I rediscovered “The Voice” as a result of the most unfortunate common experience known to young adults: wisdom tooth removal. I sat on the couch for a few days, hardly able to speak or eat solid food, much less sing (not that my singing sounds all that much different on a normal day), but enthralled by the extensive talent of the contestants. I had watched the show in bits and pieces as a child, but only then, somewhat delirious with nothing else to do, was I able to sit for hours on end and watch full episodes back-to-back-to-back. “The Voice” is really a show for everyone, especially those of us who love to sing, but shouldn’t. Oh, to be swept away by beautiful vocals that sound absolutely NOTHING like me in the shower —but I digress. All of this suffices to say that I’ve been following the show for a few seasons now, lending me the credibility to declare unequivocally that Season 21 is “The Voice” at its best.
For those unfamiliar, “The Voice” employs a slightly different structure from most singing competitions. During the Blind Auditions, the four coaches have their backs turned to the auditionee and only turn their chairs around if they’re willing to offer the auditionee a spot on their team. From there, the auditionees-turned-contestants enter the Battles (my personal favorite segment of the competition), where they compete in a sing-off duet with another contestant from their team. The winner moves on to the next round; the loser goes home unless one of the coaches feels compelled to award them with a “steal” or “save.” A steal allows a coach to offer a contestant a spot on their team and a save is used to advance one additional member of their own team who didn’t win their battle into the Knockouts. In the Knockouts, the contestants go head to head again but perform a song of their choice solo.
Survivors of the Knockouts enter “the Lives,” meaning shows that air in real time, starting with the Live Playoffs. The competition intensifies in “the Lives” as the numbers dwindle rapidly and coaches gradually lose their influence over who stays and who goes home. Admittedly, the best of the content airs between the Blinds, Battles and Knockouts. In “the Lives,” after the number of contestants has been whittled down to 20, the blinding lights and band begin to overpower what we truly watch the show for: the voices of these extremely talented artists. In addition, “the Lives” make us sweat because they leave our dear contestants in incredibly dangerous and unpredictable hands — the hands of American voters.
Every season of the show brings jaw-dropping performances, tear-jerker moments, a fresh crop of unique and diverse contestants and, usually, a slightly different set of coaches, but Season 21 has brought all four on an entirely new level. The new faces of this season have breathed new life into the show as it enters its eleventh year on television. Newbie Ariana Grande rounds out the season’s coaching staff, otherwise composed of veterans Kelly Clarkson, John Legend and, coach since the show’s inception, Blake Shelton. Though it pains me to admit this publicly, I always wanted to be on the show growing up (read: before I realized how incredibly out of my reach that is for me). The heartbreak has healed with time, but seeing Ariana’s pure soul and investment in her team has opened an old wound. If you’re not an Ari fan yet, her tenure as a coach will ensure you become one. Some coaches do their job on the show, and that’s where their interaction with and support of the contestants ends — that is clearly not the case for Ariana. She cries at every elimination, distressed by the thought of letting a single member of her team go home. The tears never came in such a flood as during the first episode of the Lives, when she could only choose one more of her remaining three team members to keep on the show. Before she made the gut-wrenching decision, she addressed her team: “Everyone is equally— I don’t have any idea what to say, you all are so brilliant; the most incredible human beings and vocalists I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. I will be here as a friend and a mentor if you want; I am only a FaceTime away every day forever; I love you all so much and respect you, forever.”
Of course, this is not to say that Ariana is the only coach who is deeply invested in her team’s success within and beyond the show. Blake Shelton, for one, has toured with former contestants and is said to bond deeply with his team members. RaeLynn, a Team Blake contestant in Season 2, referred to Blake, who even attended her wedding, as a “dad/brother” figure in her life. Kelly Clarkson, like Ariana, has been known to get emotional on “The Voice,” frequently moved to tears by contestant performances.
This season’s group of contestants has been equally compelling, not only in terms of vocal skill but in personality and identity. This season especially, women of all shapes, sizes and races get their chance to shine, and a trans teen seizes the opportunity to sing on TV out and proud. It’s the nature and format of “The Voice” that allows marginalized people to showcase their talent — and their story — to the world. People who normally wouldn’t get the chance they deserve in the music industry because they don’t “look” like the traditional pop star get to sing their hearts out and receive expert coaching here — to the joy of millions of viewers.
This season, audiences have been especially endeared to Jeremy Rosado, Jim and Sasha, Vaughn Mugol and Sabrina Diaz. Rosado, a 29-year-old teddy bear, adopted his biological niece at a young age and raised her as his own. He broke down in tears as he gushed about her accomplishments and performed “Run to You” beautifully in her honor during the Knockouts. Jim and Sasha are a father-son duo that combines the wholesome and electric in all of their performances, most notably “Hey Jude” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Sasha is open about his transgender identity and watching his exuberance explode onstage as he performs as his true self honestly makes me tear up. His performances bring me hope that someday everyone can feel so comfortable in their skin. Vaughn Mugol, for his part, delighted in the Blinds with his sweet performance of “The A Team,” but it’s his backstory that really struck a chord. The youngster works as a nurse and sings to his patients. To Vaughn Mugol and all of our frontliners: Thank you for doing what you do. Also worth mentioning is Sabrina Dias. She not only stunned audiences by auditioning in Portuguese and showing up to the Battles with an indubitably sexy purple haircut — her soulful performances on “The Voice” have also been accompanied by footage of Dias with her wife and their beautiful child. More queer love and serenades on TV, please!
Group contestants, too, have always provided some allure, usually in the form of harmony, but this season’s groups — the Cunningham Sisters, a biracial teenage sibling duo, Girl Named Tom, an adult sibling trio and Jim and Sasha — have all brought top-notch family harmony and dynamics that tug at the heartstrings.
Other standout performances of the season include Girl Named Tom’s cover of “Wichita Lineman,” Jershika Maple’s cover of “Rolling in the Deep,” The Cunningham Sisters and Parker McKay’s performance of “It’s My Party,” Sabrina Dias and Jack Rogan’s take on “cardigan,” Paris Winningham’s “Tennessee Whiskey” and Holly Forbes’s performance of “Rocketman.” I really could go on and on, but instead I’ll let you see for yourself. Check out “The Voice” on Hulu, cable or YouTube.
TV Beat Editor Emmy Snyder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.