“The Voice” kicked off its 23rd season Monday night on NBC with a big St. Louis bang, opening the show with singer Neil Salsich up first in front of coaches Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson, Chance the Rapper and Niall Horan.
Salsich, of St. Louis band the Mighty Pines, opened the two-hour show’s blind auditions rounds singing music great Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonk Blues,” and the coaches wasted no time spinning their chairs around in approval, each wanting Salsich for their team. Their moves signaled the first four-chair turn of the new season.
Shelton, in his final season on the show, was first to spin around for Salsich after just a few lines of the classic country song, followed by Clarkson, then Chance the Rapper, and finally Horan.
But Shelton used his “block” on Clarkson, taking her out of the running for adding Salsich to her team.
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Still, she spoke first, congratulating him on his cool, old-school country vibe, incredible falsetto and throaty raspiness.
Outgoing country superstar Shelton said: “I’d be honored to have you on the last Team Blake."
Chance the Rapper said while he wasn’t familiar with country music, he knew he liked the texture of Salsich’s voice and his range. “This could be interesting. This is TV. Anything can happen. Why not a rapper and a country singer together? I’d be really cool if I stole a country singer off of Blake.” He also called Salsich the definition of cool, and since he’s cool too, they can make it happen.
Horan compared Salsich’s voice to that of a seasoned veteran but didn’t say much else to sell Salsich on choosing him as his coach.
Despite proclaiming “this is a very tough choice,” Salsich looked to easily make his choice.
“At this moment I would like to select Blake as my coach.”
And with that, the first team of Season 23 of "The Voice" began taking shape.
“Neil’s a really great singer. It’s exciting to have an artist who can do all different kinds of genres. It’s going to be a blast to have him on my team for the last time. This is my last season, and I’m going out with a bang," Shelton added.
Salsich identified himself as a blues, folk, and rock 'n' roll singer but said country music was just one of the musical wells he drinks from.
It’s clear Salsich is one of the season's early frontrunners.
“The Voice” returns with more blind auditions at 8 p.m. Tuesday on NBC.
A look back at 21 St. Louis singers who made us proud on TV competitions
Vino Alan ("The X-Factor")
Former St. Louisan and Waynesville, Mo., native Vino Alan looked like he was headed straight to the finals on “The X Factor” in 2012 — tattooed head and all. His elimination in the show’s live rounds, after singing the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” was a shock. Alan’s mentor on the show was L.A. Reid.
Audri Bartholomew ("The Voice")
Competing alongside Kennedy Holmes on Jennifer Hudson’s team on “The Voice,” at least for a while, was Audri Bartholomew. She passed the blind auditions after her performance of Lauren Allred’s “Never Enough” from “The Greatest Showman.” Bartholomew, of O’Fallon, Mo., was eliminated in the show’s battle rounds after her rendition of Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby.” She studies musical theater at Millikin University in Illinois and was a 2015 and 2016 finalist in the St. Louis Teen Talent Competition.
Tess Boyer ("The Voice")
Former St. Louis Rams cheerleader Tess Boyer performed on “The Voice” in 2014 with “Wings” by Little Mix, Paramore’s “Ain’t It Fun” and more, making it as far as the Top 10. By the time she was eliminated, the Glen Carbon singer had been on Blake Shelton’s, Usher’s and Shakira’s teams.
Amber Bullock ("Sunday Best")
“Sunday Best” may not have had the high profile of “American Idol” or “The Voice,” but the BET show hosted by Kirk Franklin was the biggest televised competition for the gospel community. St. Louis’ Amber Bullock won the competition in 2011, after a voting snafu caused a weeklong delay for the results. Bullock followed the win with her debut EP, “Thank You.”
Curtis Finch Jr.
Curtis Finch Jr. ("American Idol")
St. Louis gospel singer Curtis Finch Jr. nabbed a Top 10 spot on “American Idol” in 2013 on the strength of performances of Luther Vandross’ “Superstar” and R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” Though he was booted his first week in the Top 10, he gained new fans in judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey. Minaj even threatened to leave the show if he was eliminated. Finch was seen on “The Tonight Show,” “Today” and “Access Hollywood.”
James Irwin ("The Voice")
James Irwin’s first go-round on “The Voice,” in 2013, wasn’t a good one. None of the coaches turned their big chairs for him. But when Irwin returned the next season, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera all spun around for his performance of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.” Irwin joined Levine’s team and was eliminated in the knockout rounds after performing “Break Even” by the Script. He’s the first singer in “Voice” history to go from no turns to four turns.
Caroline Glaser ("The Voice")
It was straight from Picasso’s Coffee House in St. Charles to “The Voice” for Chesterfield’s Caroline Glaser, who fell just shy of making it into the show’s Top 12 in 2013. She was on Adam Levine’s team and performed songs such as Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team” and Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” She also landed a gig touring with Straight No Chaser and debuted her self-titled EP at billboard.com.
Kennedy Holmes ("The Voice")
After a stellar season of “The Voice” in 2018 in which she sailed straight through to the finals and what looked like a probable win, Florissant’s Kennedy Holmes managed to land in fourth place. Many felt she was robbed. Kennedy has the distinction of being the first St. Louis-area singer to make it to “The Voice” finale and the youngest ever to make it to the finale. Kennedy turned 14 on the show.
