By Maggie Fremont
September 24, 2019 at 12:00 AM EDT
S17 E1
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And just like that, we’re back in the land where chairs reign supreme. And although The Voice looks very much the same as it ever did, season 17 feels a little different thanks to this season’s judging panel of Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Gwen Stefani, and the only original left standing, Blake Shelton. The Blake and Adam Levine show was getting old, and I welcome this fresh, fun group. I mean, we’ll forever be arguing about country artists always choosing Team Blake, but we can’t win them all. And it should be said that season 16’s champ was Maelyn Jarmon, the only non-country artist in the finals, so…

Anyway, we have a fresh batch of contestants to sing their hearts out for the backs of four music superstars, so let’s get to the Blind Auditions, shall we?

THE VOICE -- "Blind Auditions" Episode 1701 -- Pictured: Gwen Stefani -- (Photo by: Trae Patton/NBC)
Trae Patton/NBC

Katie Kadan, Chicago, Ill.
Song: “Baby I Love You” by Aretha Franklin
“I was a chubby chick living in a skinny girl’s world,” Katie Kadan says of why it took her so long to start performing, and already, I love her. It doesn’t hurt that the woman can wail. Kelly — who sadly gets blocked by Blake (I’m sorry, Block Shelton, according to John) — is right to point out her similarities to Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes fame. And honestly, the world could use more singers like Brittany and Katie. All four of the judges want Katie and her power voice on their team, all of them into her vocal prowess and rockstar attitude. Blake can talk all he wants about the connection he felt in Chicago last week, but once Kelly was off the table as a judge, there’s really only one choice for someone with a voice like Katie’s, and she rightly goes with John Legend to lead her through this thing.
Chair Turns: FOUR CHAIR TURN, BABY
Coach: Team Legend

Jake HaldenVang, Charlotte, N.C.
Song: “Wish I Knew You” by The Revivalists
Jake is here to rock, you can tell by his long, luscious hair! Jake bought his first guitar when he was 11 and was in a rock band with his dad in middle school, and you can tell he’s a seasoned performer even at the baby age of 24 from the moment he starts to perform. He begins in an insane falsetto, which really gets the judges going — Kelly and Gwen both thought they were listening to a woman at first — and Jake gets three chair turns almost immediately. By the end, however, he sounds like he’s straining and even Gwen, fighting to get a rocker on her team, points out that she could hear his nerves. But from the moment Gwen starts talking, Jake is in love, and she’s the only person on the panel who’s from a rock band — the choice is a no brainer, Jake!
Chair Turns: Blake, John, and Gwen
Coach: Team Gwen

Jay Miah, Tampa, Fla.
Song: “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman
Jay, who is a drag queen but isn’t performing in drag this evening, warns us that his voice is naturally high, but I still was not prepared once he began belting “Never Enough.” This is a risky song choice no matter who you’re singing for, but especially so when Kelly Clarkson is sitting in the audience. Have you heard her cover? It is, like so many of her performances, insanity. This is a tough song. And I would know because I sing it alone in my apartment, a lot. The sheer range of it seems to be too much for Jay and the song gets away from him. He gets no chair turns, but when all the judges finally get a look at him and realize it wasn’t a female vocalist, they deeply regret it.
Chair Turns: None, and it will haunt them all.

Brennan Lassiter, Dacusville, S.C.
Song: “You Are My Sunshine”
I know I’m new to The Voice beat, but you should know that I weep every single time a person mentions making their parents proud, or when parents say they’re proud of their child. I am a monster who cannot be stopped. So can you imagine how I react when instead of parents, we’re talking grandparents? Reader, it was not pretty. But this small town country girl proceeds with power and she easily gets a four chair turn. Obviously, everyone thinks she’s going with Blake — Gwen even reminds Brennan that if she picks her, she gets Blake anyway by default — but perhaps Blake scared her off with his “they know as much about country music as I know about pap smears,” which, like, ENOUGH BLAKE. Or maybe it’s the fact that Kelly is actually a great country singer, too? IDK. But Brennan goes with Ms. Clarkson, which is the exact right choice.
Chair Turns: A clean sweep!
Coach: Team Kelly

Rose Short, Killeen, Tex.
Song: “Preach” by John Legend
Two things became clear watching former correctional officer Rose Short’s audition: First, if you want John Legend as your coach, DO NOT sing a John Legend song. Second, I now need a reality show about Carson Daly and Rose Short’s family hanging out. MAKE IT HAPPEN, NBC. Aside from showcasing the most vocal control of the evening, Rose came armed with an excellent support system, who basically heckled the judges throughout their critiques. Bless them! Both Kelly and Gwen turn for Rose’s powerful vocals, and honestly, I was shocked that Rose doesn’t select the power singer on the panel, especially after she basically tells Rose that she sang that song better than the original artist…who is sitting right there. So I guess this is the third thing that became clear: Gwen is great at pitching herself as a coach. She tells Rose that she doesn’t need vocal coaching and she can help her with performance. It works, obviously!
Chair Turns: Kelly and Gwen
Coach: Team Gwen

