New ‘Voice’ coach Reba McEntire shows up early to replace Blake Shelton: ‘I like this chair!’

New coach Reba McEntire shows up to 'The Voice' set... one whole season early! (Photo: NBC)

New coach Reba McEntire shows up to ‘The Voice’ set… one whole season early! (Photo: NBC)

With only a week left in Season 23, The Voice at long last went live Monday, with the top eight semifinalists. This episode marked not only the first time that the public could actually vote this season, but the first time in all 23 Voice seasons that the top five finalists would be determined by same-night, real-time, live coast-to-coast voting. And unsurprisingly, to quote host Carson Daly, “the cowboy had two” finalists in the running, of which “there was never any doubt.” Of course retiring coach Blake Shelton would be well-represented in his last-ever finals! And of course one of his two finalists, Grace West, would be a country singer. (Grace was in fact the first finalist revealed by Carson on Monday, although he unconvincingly claimed that he’d announced the top five singers’ names in “no particular order.”)

Obviously Blake has always been popular with The Voice’s country-loving audience (six of his team’s past nine winners have been country singers), so last year, as soon as he announced that he was leaving the show, speculation ran rampant regarding which Nashville A-lister could possibly fill his big boots (or his big red chair). Finally, on Monday, it was announced that Reba McEntire — who served as Blake’s team adviser way back in Season 1, and was this current season’s Mega-Mentor — will officially replace him in Season 24.

This news was exciting in many ways, not the least of which being the fact that Reba — when she sits alongside returning coaches Niall Horan, John Legend, and Gwen Stefani this fall — will, at age 68, make history as the series’ oldest and most seasoned coach. But fans didn’t have to wait until Season 24 to see the red-haired icon sitting in Blake’s ironic red chair. Reba made a special surprise appearance Monday, prematurely dethroning Blake and looking right at home on the Voice set.

“Where’d Blake go? Oh, who cares?” Carson quipped Monday upon seeing Reba, who was “already a member of Voice family,” making herself comfortable as she reclined in her hydraulic chair and lovingly caressed its pleather-upholstered armrests. And Reba seemed more excited than anyone, gushing: “To be able to come in and form my team? I’m so looking forward to it!”

Blake then wandered back onto the set, telling Reba, “Do you mind? I still have a week left. … For God’s sake, give me back my seat!”

New coach Reba McEntire has already replaced Blake Shelton on 'The Voice.' (Photo: NBC)

New coach Reba McEntire has already replaced Blake Shelton on ‘The Voice.’ (Photo: NBC)

No. I like this chair!” Reba snapped back — to which Blake, who has clearly had senioritis all season, shruggingly replied, “That’s OK with me. I’m actually OK with that!”

“Yeah, you’ve been looking forward to this vacation for a while,” Carson chuckled. (Side note: It’s a bit puzzling that Gwen, Blake’s other half, is returning to The Voice next season, sans Blake, since supposedly the reason for Blake’s resignation in the first place was so he could spend more time with his wife and stepkids. How much you wanna bet Blake will be back as Team Gwen’s adviser in Season 24?)

Anyway, as for the rest of Monday’s results, all four current coaches will be represented in next week’s finals. However, with Grace’s most direct competitor, Team Kelly country songbird Holly Brand, now suddenly out of the running (ironically, after covering a Reba McEntire song), it seems pretty much a given that Blake will take home one more fist-shaped trophy next week — with Grace. Blake is also the only coach with two contestants in next week’s top five: His rock ‘n’ soul powerhouse Savion “NOIVAS” Wright, a former two-time American Idol hopeful, also made the cut, in a bit of a shocker. (At least NOIVAS, whose name was called last by Carson as the credits rapidly rolled, seemed shocked — in his typical melodramatic fashion, dropping to knees upon hearing the good news.) Kelly Clarkson will be represented by throwback R&B crooner D.Smooth, Chance the Rapper by stunning sister act Sorelle, and Chance’s fellow rookie coach Niall by pop chanteuse Gina Miles.

