“I’ve always been told, ‘You’re not going to be able to do the normal things that other people do.’ And I want to prove to them, ‘You know what? You’re wrong. No matter what your disability is, you can do whatever you put your mind to,’” proclaimed 24-year-old soul-pop singer Ali.
And Ali certainly accomplished that mission Monday, on the night of three The Voice Season 23 Blind Auditions.
Ali was born with “profound hearing loss,” which her musician father realized when he hit one of his drums very hard with a toddler-aged Ali nearby, and his daughter didn’t even flinch. “It was devastating,” Ali’s mother, sitting with Ali’s father and speaking with Voice host Carson Daly, recalled. “All these things go through your head like, ‘What about music?’”
It turns out that Ali’s mom and dad needn’t have worried. “My parents, they never really looked at it like I was ‘broken,'” Ali explained. “We worked around it. We worked with it. Music is something that I love so much. As much as I doubt myself, I’m going to do it. Even though I can’t really hear every single thing that’s going on, I can feel the music — what it means and what the lyrics are about — and I can also feel the beat. I can feel every little thing coming out of the speaker, and that’s how I’m able to do the things that I do. That’s my superpower.”
Ali admitted that “it took a long time for me to have this kind of courage to do something as big as this, but she seemed supremely confident on the Voice stage, and much like Season 16 winner Maelyn Jarmon — who also once described her own partial deafness as her “superpower” — she had a beautiful, raspy-but-rounded tone and shockingly perfect pitch. After her lovely cover of Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Song,” she told the coaches, “Fun fact about me is I am hearing-impaired. I wear two hearing aids. I was born deaf. I’m so blessed to be able to share this.” And they were understandably astounded.
“If you had lined up all the singers that we’ve heard so far and then said, ‘Pick which one is hearing-impaired,’ you would be the probably the last one that I would say,” Blake Shelton said with a chuckle. “That vocal was just incredible!”
“You are incredible. Any sort of adversity that you’ve had in your life, you are just jumping hurdles here, and it’s incredible to watch,” added Niall Horan.
As for the two coaches that actually turned for Ali — Kelly Clarkson and Chance the Rapper — Kelly marveled, “Your runs were so intricate and cool and different. That’s a gift. … Sometimes you hear a song that you know so well, that’s embedded in you, and when some people change it, it can kind of be weird. But the changes you made, they were so you. I was like, ‘I need to turn around and see who is singing this!’”
Despite Kelly’s lavish and sincere praise, I thought Ali would pick Chance when he mentioned that he works with an “awesome organization” called Definitely Dope that puts on ASL hip-hop performances for national music festivals. “I made a lot of friends from the deaf and hard-of-hearing community [through Definitely Dope], and I think it’s so dope if they could look to somebody that loves music as much as they do,” Chance told Ali. “I think that’s super-important and powerful, and naturally you just have an amazing voice; all the choices that you were making felt very soulful. I would love to hear you sing some gospel.”
The fact that Ali is also a gospel singer/fan seemed to give Chance even more of an edge, but eventually, Ali joined Team Kelly. I’m just happy that Ali took this “leap of faith” and found a place on it The Voice. “I’m excited to work with someone who experiences music on different levels than I do. She’s so bold and confident, and I really want to get into songs with her,” Kelly said of her new team member. “I wanna know what that’s like to feel music.”
Monday brought some other standout singers who brought the feelings. These were the other successful Blind Auditions of the night:
Ryley Tate Wilson, 15: “Dancing on My Own”
This bedroom-pop prodigy and self-described oddball delivered a heartfelt, vulnerable Robyn cover that Chance described as “fire” and had Niall exclaiming, “My head nearly exploded!” That was the best audition we’ve seen here by a longshot.” Niall — who recalled being super-nervous when he auditioned for a “similar show” as a teenager while undergoing a pubescent voice change — was amazed by Ryley’s maturity, poise, and vocal control.
Who turned? Kelly (“light-years before the others!”) and Niall, followed by Blake and Chance.
Result: Team Niall. Apparently Niall’s threat to “come to blows in the parking lot” with Blake over Ryley worked. But such threats probably weren’t necessary: While Ryley confessed that he’d initially planned to join Team Kelly, even Blake knew that he was always Ryley’s “fourth choice.”
Jamar Langley, 36: “Try Me”
Jamar has been waiting long time for his chance to “try” again: He began singing at age 3, starting writing “PG” love songs at age 11, and formed a vocal group with his older brothers at 14. But then, Jamar had to put his music career on hold when he became a father in his early twenties. He seemed nervous to be on such a big stage, but maybe he’s finally ready for prime time.
