updated 02/25/2014 AT 4:00 AM ET
•originally published 02/25/2014 AT 6:35 AM ET
The Voice opened Season 6 with a wealth of new – and returning – talent and plenty of fireworks, setting up an epic battle between Adam Levine and his nemesis, Blake Shelton, who clearly didn’t take losing in Season 5 too well.
And then there’s Usher, who dragged out his own shimmering gold Grammy award to lure one of the night’s breakout stars, Bria Kelly, 17, who threw it down with a growling version of “Steamroller Blues” that had all judges vying for her attention.
“O-M-G,” a stunned Levine said of Kelly’s performance, which got a standing ovation from all four coaches. “I can’t believe that was you doing that. You haven’t been alive long enough to feel the pain that you were showing up there.”
But it was Usher’s award show bling that won Kelly over, and he wasted no time throwing it up in his fellow coaches’ faces, dancing in front of Levine in wicked delight.
The first night of blind auditions also had moments of great heart, as another talented teen, Jake Worthington of La Porte, Texas, returned to The Voice stage after failing to turn any chairs last season.
Singing the late Keith Whitley’s classic country hit, “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” Worthington, 17, earned three chair turns from Levine, Shelton and Shakira, who said his performance was “perfect.” “You’re perfect,” the starstruck Worthington responded.
Levine quickly jumped in to make his case for the young country singer, reminding Worthington that he turned his chair first. But in the end, Worthington went with his musical roots. “Do you want to be a novelty or a real country, rootsy singer?” Shelton asked. “I want to be a real rootsy country singer,” Worthington replied.
Other standouts included two soul-R&B singers, Biff Gore, 45, of Denver, who turned four chairs with the Sam Cooke hit, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and T.J. Wilkins, 27, of L.A., who sparkled with his stylized take on the Elton John classic, “Bennie and the Jets.”
Duo Dawn and Hawkes – a real-life couple – drew raves from Levine with their take on the Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” “Not only is that one of my favorite tunes ever, it’s my roots and what I was raised on and what I love, ” Levine told them, adding, “That was my favorite performance that I have ever seen on The Voice. This is special. This is something I want to be a part of.”
Shakira, returning for her second season, noted that motherhood had made her sharper as she picked up two of the night’s most interesting vocalists: Jeremy Briggs, 26, a rocker from Sacramento, Calif., and country singer Kristen Merlin, 29, of Hanson, Mass., who is openly gay, sports a platinum buzz cut and offered up a powerful version of Sugarland’s up-tempo “Something More.”
Also moving on was teen singer Christina Grimmie of Marlton, N.J., who turned four chairs and inspired the night’s first battle.
“You are more comfortable than I am up there, almost,” Levine said of her cover of “Wrecking Ball.” “It’s going to get bloody. I’m going to fight.”
The Voice returns Tuesday (8 p.m. ET) on NBC with more blind auditions.