Will Breman, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Song: “Say You’ll Be There” by The Spice Girls
You had me at “acoustic version of a Spice Girls song.” Will is a very cute pop singer-songwriter type — he busks in Santa Barbara, so you get it — and he wins points from the judges for his creative take on a Spice Girls bop, but he wins chair turns once he hits his falsetto. Two chairs, in fact: John Legend and Gwen Stefani battle it out to win Will’s affection, but Gwen’s lost the fight before she even starts — Will is a huge John Legend fan. To cement his dominance, John joins Will on stage and they sing an impromptu “Ordinary People.” He sounds even better in this song! Gwen’s a great salesperson, but this is true love.
Chair Turns: John and Gwen
Coach: Team Legend

Alex Guthrie, Marietta, Ga.
Song: “Love and Happiness” by Al Green
I love when we get an audition from the judges’ POV, come at me. Even before we see Alex, you can tell he’s got a smooth voice and he’s been doing this for a while. In fact, he’s friendly with JHud Productions and Jennifer is the one who encouraged the professional musician to audition. Alex isn’t the most dynamic artist we’ve seen this evening, but as Kelly points out, you want to hold something back for later in a competition like this. Don’t give all the goods away just yet! Maybe that’s the plan or maybe this laid back, soulful Alex is the Alex we’ll get the entire time. Either way, we’ll be getting it courtesy of Team Kelly — he was her opening act once and he’s attached!
Chair Turns: Kelly and Gwen
Coach: Team Kelly

Kat Hammock, Encinitas, Calif.
Song: “Vienna” by Billy Joel
Just as Gwen Stefani says she is dying for a young girl who sings like a Disney princess to join her team, in walks Kat, an 18-year-old who sings like a little angel person. Does Gwen Stefani have magical powers? Do they live in her golden corset embroidered with the word “queen?” I choose to believe the answer is “yes” to both questions. Kat loves listening to the Beach Boys with her dad and honestly, do we need to know anything else? She sings a lovely, albeit a little boring, version of “Vienna” and fits that sweet, quirky female vocalist slot perfectly. Get this girl on an Ingrid Michaelson song, stat! It takes a little time, but Judging Couple Blake and Gwen eventually both turn, and apparently Gwen’s magical powers are no match for Blake’s camo waders.
Chair Turns: Gwen and Blake
Coach: Team Blake

CJ Washington, Sacramento, Calif. and Timmy Hood, Lennox County, Mich.
Songs: “Tired of Being Alone” by Al Green and “Make It Rain” by Ed Sheeran, respectively
I’m sorry, did The Voice just do a package in which we were introduced to two singers: CJ, who is doing this for his very young, very cute children, who are there; and Timmy, who the show reunited with his MARINE BROTHER ahead of his audition, and then neither of them got any chair turns? WHAT IN THE FRESH HELL IS THIS? Admittedly, CJ did sound a little disconnected from his song and Timmy had decent vocals but no real personality on stage, BUT STILL. Did we have to go there? DID WE?
Chair Turns: How dare you, show.

Marina Chello, Plainview, N.Y.
Song: “Walk Me Home” by Pink
This is not the song I was expecting someone who was signed to Bad Boy Records in 2007 to sing, but I love a good surprise. Marina, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, thought she had her big break once before but was wrong — The Voice is her second chance. The entire performance feels like it’s leading up to something big, but it never comes. Don’t get me wrong, Marina hits some big ol’ notes with ease, but I was waiting for more. Which, as it turns out, is exactly why Kelly turns her chair — she thinks Marina is great but knows there is so much more to her. You’d think Kelly would be a lock here, but in one of the most shocking picks of the evening, Marina goes with Blake. From Puff Daddy to Blake Shelton, a true journey.
Chair Turns: Kelly and Blake
Coach: Team Blake

Kyndal Inskeep, Nashville, Tenn.
Song: “Never Been to Spain” by Three Dog Night
Let’s be real, as soon as they announced that Gwen Stefani would be returning to the show and joining her boyfriend Blake Shelton as a judge, you knew at some point (maybe multiple points?) one of them would be blocking the other and it would be this Whole Thing. Maybe you didn’t think it would entail Blake talking about his girlfriend blocking him on national television so much, but you knew something like it was coming. Enter Kyndal Inskeep, the coolest nanny in Nashville, who counts Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Nicks as musical influences and it shows (in more than her fringe jacket!). She’s solid and I can’t wait to see what she does next, once the drama of Gwen blocking Blake is gone. Kelly also turns and puts up a fight, but she is no match for Gwen, who desperately wants Kyndal’s rasp on her team. No one is a match for Gwen tonight.
Chair Turns: Gwen, Blake (blocked), and Kelly
Coach: Team Gwen

It’ll be interesting to see if Gwen gets pickier as her team fills up, but for now, this is Gwen Stefani’s world and we’re all just living in it, okay? That’s not a complaint.

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A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.
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