Who turned? Chance and Blake, who both decided to give Jamar a “try” at the very last minute. “That was a perfect example of not giving up, because [your performance] didn’t start out perfect, but then it got really good — and then it got great,” said Blake. “It’s always cool to see somebody who genuinely wants it, make it,” agreed Chance.
Result: Team Chance.
Allie Keck, 28: “Paris (Ooh La La)”
Ooh la la la la, indeed! This growly, Nashville-based Americana powerhouse came storming out of the gate with her fiery, oh-so-sexy Grace Potter cover, which Kelly described as sounding like “Janis and Ann Wilson at one time.” Chance actually said Allie sounded like a human electric guitar. Blake hollered, “That’s it what I’m talking about — somebody on this show that rocks!”
Who turned? Blake and Kelly. Niall confessed that he regretted not turning — as well as he should, because this was a real missed opportunity. As Kelly and Blake noted, Allie will occupy her own lane this season.
Result: Team Kelly, which was clearly the right decision. Together these dynamite ladies will rock Season 23, for sure.
Walker Wilson, 24: Hurricane
This old-school Southern rocker’s day job (or night job, technically) is working as a bouncer at a Nashville bar, but he has aspirations of making a real name for himself on Music Row. Blake was already brainstorming Waylon and Willie covers for Walker to do, and I think Walker could be a favorite with Voice regulars if Walker he in that lane.
Who turned? Only Blake — but let’s face it, there was no other coach who had a shot anyway. Kelly even admitted that’s why she didn’t bother to hit her button. “The minute you started, [Blake] was all over it. You guys are a match made in heaven,” said Niall.
Result: Team Blake. “I am damn proud to have you on my team,” Blake told Walker.
Manasseh Samone, 22: “Rise Up”
This classically trained opera singer tried out last season but turned no chairs, with coach John Legend advising her to work on controlling her prominent vibrato. This time around, she sang for three coaches who’d never heard her before (John is sitting out this season, while Kelly took last season off). And one of Season 23’s rookies, Chance, was impressed by the new-and-improved Manasseh’s “unique and specific” tone on her Andra Day anthem, even comparing her to a young Jennifer Hudson.
Who turned? Only Chance, who excitedly called getting this diva all to himself his “biggest blessing of the season so far.”
Result: Team Chance, obviously.
Jerome Godwin III, 20: “pov”
This dental student with the superstar smile said he was at a “crossroads” in his life, wondering if he should pursue his real career dream rather than his safer Plan B. Well, I guess he’s going to have to take at least one semester off from dental school! While it took a while for Jerome to turn any chairs — as Chance pointed out, he did have some pitch issues — his “super-soulful” runs, mastery of his lower register, and pure passion eventually made two coaches smile.
Who turned? Niall and Kelly.
Result: Team Niall.
EJ Michels, 31: “Easy on Me”
In a classic face-doesn’t-match-the-voice TV moment, everyone was gobsmacked when they spun around and saw a high-pitched piano Man, not a Carole King-esque songstress, onstage. This former frontman for pop-rock band Foreign Figures, who grew up in conversational Utah but finally found the courage to come out as gay and present his true, authentic self on the Voice stage, poured all of his passion and pain into Adele’s not-easy-to-pull-off “Easy on Me.” Blake said the break in EJ’s “so raw and honest” voice “created an angst” that “emotionally had me on the edge,” and joked that if EJ could have that effect on the “most callous person in the music industry who’s been sitting here for 23 seasons,” he’d surely be unstoppable.
Who turned? Chance and Blake.
Result: Team Blake! That was another EJ curveball. I thought Chance had this one in the bag when he praised EJ’s “heady upper register” and suggested D’Angelo and Maxwell neo-soul covers, which I think really would’ve worked for EJ. Oh well. “I can’t wait to hear EJ in the next round, performing some Tim McGraw or something,” Chance grumbled sarcastically.
Laura Littleton, 26: “Sign of the Times”
This Tennessee bluegrass singer had an interesting and iconoclastic style — Kelly described it as “Dolly Parton meets Florence & the Machine”—– but I thought the Harry Styles space ballad was a bit too big for her reedy tone. However, Laura’s creative song arrangement and sparkling personality more than made up for that. This girl was so likable, even the one coach who didn’t turn for her, Chance, eventually hopped onstage to give her a big hug.
Who turned? Kelly, Niall, and Blake — but Kelly blocked the latter coach, her longtime rival.
Result: Team Niall! I have a feeling Laura would have picked Blake if she had that option, because she sweetly gushed that she was “so honored” and “thankful” to be part of Blake’s final season. That comment initially made Kelly feel “really horrible” for robbing Laura of a Team Blake opportunity — but she soon felt way more horrible about note blocking Niall, the coach with the obvious connection to the original “Sign of the Times” artist and the new rival who’s being groomed to be The New Blake. Whoops.
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