Let me admit right from the outset that I’m not the ideal audience for NBC’s The Voice. I’m wary of reality TV in the first place, and talent competitions tend to be repetitive almost immediately. Still, this is probably the most watchable of them all, as it generally is all about “the voice,” at least when it comes to the contestants. When it comes to the judges, however, it’s an entirely different ball game. Tonight was the first time Grammy winners Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams had their hands on the buttons, replacing Cee-Lo Green and Christina Aguilera. Although one might have thought that Stefani actually replaced everybody else, given how much of the spotlight she tried to steal.

As it always goes with The Voice, this seventh season began with the blind auditions, in which singers tell their stories and sing their songs, hoping that the turned-away judges like what they hear enough to invite them onto their team. And there were a good crop of performers in this first round of the auditions, particularly the leadoff singer Luke Wade, who belted out “That’s How Strong My Love Is” with enough soul to make Otis Redding swoon in his grave. Other enjoyable acts include TSA agent Damien’s rendition of “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” and Elyjuh, who sang Beyoncé’s “XO.” But enough about the contestants.

How Did Pharrell Do?
When you get right down to it, Pharrell’s presence almost mirrored that of Usher Raymond’s in years past. He’s the guy who doesn’t play fight like Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, and he doesn’t really have as boisterous a personality as Cee-Lo. (I laughed each time Blake drawlingly called him “Frell.”) Still, he’s got Pharrell swagger, and that’s more than enough to earn him a spot on the show. He’s been a brilliant producer for so many years, and his masterful touch can turn a musician from a nobody into a record-selling monster. Because of that, his opinions and advice to people seemingly meant more than that of everyone else.

In this first episode, he chose the previously mentioned Luke and Elyjuh, both of whom have voices that Pharrell could easily create soulful beats for. It was really when he didn’t get singers on his team that his personality shone through a little more, such as when he followed Adam’s chair-standing pleading poetry with an impromptu poem of his own. And he wisely namedropped a few acts, such as Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke, to try and win people over. All in all, Pharrell is a fine addition to the team, and he’ll hopefully start to open up a little more as it goes along.

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