American Idol’s rival show this Monday, and while I’m still getting over the shock of seeing her in one of those big red (fancy! new!) chairs, Kelly seemed right at home. From the instant the premiere cold-opened with her standing giddily on a darkened stage, she dominated the episode — exuding so much energy, she made Miley Cyrus seem as sedate as Pharrell Williams. It was like she’d waited a lifetime for a TV moment like this.

Whether Kelly was admiring Blake Shelton’s poker-faced fibbing and Alicia Keys’s gameplay, doing backbends, crying tears of joy, or claiming a soundstage background noise was a message from God ordering a contestant to pick her, she was clearly having a blast. So was I! Come on, no contestant would ever need divine intervention to sign up with the most fun and “strategical” coach.

I will add a couple gripes, though. One is the ridiculous erasure of Kelly’s Idol history. (Here’s a drinking game: Take a sip every time someone references her singing-competition past without uttering the words “American” or “Idol.” Even the cast-iron-livered Blake would be plastered before the first commercial break.) The other is the “Block button,” a new gimmick that allows coaches to prevent another coach from claiming a contestant. On a series already so hyper-focused on superstar coaches, taking away contestants’ agency when it comes to even picking a coach isn’t a good look.

But I still care about the contestants, so let’s assess Monday’s successful auditioners…

Britton Buchanan, 17: “Trouble”
This classic rock cover band singer and “’90s Matt Damon” lookalike had teen-heartthrob potential with his rock ‘n’ roll trousers, goofball personality, and resonant, rounded tone on his Ray LaMontagne cover.

Who turned? Adam Levine was the first Block button victim of the season, thanks to the gloating, grinning Blake. (“Oh snap!” yelped Kelly.) Adam was not amused; this also wasn’t fair to Britton, a Maroon 5 fanboy who likely would’ve joined Team Adam. Alicia was the third coach to spin.

Result: Team Alicia. Blake squandered his one Block of the season! Oh snap, indeed.

Brynn Cartelli, 14: “Beneath Your Beautiful”
A small-town girl who was inspired to become a singer by Kelly’s own “Breakaway,” Brynn sounded shockingly sultry and smoldering on Labrinth’s ballad. Are we sure she’s really only 14?

Who turned? Kelly, of course — and also Blake, at the last minute.

Result: Team Kelly. Duh!

 

Rayshun LaMarr, 33: “Don’t Stop Believin’”
This lymphoma survivor powered through chemo by listening to Journey — so his audition was joyous and celebratory. But it was also hokey and dated; his corporate/wedding-band-singer background showed. Still, Rayshun did he nail all those Steve Perry power-notes, which was impressive.

Who turned? Alicia, Adam.

Result: Team Adam. In a shocking upset, Rayshun shunned Alicia.

 

Kyla Jade, 33: “See Saw”
A Pentecostal-church-trained background singer who’s performed with Carrie Underwood, Wynonna Judd, and Jennifer Hudson, Kyla had the résumé, pipes, and awesome hair of a “package artist.” But her Aretha Franklin cover lacked spark. This was the performance of, well, a background singer — not a star.

Who turned? Kelly, Blake.

Result: Team Blake. Another upset! Kyla bonded with Kelly over Aretha (Kelly’s breakthrough Idol song was “Natural Woman”), but her Wynonna/Nashville ties connected her to Blake. Hopefully he can drag some personality out of her.

 

Kelsea Johnson, 21: “Like I’m Gonna Lose You”
Now, this was a package artist! Kelsea had style and elegance, but brought a certain rawness to the sleepy Meghan Trainor tune.

Who turned? Kelly, Adam, Alicia. I’m surprised no one blocked Alicia or Kelly.

Result: Team Alicia. Maybe Kelly should have blocked Alicia, since she later said Kelsea was her “biggest threat.” Alicia’s post-show involvement with Season 12 protégé Chris Blue’s career persuaded Kelsea.

 

Drew Cole, 25: “Sex and Candy”
The man-bunned hipster bartender with the dog-whistle-high voice first came to fame serenading a dog in a YouTube video. That pooch had good taste! I’m no fan of Marcy Playground’s one-hit wonder, but Drew transformed it into a bluesy falsetto workout, making it his own.

Who turned? Adam couldn’t hit his button fast enough. Blake also spun, probably just to mess with his longtime rival.

Result: Team Adam. Kelly teased Adam for praising Drew, since Adam was practically praising himself (Adam also once covered “Sex and Candy,” and he possesses a similarly high range), but Drew was undeterred.

 

D.R. King: “Believer”
D.R.’s fiery rock ‘n’ soul remake of Imagine Dragons’ monster hit was impressive. It’s a wordy, tricky song, but he handled the transitions and raged on the fist-pumping chorus.

Who turned? Blake, who called D.R. “explosive,” and Kelly, who told him, “Your runs were sick!”

Result: Team Kelly. Kelly liked D.R.’s “believability.”

 

Kaleb Lee, 31: “Never Wanted Nothing More”
The father of three seemed like a nice guy, but his Kenny Chesney cover was so generic, I’m surprised it wasn’t montaged. I’ll be further surprised if Kaleb survives the Battles.

Who turned? Kelly, Blake.

Result: Team Blake. Kelly serenaded Kaleb’s kids with “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” but Kaleb wanted to stay with Shelton.

Justin Kilgore, 30: “Tomorrow”
Justin’s Chris Young cover was merely competent, but his backstory as closeted gay teen in small-town Texas was so compelling, it should be a Logo Movie of the Week. He just came out, and this week, his mom cheered him on from the stage wings. This is the stuff that’ll win The Voice Season 14 a fifth Emmy and another GLAAD Award, even if Justin won’t win The Voice.

Who turned? Justin was the night’s only four-chair contestant… but only three coaches were eligible, after Alicia blocked Blake.

Result: Team Kelly. Justin’s a huge Reba McEntire fan; Kelly is married to Reba’s stepson. (Side note: Kelly is this series’ first true country threat to Blake — no country hopefuls took Miley seriously — so this is an interesting development.)

So far, I don’t believe we’ve seen the voice season 14’s winner, in terms of contestants. But Kelly has a good chance of being the winning coach (and earning that “14” jersey). Come back Tuesday for more of The Kelly Clarkson Show!

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