Christina Jones ("American Idol")
O’Fallon, Ill., native Christina Jones went straight to Hollywood for this year’s reboot of “American Idol,” signing Gladys Knight’s “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” She was eliminated in the Hollywood rounds. In July, “Idol” finalist Ada Vox shared the stage with Jones at Hamburger Mary’s St. Louis. Jones won the Fox Performing Arts Foundation’s St. Louis Teen Talent Competition in 2017.
Gabbii Jones ("American Idol")
South St. Louis singer Gabbii Jones has the distinction of being called a rock star by Lionel Richie on “American Idol” in 2018. She killed it with Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” but was eliminated in the Hollywood rounds. Jones previously had auditioned for “The Voice” and is a graduate of Central Visual and Performing Arts High School.
Alexandra Kay ("Westside")
Country singer Alexandra Kay appeared as part of the ensemble of Netflix's “Westside,” about aspiring Los Angeles singers. She was cast in the show after going viral with her cover of Dolly Parton's “Jolene.” On the show's soundtrack, she sings on the songs “You Think You Know Someone,” “Sure as Hell Hope” and “Champagne High.” Kay’s new song is “I Kinda Don't” from her upcoming EP, “The Dive Bar Dreamer.”
Tish Haynes Keys
Tish Haynes Keys ("The Voice")
Tish Haynes Keys’ time on “The Voice” early in 2018 was a true roller-coaster ride for the St. Louis singer. After sailing through the blind auditions with Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” her journey included hopping from Adam Levine’s team to Kelly Clarkson’s team; she was eliminated, stolen, saved and eliminated again. Her songs on the show included Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” Etta James’ “At Last” and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing.” She’s working on her debut EP and will perform on New Year’s Eve at River City Casino.
Ashley Lusk ("American Idol")
Ashley Lusk of Eureka is quite experienced with “American Idol.” She was seen during seasons 14 and 15 by judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. and on the 2018 reboot by Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie. She was eliminated in the 2018 Hollywood rounds. Though her TV time was minimal, she was able to snag a selfie. Lusk attends St. Louis Community College.
Aloha Mi'Sho ("American Idol")
Auditioning alongside Nikko Smith in 2005 was Aloha Mi’Sho (known at the time as Mischeaux), who ascended to the Top 20 before being eliminated. She was sang Beyoncé’s “Work It Out” and Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name” and became known for the flower she wore in her hair. She’s currently one half of the popular St. Louis duo the Knuckles.
Nelly raised a few eyebrows when he joined “Dancing With the Stars” in 2020 for Season 29. And besting the best expectations, the superstar rapper made it all the way to the show’s finals. He and his pro dance partner, Daniella Karagach, landed in third place after a series of moves including the foxtrot, the cha-cha, the jive and the salsa.
Theresa Payne ("The Voice")
St. Louis singer Theresa Payne performed on “The Voice” in 2014, delivering Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” but none of the judges turned their chairs for her. She was seen on the show in montage form. Shakira accused her of singing behind the beat. Payne recently performed as Whitney Houston at An Undercover Weekend at Delmar Hall and opened for the War and Treaty at the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill.
Lisa Ramey ("The Voice")
Lisa Ramey of St. Ann made it onto John Legend’s team on “The Voice” in 2019 with her version of “Sex on Fire,” after failing to impress the coaches the previous year with a Pink song. Ramey made it as far as the Top 24, when she was let go during a massive elimination show. Ramey, known on the show for her striking mohawk, recently released her debut album, “Surrender,” at the beginning of the pandemic and had an album release event on Twitch. “Left for Dead,” from the album, reflects her time on “The Voice.”
Joanna Serenko ("The Voice")
Joanna Serenko of Kirkwood fell just shy of making it to the finals in May 2020. During her roller-coaster journey on the show, she saw a four-chair turn during her Blind Audition, jumped from team to team, spending time with Nick Jonas, John Legend and Blake Shelton after a series of saves and near-eliminations. She was also guest mentored by James Taylor. Her memorable season was the first of virtual live shows during the coronavirus pandemic.
Nikko Smith ("American Idol")
Nikko Smith, son of St. Louis baseball legend Ozzie Smith, competed on Season 4 of “American Idol” after auditioning in St. Louis. Smith got as far as the live semifinals; he was eliminated just outside of the Top 10. But after semifinalist Mario Vazquez mysteriously dropped out of the show, Smith was reinstated — then eliminated again. He was known as the Comeback Kid and performed songs such as Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk,” Sisqo’s “Incomplete” and Stevie Wonder’s “Part-Time Lover.”
Patrick Thomson ("The Voice")
Festus’ Patrick Thomson landed on “The Voice” in 2014, finding a spot on Adam Levine’s team after his performance of Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.” Thomson landed in the Top 20 after moving to Shakira’s team and was eliminated after singing Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble” — though that performance was considered his best of the season.
YZthaSinger ("American Idol")
YZthaSinger of St. Louis saw some decent airtime during "American Idol" in 2020, making it as far as the Hollywood rounds. He was seen performing a duet with another contestant to Meghan Trainor’s “Like I’m Gonna Lose You," and was also seen in a montage singing Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” before he was eliminated.