Joe Kirkland in "The Voice" blind auditions Monday evening.… (Tyler Golden / NBC )
"The Voice" returned for its third season Monday night, bringing with it coaches Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green and Adam Levine; host Carson Daly; those cool spinning high-backed chairs; that giant peace-sign-flashing, mic-holding hand; a new mascot for Green (white cat's out, pink bird's in); Aguilera's distracting cleavage; and a host of fresh singers with dreams of stardom.
The producers have also added a few new twists, so the competition will play out differently. For starters, during the blind auditions, the coaches will pick more contestants -- 16, up from 12 last season -- to bring into the battle rounds. During the battle rounds, where teammates are matched up by their coaches to vie head to head, voice to voice, for survival, each coach will have two steals, which they can use to pick up singers discarded by the other coaches in their match. If more than one coach wants to steal the same singer, the singer gets to pick the coach he or she prefers.
At the end of the battle rounds, each coach will have 10 singers on his or her team and will then winnow them further during a new phase, the knockout round, to arrive at the live shows with a trim five contestants.
PHOTOS: 'The Voice' final four contestants
Yes, the season sounds as if it's going to be long and involved, as NBC milks its hit for all its worth, and for proof of that we need look no further than this very week, where we will be treated to three -- count 'em -- blind audition episodes. Four full hours of singing!
We saw two of those hours in Monday night's season premiere, where the action kicked off with the four coaches thoroughly enjoying themselves and entertaining us with a rip-roaring take on the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up." (Get it?)
But soon the coaches were back in their chairs, contemplating their buttons and showing off their easy, gently competitive rapport, as contestants crooned for their attention.
"I get so nervous," Aguilera whispered to Shelton before the first singer took the stage.
"I do, too," he said.
Shelton nabbed the first contestant, Scottish rocker Terry McDermott, who used to be in a band called Driveblind and now lives in New Orleans with his wife and young son, for whose sake he was competing. His "Baba O'Riley," which Levine said revealed his "clean, pristine, beautiful voice," spun Shelton, Levine and Green. Shelton, though, seemed particularly impressed by McDermott's brogue. "I think you and I can win this thing if you just get up there and talk," he said.
The next contestant, a singer named De'Borah, who was shunned by her Chicago church after she cut her hair and gave up skirts but whose pastor parents never stopped supporting her, was snapped up by Aguilera. "I'm into love, " De'Borah had said before taking the stage. "I'm not into the gender thing." Her "Hey, Soul Sister" moved Green and Aguilera to duke it out for her. "I love your swag … I love your attitude … your energy," Green said, saying he, too, was the child of two pastors. Even Aguilera seemed surprised that De'Borah went with her, not Green. "I thought Cee Lo had that racked up," she said. But De'Borah explained that Aguilera's song "The Voice Within" had been the song that helped her realize she was "different."
Shelton's next snag was Gracia Harrison, an 18-year-old aspiring country artist and able yodeler from Vernon, Ill. Levine made a big play for Harrison, giving her performance of "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" a standing ovation and telling her she was "by far" the best country singer ever to compete on the show. Green, meanwhile, coolly begged, "Let me be your cowboy sweetheart." But Shelton's calm observation that Harrison had an old-time country flavor that he wanted to help bring back to country music made him a no-brainer as a choice.
The next singer to get picked up was Devyn DeLoera, a shy, small-town West Texas butterfly who emerged from her cocoon thanks to music. "It saved me," she said. "It made me happy." DeLoera admitted her song choice, Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man," was so risky as to be almost "suicidal," but the bold move paid off. "Hat's off to you. I loved it!" said Aguilera, whom DeLoera (not surprisingly) chose over Shelton and Levine.
Also getting the love was Bryan Keith, a 22-year-old Bronx boy who wanted to make his own way, without asking his Grammy-winning dad, Ray de la Paz, of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, for help. "I'm here to prove that I did it on my own," he said. His gritty vocals on "It Will Rain" spun all four chairs and elicited high praise across the board. "You have a signature voice," Aguilera said. But Levine pleaded, "More than anyone I've seen today, I'm dying to have you on my team." Levine it was.