I have to say, I am loving this new season of The Voice!

Pharrell and Gwen Stefani are the new coaches.  I’m surprised at how much I like Gwen Stefani, because apart from loving “Don’t Speak”, I never had any strong feelings for her or her band. But she is really acquitting herself as a coach. She comes across as very sincere, really engaged in the game and genuinely caring for the singers. I also like how she can totally spar with the other coaches without being a bitchbaby about it *coughXtinacough*.  Shakira was a nice addition last year, but there were moments when it felt like she was lost in the mix somehow.

Meanwhile, there is no other word for Pharrell except COOL. He is everything Usher wanted to be (but failed at on all levels), while not being annoyingly cocky like Usher. Pharrell seems to care more about the singers than his own badassery. He is always the first to console the contestants who don’t get picked in the blinds, even going so far as to follow them backstage for some reassuring words. He is also low key when making his pitch for the singers he likes and doesn’t seem to toot his own horn. And those fugly loud sweaters he wears? Who else can make them look cool?

You can tell that I really didn’t like Usher as a coach last year. Towards the end he almost became a caricature of himself, with his attempts at profundity falling painfully flat.  I lost interest last year and didn’t even finish the season, and part of it was the choices the coaches made. With music it all comes down to preferences anyway, and if you don’t like any of the contestants, you won’t really be interested in hearing them sing. But I mostly agree with the coaches’ choices, especially Gwen and Pharrell. I am so happy for the newbies that they got some really good singers over the old hands Adam and Blake, and if I remember correctly they each won at least one four-chair turn. Some of Usher and Shakira’s choices last year (bless her) were pretty bizarre, while this year, Gwen and Pharrell can legit win, as if they are playing the same game as Adam and Blake.

We are now at the battles, and there have been quite a lot of awesome performances. I love Team Pharrell’s Elyjuh and Maiya battling over “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keys (who incidentally is Team Pharrell’s mentor, and played piano for the two singers in rehearsal – nice touch, Pharrell!); Team Blake’s Craig and James battling over “Wave On Wave” (LOVE that song!); Team Gwen’s Menlik and Troy singing “Maneater” by Hall and Oates (because who knew that song would be chosen by someone like Gwen Stefani, and also that it could be given a reggae flavor?) and Team Pharrell’s Griffin and Luke singing “Maybe I’m Amazed” (because one of the best songs EVAR). I also have to mention the other Team Pharrell battle, where he chose The Script’s “Breakeven”.  It felt like a seal of approval from the cool police because until now The Script hasn’t quite broken the US market. Add to that Alicia Keys simply gushing over what she called a well-written song with its opening lyric of “I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing”, and the contestants admitting that they had a hard time with it because it was so fast but with a sad message, and my heart was simply bursting with joy for mah boys. Danny O’Donoghue is a master at the whole misleadingly upbeat melody with sad lyrics so, squee.

Side note on team mentors: How in the world did Adam Levine get Stevie Nicks? Gwen’s team mentor is Gavin Rossdale, natch. He scares me a lot. It’s the combination of his gravelly voice and accent, and also because I rarely see him smile in pictures. He and Gwen make a weird pairing for me because she’s like the quintessential O.C. girl, while he’s the ultimate brooding Brit.  But should I start listening to Bush now?

But all in all, it’s like good vibes all around for the show this season. I hope Xtina never comes back (but I just heard that it was already announced, so BOO).