Many nervous, no-chair Voice auditioners have gotten off to a shaky start during the past dozen seasons, but none of them have bungled it quite so badly as poor Stephan Marcellus. On Tuesday’s Voice episode, the admittedly jittery alternative-soul singer shockingly botched his intro of Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” — the sort of egregious lyrical error that may be typical of American Idol’s disastrous Hollywood Week group numbers, but an unheard-of occurrence among the vetted pros and semipros that usually appear on The Voice.
Stephan recovered quickly and, to his credit, refused to give up, belting his heart out in an attempt to make up for his mistake. But of course, he seemed doomed to serenade the backs of the unimpressed coaches’ chairs for the remainder of his performance. He had already blown it.
And then Jennifer Hudson turned around.
Yes, you read that correctly. In what was either a spontaneous show of sympathy, a case of a very fine-tuned ear and open mind, or a completely staged made-for-TV comeback moment, new coach Jennifer apparently heard something special in Stephan’s soulful voice, and she hit her button.
This was a bizarre plot twist, especially considering that earlier in the night, another promising contestant, folk singer Jessica Rowboat, failed to turn any chairs with her pleasant and flub-free cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” And even after Jennifer spun around, she still seemed unsure, wearing a quizzical, vexed look on her face, seemingly mentally willing Stephan not to mess up again.
But thankfully, Stephen didn’t mess up. Upon second listen, he actually sounded pretty good! Jennifer’s support gave him the needed confidence to power through the challenging ballad, and he finished strong. He may have finished with only one chair (Adam Levine, Miley Cyrus, and Blake Shelton weren’t as willing to give him the benefit of the doubt), but hey, on The Voice, one chair is all you need. Just ask last season’s champion, Chris Blue.
“What’s crazy and awesome about that is there was some sort of thing going wrong, and then we all heard you find it. Next thing I knew, Jennifer turned around. That’s literally never happened before,” said a flabbergasted Adam.
An equally stunned Blake added, “How cool is it that that happened to you? Jennifer is your hero. She swooped down, and she saved the day for you, man.”
Jennifer explained her heroic action thus: “It’s because I was in that same position before [on the Tony Awards], and I completely forgot all the words to the song. But that don’t mean you can’t sing. And so I could instantly relate, because I just saw myself when I was up there like, ‘Now, I know I knew those words yesterday!’ But you didn’t stop. You stumbled a bit, you went away, but that voice was still there, and I could hear that. And with the right direction and the right coaching, you can get there, because you do have a great voice.” Hopefully Jennifer’s coaching can keep Stephan from slipping up in the Battles, Knockouts, and Playoffs.
On the other end of the spectrum was incredibly polished and professional quadruple-chair-turner Emily Luther. It’s understandable why this Berklee-schooled jazz chanteuse was so confident and calm: This wasn’t her first attempt at landing a TV record deal. In 2011, her YouTube duet of Adele’s “Someone Like You” with friend Charlie Puth (yes, that Charlie Puth), recorded for a Perez Hilton cover-song contest, went viral and led to Emily and Charlie signing as a duo to eleveneleven, a record label founded by Ellen DeGeneres (yes, that Ellen DeGeneres).
Oddly, Emily mentioned none of this on Tuesday, although she did talk about her past jobs singing backup for Dionne Warwick and Yolanda Adams. But obviously, her old friend Charlie’s career has soared as a solo artist on Atlantic Records, while hers has stalled. After extricating herself from a failed record deal with L.A. label executives — presumably not Ellen — who focused obsessively on her looks/image and damaged her self-esteem, Emily is back in Rhode Island, singing at weddings and hoping for another big break.
The Voice could provide that break. Emily’s “Summertime” performance was elegant and tasteful, and all of the coaches were impressed. Jennifer compared Emily to Barbra Streisand; Adam adored her “super-’60s, syrupy, jazzy tone”; and Blake told her, “Nobody has anybody like you on their team, because, my God, there’s nobody like you in this competition at all!”
