As The Voice’s Season 19 Blind Auditions continued Monday, two contestants made a big impression — one by demonstrating the vocal prowess of someone twice (three times?) his age, the other by outdoing Kelly Clarkson on one of her own songs. And if you read on, we’ll go over not only their tryouts but that of a would be rasp-kicker whose chance to join Team John Legend was thwarted by Gwen Stefani’s Block.
Rio Souma (Team Legend), “Cruisin’” — Grade: C | Though he holds the coveted job of automotive assemblyman in “very gritty” Detroit, Rio told us before his audition that he yearned to “break away from the 9-to-5 life.” Especially since for him, the 9-to-5 life meant 10 hours a day underneath a car. On stage, Rio gave an energetic performance that definitely demonstrated that he has a strong voice. But it was kinda all over the place, which suggested that he wasn’t entirely sure how to best utilize that voice. John, Kelly and Gwen were altogether wowed by Rio’s scattershot approach; me, more put off.
Ryan Berg (Team Gwen), “Waiting On the World to Change” — Grade: C+ | Presented initially as a truly blind audition, Ryan, with his “I drink gravel-tinis” vocal, sounded like he was gonna be a burly rocker — a Pryor Baird, say. But it turned out the Texan really more resembled a baby-faced accountant. I feel bad giving him a C+, because his voice was solid; it just wasn’t terribly interesting. Whereas Rio’s performance had gone arguably too many places, Ryan’s went too few. Anyway, since Gwen had blocked John, the two-chair turn was, as his coach put it, “stuck with” her, so I didn’t figure he’d be around too terribly long.
Jus Jon (Team Blake), “Talk” — Grade: C+ | Before his moment in the spotlight, Jus Jon (no relation to Will & Grace’s Just Jack) told us that his mom, now stricken with MS, has a hilarious tendency to tell people in grocery stores that he’s going to be famous and make him sing for them. Unfortunately, his audition was another case of fine voice, snoozy performance. Even Gwen noted that it was kinda a flat line — it stayed in one place for the duration. What’s more, he was so nervous on stage, he was as stiff as a diving board.
Ben Allen (Team Blake), “Red Dirt Road” — Grade: A- | This 42-year-old native of Tennessee didn’t discover his love of music till he was 30, at which point he quickly noticed that no matter what he sang, it was gonna come out with a twang. Needless to say, Blake turned his chair within a nanosecond. It was a good move, though. Ben’s voice had such a richness, it could make you feel like you were cheating on your diet just by listening. And he couldn’t have been any more country if he’d sung with a piece of hay sticking out of his mouth. His eventual coach went so far as to describe him as “nasally-sounding” — which Blake meant somehow as a compliment.
Kelsie Watts (Team Kelly), “I Dare You” — Grade: A | This showboat performer told us before she hit the stage that she didn’t regret for a minute deciding to be a singer instead of her first choice: pirate. After all, she’s still on the water now, and she gets paid. When the spotlight fell on her, she pretty much ripped out my heart with her rendition of her coach’s hit, an emotional and stripped-down interpretation that Kelly said “one-upped” her with its dynamism. Kelsie even threw in a whistle note, for Pete’s sake. She and Ben are ones to watch.
Carter Rubin (Team Gwen), “Before You Go” — Grade: A | Presented initially as a truly blind audition, this 14-year-old from Long Island fooled me into thinking that he was a husky-voiced woman. But that surprise was probably the least impressive thing about his performance. It was as solid as a brick wall and so nuanced, you’d have thought he must have been taking vocal lessons in utero. Definitely not your average “cute kid auditioning for The Voice.” And just when ya thought you couldn’t love Carter more, we learned about his insanely sweet relationship with his autistic older brother. I hate to be reeled in by backstory, but I’ll admit I came away not only thinking the two-chair turn could win but hoping he would.
Casmé (Team Legend), “Baby I Love You” — Grade: A- | The oldest of eight, this 39-year-old New Orleanian has mentored young women for so long that when she got married, she had a virtual army of bridesmaids. She hoped she could prove wrong those who questioned why she still pursued her musical dreams at her age. Mission accomplished. Her voice went during her audition from silky to raw to downright raucous. What’s more, the one-chair turn was animated and entertaining to watch, a real dynamo, especially as she got more comfortable on stage. Jus Jon could stand to take showmanship tips from her.
DeSz (Team TBD), “Unbreak My Heart” — Grade: B- | After sharing the harrowing story of how she first sang in public at her mom’s funeral at age 11 — at her mom’s request — the contestant with the season’s hardest-to-spell name brought an ultimately memorable lower register to the stage. She clearly has pipes for days but was only getting a C from me — her performance was as shaky as a tremor — until she hit a run toward the end that may have qualified as a marathon. Maybe I’m being as finicky as John at this point, but DeSz left me going “Eh, OK” more than “Well, all right!” Anyway, the reveal of the four-chair turn’s coach selection was left as a cliffhanger for Tuesday. So see ya here tomorrow?