Blake Shelton feels like “the old gang got back together,” with his girlfriend Gwen Stefani returning as one of the four coaches for season 19 of The Voice, along with John Legend and Kelly Clarkson. But there’s an integral group of people missing from the show this time around: the audience.
Executive producer Audrey Morrissey opted for the virtual route that other television programs (like Clarkson’s own The Kelly Clarkson Show) have adopted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and she said in a Q&A session with reporters on Thursday (Oct. 16) ahead of Monday night’s season premiere that the results were “absolutely shocking.”
“It’s definitely one of our better singing vocal seasons,” she said, “And a lot of us are wondering if that has something to do because there was no audience, and maybe the singers could actually hear themselves better without the crowd. I’ll tell you that the coaches commented that they felt they could hear the singing better, which makes sense because they didn’t have the audience.”
During the blind auditions in the season 19 premiere, Legend expresses how happy he is to hear live music again when 16-year-old Lauren Frihauf from Byers, Colo., shocked the coaches with her vibrato while performing Melissa Etheridge‘s “Come to My Window.” “I turn very quickly when I fall in love with a voice,” he says. “You forget how much you miss hearing people sing live until you have it taken away for a while.”
Fans will also be introduced to Tamara Jade, a 30-year-old singer from Louisville, Md., who sang and danced alongside Lizzo during her “Good as Hell” performance at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards. So it comes as no surprise that she belted out Lizzo’s “Cuz I Love You” for a jaw-dropping cover that secured season 19’s first four-chair turn (watch below).
Now, Frihauf and Jade are competing for the opportunity to win the singing competition — just like Todd Tilghman did in May, when he was crowned season 18 champ. “Season 19 is about to premiere, and I still don’t think that I have fully realized that I won season 18,” he said with a laugh during Thursday’s Q&A. “In the beginning, frankly, I sort of slipped on a banana peel and fell backwards into it. You know, my wife was like, ‘You need to go do this.’ And so I was like, ‘Hang on, I ain’t going to do that.’ And you know, of course, she won.
“But The Voice is just beautiful, the whole premise of it, and people from all over the place with all different kinds of backgrounds. And then people like me, who are not young and sexy who still get to come and be a part of it,” the 42-year-old singer added. “So maybe that was the draw for me. But at any rate, whatever the draw was, man, what a great experience.”
Whoever joins Tilghman in The Voice winners’ circle this season will have a huge community rallying behind him or her to succeed in the cutthroat music industry, Morrissey says.
“There are so many different ways to measure success and what that really looks like. And I think what that looks like, specifically in the music industry, takes many forms. And it is not necessarily somebody who out of the gate is having top 10 hits and on the cover of Billboard. Most career artists, that’s not how it happens for them. It’s a long, hard road,” the exec producer explains. “…[The Voice contestants] almost have like an alumni outreach, like trying to keep tabs on people and help where we can, whether it’s pushing through social media, or really the coaches as well. … There’s just so many people serving like little fairy godmothers and godfathers behind the scenes that are actively working to do whatever they can to help all The Voice along.”
As much behind-the-scenes support as there is, the virtual audience tuning in from across the country — as well as the contestants’ families — find their place in front of the screen to bring the energy Tilghman still remembers. And Morrissey fought hard to make sure the contestants’ bands could physically serve as their backup on the show.
“We’re just trying to keep the show everybody loves,” Morrissey says. “That’s our main, main focus.”
The Voice returns for its season 19 premiere Monday, Oct. 19, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.