Emily joined Team Adam, but I think she should have gone with Miley. While it is unfortunate and infuriating that those lookist A&R execs tried to make Emily over into some sort of sexy pop queen, she seems really old and conservative for 24, and nothing about her is marketable to a wider audience. Assuming Emily is aiming for a Puth-sized audience and doesn’t want to just stick to jazz, I think Miley is the coach who could have loosened her up and found ways to modernize her stiff, stuffy style. Jazz can be crossover-cool (see: Esperanza Spaulding, Robert Glasper, Melody Gardot, Amy Winehouse, David Bowie’s Blackstar), but Emily needs a little more swing.
Oh well. These were the other successful singers of Tuesday’s one-hour Blind Auditions episode:
Anthony’s dad used to be a camera operator on The Voice, meaning Anthony spent much of his boyhood hanging out on the show’s set. But of course he decided to audition entirely on his own, without his father’s help or connections! Riiiight. Sure he did. I believe that about as much as I believe that that’s really coffee in Blake’s sippy cup. Anyway, Anthony didn’t really need any nepotism to advance on the show. The kid was that good. The 17-year-old, MJ/Timberlake-influenced pop/rock/soul singer worked his falsetto to such full effect on Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” I was wondering if he’d even gone through puberty yet.
Jennifer was excited, actually comparing Anthony to Prince. (He wasn’t that good, Jennifer. Cool your jets.) Miley just thought Anthony was cute, speaking for all of the teen girls who will likely vote for this potential Season 13 heartthrob. But naturally, Anthony’s high notes attracted Adam’s attention — Adam is like a puppy hearing a dog whistle whenever a high-pitched male singer hits the stage — and he seemed like Anthony’s kindred vocal spirit. “I just know I can get your falsetto to a 15 out of 10, because to me, that is how a male vocalist gets to the pinnacle of their talent,” Adam said helpfully. Anthony made the right decision here.
MEMBER OF: Team Adam
This 18-year-old Kids Rock camp alumna received an encouraging pre-audition video message from rockin’ camp counselor Gene Simmons, but that didn’t help her bring the KISS-worthy fire. Her cover of “Invincible” by future Season 14 coach Kelly Clarkson was at best generic, and at worst, shouty and pitchy. I was surprised that both Miley and Blake turned for her at the very last minute, but then again, Jennifer turned for Stephan and no one turned for Jessica Rowboat, so nothing should surprise me anymore.
Miley told Sophia, “You definitely had some moments that weren’t as strong, but I know you have a huge range.” Blake told Sophia he loved her “incredible pop/soulful voice.” Sophia, the daughter of a single mom, then told Blake, “You’d be a cool dad!” And things got a little awkward. Things will probably get even more awkward when Sophia is montaged in the Battle Rounds, as I suspect she is fodder. Despite Gene’s endorsement, this girl isn’t ready to rock ’n’ roll all night, let alone all season.
MEMBER OF: Team Miley
This 18-year-old music student, one of those raised-on-vinyl-records, old-soul teens that Voice producers love (think Maddie Davis or Sawyer Fredericks), was named after Carly Simon. So it made sense that she auditioned with “You’re So Vain.” Her voice was distinctive — sharp, clear, reedy, and a little cloying, with tons of vibrato — and it fit the quirky song choice. But I suspect Karli will have limited appeal going forward, and a limited selection of other songs that will work as well with her range and style.
Still, both Miley and Adam were interested in Karli. (Maybe they thought the song was about them. Heh.) “To be able to represent women who want to work hard is really what I want to do,” said Miley — contradicting her statement last week that her ultimate Season 13 goal was to win with a country singer — “and I look forward to having you make a mark in herstory,” seemingly quoting RuPaul Charles. Adam then told Karli, “You have my favorite voice of anyone in this competition,” pretty much forgetting everything he’d told his previous pet, Addison Agen, just the night before. Man, these coaches are so forgetful! Hopefully Miley will remember to give Karli the help she needs to fine-tune those shrill vocals.
MEMBER OF: Team Miley
Tune in next week, when the (hopefully mistake-free) Blind Auditions conclude.