It’s easy to forget that Miley Cyrus is country music royalty, since she’s spent her past few wild-child years making headlines by experimenting with psych-rock eccentrics the Flaming Lips, scandalizing the VMAs, collaborating with rappers, and either dressing up like a very well-endowed unicorn or getting undressed for Terry Richardson’s camera. However, Miley is the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus and the goddaughter of none other than Dolly Parton, and on her sixth album, Younger Now, which comes out this week, she’s returning to her roots. (Literally — the nearly 25-year-old singer has even grow out the drastic platinum pixie she adopted for her Bangerz-era makeover.)
So it makes sense that as Miley returns to The Voice for her second season, she’s angling to win with a country contestant. But while she has the perfect pedigree and Nashville know-how, she’s up against America’s real sweetheart, five-time winning coach and nine-time CMA award winner Blake Shelton. During Tuesday’s Blind Auditions, she tried three times to lure a country singer to Team Miley, even showing up in a star-spangled Dale Evans rodeo outfit and trotting out her father (who will serve as her team adviser later this season, during the Battle Rounds). But for most of the night, all Blake had to do to seal his deal was make that famous finger-pointy gesture above his head.
Was Miley able to convince any crossover country artist that, as a coach, she could offer the best of both worlds? Here’s how Tuesday’s auditions panned out…
This genre- and expectations-defying woman was just made for TV. An African-American country/soul singer who got her start in L.A. churches and spent five years singing background vocals for Nicki Minaj, 30-year-old Keisha is surely the perfect artist to “break the mold of what people think a country artist looks like,” and the perfect artist for Team Miley — or so it seemed Tuesday.
Actually, Keisha, who belted the Ray Charles-popularized 1958 Don Gibson classic “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” could have been a good match for Blake, Miley, or new coach Jennifer Hudson — basically for anyone except Adam Levine, although Adam turned his fourth chair anyway. “She’s singing something that Blake would do, with Jennifer’s voice, and she’s got Miley’s style,” Adam joked, taking a look at Keisha’s jaunty hat and Doc Martens boots.
“Nashville is thriving right now because there are so many people that are putting a new face to country music. I think I’ve got everything as a coach that you want to do. I can do pop music. I can do country music. I know I can blend the two together,” Miley begged.
Blake countered with: “Country music is my life.” And just like that, Keisha went with Blake. But this may have been her shrewdest strategy — aside from Mickey Guyton, Rissi Palmer, and Miko Marks, pretty much no black female country singers have made a dent in the country music world in recent years (or any years). So the support of a mainstream country star like Blake might be what Keisha needs to pull in country votes. However, I really would have liked to see this one go Miley’s way.
MEMBER OF: Team Blake
This milquetoast 28-year-old’s low-energy performance of X Factor U.K. winner James Arthur’s wedding ballad “Say You Won’t Let Go” was a mumbly, mushmouthed mess. I immediately assumed he’d be a no-chair also-ran — that the coaches would prop him up with a lot of false promises about him coming back next year, and then he’d be on his way. So I was shocked when Jennifer and Adam eventually hit their buttons.
It made a little more sense when Jennifer explained that she heard potential in Dylan’s faltering vocals, and she immediately went into full-on vocal-coach mode, proving how she won The Voice U.K. earlier this year. When Jennifer suggested Dylan sing the song in a different key, a half step up, he admittedly did improve.
However, Dylan, an avowed Maroon 5 fan, went with Adam, who loved Dylan’s “subtle” style. What a dumb move. Jennifer actually could have helped Dylan, for as long as he lasted on this show. But let’s face it, Dylan would be montage-able Battle Rounds fodder no matter which team he joined. We’re only two episodes into Season 13, and we’ve already seen many other superior singers.
MEMBER OF: Team Adam
The daughter of Indonesian immigrants, niece of Emilia Contessa (“the Whitney Houston of Indonesia”), and a former Indonesian pop recording artist herself, Maharasyi came to the show with an impressive international résumé. Her performance felt old-fashioned (a straightforward interpretation of Rufus and Chaka Khan’s 1974 hit “Tell Me Something Good”) and she had a bit of a trying-too-hard quality, but her voice was undeniably strong and soulful. Miley and Jennifer, the two coaches who turned, chalked up Maharasyi’s desperate vibe to nerves.
Maharasyi admitted that she’d shied away from a “scary” high note in the Chaka song, at which point Jennifer went right back to her aggressive coach approach and encouraged Maharasyi to just go for it. The results were not great — maybe Jennifer’s advice isn’t always the best — but, hey, at least Maharasyi tried, right? And at least this time, Jennifer got her way.
MEMBER OF: Team J.Hud
This “country as cornbread” 40-year-old, a former Music Row demo singer, could not have been more obvious Team Blake material if he’d shown up onstage wearing an “Ol’ Red”-era mullet and drinking a Starbucks cup filled with whiskey. His performance of John Anderson’s “Swingin’” wasn’t remarkable — this was typical weeknight bar-band fare, and it was corny as cornbread, really. But Middle America will probably love the guy. Blake and Miley sure did.
I’m not sure why Miley fought so hard to get Red on her team when (a.) she clearly had no chance and (b.) Red, unlike Keisha, wasn’t very interesting or edgy. But she gave it her best shot. “You may already have it set that you want to go to Blake, but I’m a strong fighter. That’s why I’m sitting here on this chair. And I came here to this season because I want to bring a new face to country music. When I grew up, I sat with Waylon Jennings, I sat with Dolly Parton, and I took notes. I’m here to win The Voice with a country artist, and, Red, you are as country as they get,” Miley said.
Blake, who it turned out had already met Red years earlier back in his mullet days, then said, “To have a guy that wants to represent country music from the era that you and I grew up in, that’s exciting to me.” I don’t think I need to tell you which coach Red chose.
MEMBER OF: Team Blake
This 21-year-old South Carolina honky-tonk badass stormed out in her cowgirl boots doing what she described as “‘You Are My Sunshine’ in the style of Chris Stapleton.” This was an interesting prospect on paper — and on the stage, it was awesome! Ashley’s big, bluesy voice and gritty outlaw style had Blake and Miley (and outlier Adam, although he stood zero chance) jumping out of their red chairs. “I’ve been looking for you!” Miley shouted. But Miley still had Blake to contend with.
“Blake really is the king of country, that’s for sure, but they need a queen. And I would hope that would be me. Because I’m back, more rooted and grounded than I’ve ever been in my life, and I want us to be this power team of two females who aren’t scared of being the punk-rock Dolly Parton,” Miley declared. (Side note: Don’t confuse Ashland with Season 11’s Maye Thomas, whom Miley wanted to turn into the “Gothic Dolly Parton.” Miley plays the Dolly card a lot on this show. But I can’t blame her; if I was lucky enough to be Dolly Parton’s goddaughter, I’d seriously have that printed on my business card. Or tattooed on my forehead.)
Blake then told Ashland, “I think it’s important to recognize the traditional sound that you have. There hasn’t been a voice like yours on country radio since Gretchen Wilson. There’s a total open lane for you right now.”
And that lane apparently led to … Miley Cyrus! Yes, in a last-minute twist, Ashland, who’d been “dead set” on signing up with Blake, joined Team Miley instead. I think she made the right decision. I can’t wait to see these two ladies duet together on the live shows.
MEMBER OF: Team Miley
Come back next Monday for more Voice Blind Auditions, when Jennifer doles out more sound (if unsolicited) advice and Blake and Miley battle for more country contestants. See you then!