Also eliminated Monday, along with Holly, were Team Niall’s piano-pop prodigy and Playoff Pass contestant Ryley Tate Wilson (despite delivering a spectacular version of Billy Joel’s “Vienna” that made me feel like I was already watching the finale), and Team Chance’s retro neo-soulman Ray Uriel, whose laid-back, vibey New Edition ballad was apparently edged out by his most direct competitor, balladeer D.Smooth. I was truly disappointed to see Ryley and Ray, both such talented singers, go home, and I once again wished that Season 23’s senioritis-stricken live rounds hadn’t been so frustratingly brief.

Ryley Tate Wilson, Ray Uriel, and Holly Brand are eliminated during 'The Voice' Season 23's top eight semifinals. (Photo: NBC)

Ryley Tate Wilson, Ray Uriel, and Holly Brand are eliminated during ‘The Voice’ Season 23’s top eight semifinals. (Photo: NBC)

While Grace does seem like Season 23’s frontrunner, before next week’s big Blake farewell/finale — which will feature appearances by Blake’s O.G. Voice castmates Adam Levine and CeeLo Green, as well as other past coaches like Camila Cabello, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Hudson, Nick Jonas, John Legend, Usher, and Pharrell Williams — let’s assess all of the top five finalists’ performances from this week:

NOIVAS (Team Blake), “Skyfall”

Belting his first ballad of the season — and an Adele-originated James Bond theme, at that! — the ever-ambitious NOIVAS really “pulled out all the stops” and “swung for the fences,” as Blake put it. I thought the scenery-chewing drama king’s fireworks-augmented showboating — which involved him faceplanting, spent, on the stage by the song’s end — might be a bit too much for viewers. But his effort obviously paid off. “Whatever NOIVAS feels in that moment, happens in that moment … and it’s always incredible,” Blake marveled.

Gina Miles (Team Niall), “All I Want”

This perfectly chosen Kodaline cover was so heartfelt, so pretty, so elegant. Gina truly is the America’s sweetheart of The Voice Season 23. Chance was almost literally rendered speechless by her performance. (Another side note: While I will miss Chance next season, as I’ve really enjoyed him on the show so far, he was not nearly as a good on live television; he often seem stumped and spooked this week, clamming up and giving me Cindy Brady/quiz show vibes.) Niall was proud of yet another confident performance from his shy ingenue, promising viewers: “We’ve got something incredible planned if we make it to the finale, so please, please, please vote for Gina!” Now that America has obliged, I cannot wait to see what Gina will do next week.

Sorelle (Team Chance) “Fallin’”

If I had my way, Sorelle would win this whole season. They’re certainly deserving, as one of the most unique, risk-tasking, and fascinating contestants the series has ever had. Starting their Alicia Keys cover a cappella (which was Chance’s smart suggestion) on a ’68 Comeback-reminiscent, red-and-black, multi-level stage, they multi-tasked their intricate harmonies and stairwell-descending choreography, and they made it all look so easy. Kelly called their epic performance “next-level” and the “vocal equivalent of watching the Vegas show O.” I really feel Sorelle could be the next Pentatonix, whether or not they win The Voice. And if they played Las Vegas, I would totally go.

D.Smooth (Team Kelly), “Thinking Out Loud”

D.Smooth made Ed Sheeran’s headline-making wedding ballad thoroughly his own, giving it a ‘90s R&B spin complete with the joy of sexy sax. The staging was supercool too, as he began the song sitting in ABBA-style profile, on a futuristic obelisk, framed in neon. This was a 1993 BET Awards-worthy, superstar performance. “I don’t know how you don’t vote that guy into the finale — in what dimension does that not happen?” Blake asked rhetorically. Apparently not this dimension — because D.Smooth smoothly glided right into the finals.

Grace West (Team Blake), “’Til I Can Make It 0n My Own”

Of course Grace went last, in what is known as the “pimp spot,” even though she probably never needed that advantage. Doing what Blake called a “mountain of a song” by Tammy Wynette, which had never been done on The Voice before because few contestants could ever pull it off, Grace “just did it,” and she did Tammy proud. Niall called Grace “one of my favorite voices on this show, without a doubt, ever,” and told her, “Every time you open your mouth, country comes out.” Said Blake: “You are absolutely the real deal. … It doesn’t get any better than that.”

But can anyone do better than Grace next week — and win this season? Find out when the final five compete next Monday, followed by the season finale, results announcement, and big Blake send-off on Tuesday, May 23.

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