“The Voice” started off as a country music-themed episode on Monday night, which featured the “knockout rounds,” when each coach picks two team members to compete for a spot in the upcoming live episodes.
Blake Shelton was the first coach featured, and he was joined by this season’s new advisers, Nashville star couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Shelton chose two country singer contestants, Josh Gallagher and Sundance Head, to go up against each other — and his ultimate choice between the two was pretty surprising.
“I paired Josh and Sundance against each other because they’re the two most likely to be heard on country radio,” Shelton explained. “And I think it would be in either one of [their] benefit to have that lane wide open going into the live [episodes].”
Setting aside the fact that country contestants from “The Voice” don’t always have the best luck in Nashville after the show ends, Shelton’s reasoning was obvious: Radio is still the primary method of mainstream success in country music.
However, if fitting in on country radio was the primary qualifier, Gallagher would have easily been the winner. He’s a 25-year-old living in Nashville, and Shelton mentioned multiple times that he reminds him of new artists with a more contemporary sound. (Translation: pop-leaning.) “Josh, man, you’re definitely a guy that fits in what is popular in country music,” Shelton said at one point.
Meanwhile, Head is a 37-year-old father of three from Texas who loves singing the blues. In his initial audition, when Shelton remarked that his voice was like a combination of classic singers like Travis Tritt, Chris Stapleton and Ronnie Milsap, Head quickly clarified that he was “soul country,” not just “country.”
For the knockout round on Monday, Gallagher sang Brooks & Dunn’s classic “My Maria,” while Head put his own acoustic spin on Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb.” In terms of a straightforward country song, it should have been no contest for Gallagher (even though McGraw remarked he always thought “The Climb” could be a great song for a male country artist),
As the coaches — Cyrus, Alicia Keys and Adam Levine — evaluated the performance, they praised both singers and didn’t really help Shelton make a choice. Even Cyrus, who was excited that Head sang her song, echoed Shelton’s earlier comments about Gallagher: “You seem like there’s this place for you on country radio that I feel like is just waiting to have you there,” she told him.
In the end, Shelton ultimately chose Head to move on to the next round of the competition, crediting his “solid” performance. “There was just no question in my mind that I needed to go with Sundance and reward him for doing something so out of the box,” Shelton confided to the cameras.
So if Shelton really wants to win — his team members have won “The Voice” more times than any other coach — why would he choose the more nontraditional Nashville singer who doesn’t seem eager to be labeled a regular “country” singer?
Does he assume he won’t have control over any contestant’s post-show career anyway, and figures he should just go with the more entertaining artist? Is it because even some songs that flop on country radio can still fly up the sales charts, so it doesn’t matter if a contestants fits the mold of a “popular” singer? Either way, it was an unusual choice for Shelton, who has benefited greatly as a very successful modern country act.
But we’ll get to see if he made a mistake. Just as quickly as Shelton cut Gallagher, Levine scooped up Gallagher for his team, and boasted that he was looking forward to see if he could beat out Shelton with one of his very own country singers.