It’s the third episode of The Voice season 9, but Gwen, Adam, Blake, and Pharrell are all still stuck in the same outfits they wore last week, because the auditions are all filmed at once. It looks like that they’ve been trapped in this NBC studio for seven days straight, subsisting off sponsored Starbucks drinks and idly spinning their chairs back and forth while awaiting freedom. We can’t let them out just yet, though: The most diverse group of singers we’ve seen so far this season definitely is about to make their captivity more enjoyable.
First to audition is 22-year-old Morgan Frazier, from Nashville, Tenn. Her thick Southern accent gives away her chosen genre before she even reveals what type of singer she’d like to be, but Morgan has a surprise for us: She performs her own arrangement of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me,” the antithesis of a country song that she manages to make entirely her own. Nine seasons in, viewers have the show’s beats down, so it’s always a pleasure when a performer gives us something we wouldn’t expect. Blake and Gwen both turn for Morgan and, after Blake points out the uniqueness of her tone, which he says is both “fragile and powerful,” there’s no doubt who she’ll chose: Morgan joins Team Blake.
Next is Amanda Ayala, a recent high school graduate from Mahopac, N.Y., and the first Voice singer who self-identifies as being “born to rock.” Amanda has played in a classic-rock cover band for years, but her rendition of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen” doesn’t bring the showmanship the song requires, and she comes off a little flat. Still, Blake, Adam, and Pharrell all turn around (probably because they know Amanda could be their only chance to work with someone in this genre). They all pitch themselves, and Adam pretends, not for the first time, that Maroon 5 is a rock band. Is nothing sacred to these people? His smooth-talking works, and Amanda joins Team Adam.
After Amanda comes Jeffery Austin, a 24-year-old soul-pop artist who hasn’t performed on stage in six years. (The Voice helpfully showed us all of Jeffery’s embarrassing high school musical photos, exactly what every young professional wants broadcast to millions of viewers.) Jeffery sang Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down,” and I’ve got to give it to him: His tone matches Smith’s almost perfectly, and he nailed the song’s emotional force. I’m not sure it’s wise for a contestant to set himself up for comparisons to the male Adele — and, indeed, he doesn’t have the higher register that makes Smith truly one-of-a-kind — but his audition was enough to make Gwen a believer. She was the only coach to turn, so Jeffery becomes the newest member of Team Gwen.
Lyndsey Elm, another singer who showed off her arranging abilities as well as her voice, is next to audition. She busts out a version of Meghan Trainor’s “Lips Are Movin” that barely resembles the original — in a good way. Her funked-up take showed that, though she’s fairly new to music, she knows exactly what kind of artist she wants to be. There are a few other people this season who could out-sing her, but Lyndsey makes performing look easy and natural, while still taking risks. That combination earned her the first four-chair turn of the night, and Lyndsey joins Jeffery on Team Gwen.
The episode’s second hour starts off with Manny Cabo, a 45-year-old freelance fashion photographer from Elizabeth, N.J. If the coaches were worried Amanda Ayala might represent their one shot at nabbing a rock singer this evening, Manny is here to prove them wrong. He’s an unapologetic hair band devotee (though, as Blake points out, he has no hair), and his performance of Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again,” brings down the house. Manny has huge, full voice, and he makes smart choices with it. He saves the real surprise, a high note Adam himself would be jealous of, for the very end, after all four coaches have already turned. The competition is steep, but Manny chooses Adam — which means Adam’s team will end up being at minimum 25 percent rock singers (he also has Keith Semple, from the premiere).
NEXT: It’s not “Too Late” for Pharrell’s first singer