At the start of Tuesday’s The Voice Season 23 Blind Auditions – Blake Shelton’s last auditions episode ever – host Carson Daly rattled off the statistic that, up until that point, the retiring O.G. coach had hit his red button 598 times over the past 12 years and 23 seasons (and apparently had uttered “I’ve never heard of that song!” an amusing, baffling 204 times).
But it was on Blake’s 600th button-whack that he made Voice history, as he recruited his final contestant, 19-year-old Nashville songstress Grace West. Blake definitely recognized Grace’s song, the Pam Tillis classic “Maybe It Was Memphis,” saying, “There’s no mistaking that she’s country.”
And just like that, Blake’s final team, and his heart, were full.
“My heart swells up to think about my journey on this show: 23 seasons, and for the last person for me to hit this button for, I didn’t let it take over, I can’t show any emotion — but I did get a little bit shook-up,” Blake confessed.
Blake wasn’t the only coach who wanted Americana prodigy Grace: Rookie coach Niall Horan also turned around. But when Blake told Grace, “I have one spot left on my team, and I would be honored if you would join the last Team Blake and be the last person that I will ever hit this freakin’ worn-out button for,” Grace understandably could not pass up the chance to go down in TV history herself, as the answer to a Voice trivia question.
Even if Grace had considered joining Team Niall instead (which Carson wanted to happen “so bad” because “it would have been so funny!”), Kelly Clarkson, who recently grudgingly admitted that Blake will always be “The King of The Voice,” surprisingly went to bat for her longtime rival. “I can’t even believe I’m doing this, but it’s his last day, and I will say, Blake is a great coach for you in this sense,” Kelly told Grace honestly. “I love Niall, and Niall has been killing it… but I’ve also known Blake for years, and he’s the guy that really does help artists out. This [speech] is my gift to Blake Shelton.”
“Losing to Blake on his final-ever artist? I’ll concede,” good sportsman Niall shrugged, after Grace made her decision and an undeniably emotional Blake celebrated onstage in front of a fireworks display and giant, flashing “BLAKE’S LAST TEAM” LED screen.
“I’m finished! I’m never doing that again! I’m never pushing that button again! Get it out of here!” Blake shouted, melodramatically pretending to wrench the button from the desk of his hydraulic red chair. Of course, he’ll technically have the opportunity to hit it again during the Battle Rounds, when he steals or saves… but this was the last time he would ever get to officially declare, “My team is full!”
Blake claimed, “I’m going out with the strongest team I’ve ever had,” and said, “If I don’t win this last season, it’s really embarrassing!” But while he may be the fan favorite among veteran Voice viewers who’d like to see him go out on top, Kelly, despite her supportive Blake endorsement Tuesday, is just as fiercely competitive — as are Niall and this season’s other new coach, Chance the Rapper. “I think the best way to leave a job is to lose on the way out!” Chance joked.
But regardless, all snarky joking aside, Blake really is going to relish every minute he has left on The Voice. “I don’t normally get wrapped up in these moments, but when I hit my button for Grace, who’s the last person that I’ll ever do that for…” he told Carson seriously, pausing and choking up as he let the full realization of his words sink in. “I can’t believe I just said that. I kind of got emotional. I knew coming into this, I was trying to take all the moments in — and it’s going by so fast. So, when I said that out loud, it became real.”
These were the other final successful auditions of Season 23:
NariYella, 20: “One Night Only”
This dramatic diva with the big voice and even bigger personality reminded me of Donna Summer, although Chance compared her to a young Jennifer Hudson. Chance described NariYella as “very tenured” and skilled “way, way, way beyond her years,” and Blake said, “Your voice is actually shocking to me.” Kelly told her, “You have a personality that is so incredibly captivating. … That kind of passion is what it takes to win a show like this.”
Who turned? All four coaches – which was a big deal, considering that only a few team slots remained and the coaches were being extra-picky. Four-chair turns are quite rare on the final night of Blinds.
Result: Team Chance. And just like that… his team was full!
Katie Beth Forakis, 25: “Ghost”
This small-town Tennessee church girl transformed Justin Bieber’s “massive pop song” into a melancholy piano ballad dedicated to her late mother, who’d been her biggest fan and supporter. Niall broke out in goosebumps all over – “I honestly didn’t know I could have hairs [raise] on my cheeks,” he gushed – and described Katie’s birdlike, fragile tone as “fairytale stuff.” Kelly told her, “We literally have not heard anyone like you. You will stand out.”
Who turned? Kelly and Niall.
Result: Team Kelly! Niall’s fairytale didn’t have a happy ending.
Talia Smith, 29: “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”
This queen from Queens, whose day job is working as an intel analyst and “performing recruiter” for the U.S Army, returned to music as a way to emotionally heal from a recent miscarriage. Her partially a cappella performance, of what a wowed Kelly called a “big song,” was sparking, classy, and reminiscent of Diana Ross’s “Home” finale in The Wiz. Chance confessed that he totally would have turned for Talia, if he’d had that option.
Who turned? Only Niall, the last coach standing. But he was delighted that was able to enlist Talia without having to put up a fight. “Whatta way to complete a team! That had absolutely everything,” he declared.
Result: Team Niall, obviously. And now Talia the soulful soldier, along with Season’s 23’s other 39 recruits, is off to the Battles… Blake’s last-ever Battle Rounds, of course. See y’all next week.