"The Voice" Season 4 blind auditions: From left, Usher, Shakira,… (Trae Patton / NBC )
If it seems like Season 3 of "The Voice" ended just a few short months ago, that's because it did. But only three months after Cassadee Pope stepped away with last season's win, on Monday night the judges returned to their spinning red chairs for the premiere of Season 4.
Not all the judges returned to their chairs, of course. Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green are sitting out the season, replaced by two new judges with equally big names (albeit only one apiece): Shakira and Usher. The Latin superstar and the R&B heavyweight did well on their maiden voyage, getting in there and mixing it up for the best contestants with returning judges Blake Shelton and Adam Levine, who between them have won every previous season of "The Voice."
The remixed judge quartet kicked off blind auditions in the usual fashion, taking the stage together to sing a song: "Come Together" by the Beatles, aptly. Then they took their seats with their backs to the stage and toyed with their buttons as talented hopefuls paraded behind them, hoping to make them turn.
Although a few contestants ended their songs still gazing at chair backs and went home disappointed, others basked in praise and took their place on one of the judges' teams. Some even had their choice.
The identical Morgan twins, the show's first set of twin singers, appeared in matching red dresses and after spinning all four judges, picked Shelton, either despite or because of the fact that he compared them to a "damn Doublemint commercial" and said they were "a dream come true for most men."
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Jess Kellner, a creamy-voiced 21-year-old from Austin, Texas, got Shakira and Usher to quickly turn their chairs for her. Shakira complimented her silky timbre and Usher flirted – "Do you want to last forever? Then rock with me." Kellner chose Usher.
Mark Andrew, a 27-year-old Minnesota roofer who's grieving for two members of his band, sparked the interest of Shakira and Levine. For his wife's sake, he went with Shakira.
Sixteen-year-old Texas cutie Danielle Bradbery showed off her Taylor Swift pluck and solid grasp of pitch on Swift's "Mean," getting all three male judges to turn their chairs. Usher tried to dangle his Justin Bieber connection in front of her as bait, but stumbled by calling Nashville "a state." Bradbery opted for Shelton.
Vedo, a 19-year-old whose mom battled back from homelessness but is now dying of cancer, captured Usher's (and only Usher's) attention by singing the Bieber hit "Boyfriend." Backstage, his mom looked on, tearful and proud.
Christian Porter, a 21-year-old bar musician from Stroudsburg, Penn., captured interest from Shakira, Blake and Usher with his unexpected take on "Sexy and I Know It." Shakira called him sexy. Usher admired his confidence. But Shelton snagged him by complimenting his imaginative song arrangement.
Kris Thomas, a 27-year-old pastor's son and recovering alcoholic looking for another chance after losing a record deal, joined Shakira's team, since she was the only one to turn her chair for him, much to the chagrin of the other judges, who were shocked to discover that the person singing a spot-on Whitney Houston number was a guy.
But the standout of the night was Judith Hill. The daughter of musicians who've played with Bob Dylan, Sly Stone, Chaka Khan and others, Hill herself was set to duet with Michael Jackson on his final "This Is It" tour. After he died, she sang at Jackson's memorial service. Her phone went nuts with industry interest, but Hill said she found it distasteful to capitalize on it. In the years since, she's been honing her sound, touring and doing session work and soundtracks. It's not entirely clear she really needs "The Voice" – though certainly the exposure will give her a boost.
In any event, with her gorgeous look and voice, she quickly emerged as a front-runner. All the judges fought for her, but scrappy Levine fought the hardest: standing on his chair to applaud, telling her she was the first person ever to sing Christina Aguilera on the show as well as Christina Aguilera, and threatening to immolate himself if she didn't pick him.
She picked him, prompting Shelton to offer this classic tweet: "Does anyone else feel robbed that Judith didn't make @adamlevine light himself on fire like he said he would? #bunchacrap #VoicePremiere."
It's the first time I ever truly appreciated those tweets the show rolls across the screen.
What did you think of the season premiere — the talent, the new judges?
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