The Voiceis now down to its last OG coach in Blake Shelton, but in Season 17's premiere, the new red chair quartet (Shelton, Gwen Stefani, Kelly Clarkson, and John Legend) didn't miss a beat. Following Adam Levine's departure from the competition series after 16 seasons, fans might have had some concerns that the show would miss his blistery frenemance with Shelton, his willingness to critique contestants during the courtship process, or even his status as the go-to rock star of the lineup. But Shelton happily remains the lightning rod of the new season (Stefani, who in addition to being a seasoned Voice coach is also his real-life girlfriend, serves as a very different kind of foil to the country singer than she did to Levine), and with returning winners Clarkson and Legend still boasting their respective energy and poise, the tone of the show remains solid in its new season.
If anything, it's a bit softer -- the coaches still traded plenty of barbs in the Season 17 premiere, but the exchanges were more playful than the acidic insults Levine directed at Shelton in the past. And although Shelton and Stefani have certainly played to the intrigue of their Hollywood romance before, without Levine's trusty taunts, they seem to feel freer to flirt and engage in PDA, for better (hey, after all they've been through, who isn't rooting for these kids to succeed?) and for worse (there's an unfair advantage in Gwen's "two-for-one deal" pitch to potential contestants).
Meanwhile, Legend's VEGOT-boasting authority is already earning him some impressive team members, and Clarkson's unbridled enthusiasm for the new batch of hopefuls still makes her hard to say no to (and yes, she's still getting snipped at by Shelton for being so verbose). Stefani seems ready to pick up Levine's mantle in terms of honesty, avoiding hyperbole with imperfect singers when necessary -- and she's adopted Clarkson's team jacket trend. And Shelton is still using his pointy finger and supreme knowledge of geography to secure his status as the coach for any country artists who come across the stage.
The Voice isn't just about the celebrity coaches though, as much as it might seem that way sometimes. Season 17's first slate of blind auditions were hit and miss.
The highlights of the evening's blind auditioners include: raspy soul singer Katie Kadan, who earned four chair turns and join Team Legend; the prison guard with a gospel tone, Rose Short, who joins Team Gwen; Will Breman, an autistic man whose bubbly-pop spin on a familiar piece earns him a place on Team Legend and a chance to do a duet of "Ordinary People" with him; Alex Guthrie, whose smooth soft rock tones land him on Team Kelly before it's revealed that he's actually friends with former Voice coach Jennifer Hudson; Kat Hammock, whose tiny-but-sharp tone is pure and strong and lands her one of those hideous Team Blake waders; and Kyndal Inskeep, whose rugged rock-chick sound makes her a natural fit for Team Gwen. Chances are good that we haven't heard this season's winner quite yet, but this early crop should be fun to watch in the battles -- assuming there aren't any more game-changing twists ahead in Season 17.
The Voice airs on Monday and Tuesday nights at 8/7c on NBC.