Reba McEntire, 68, makes ‘Voice’ debut, makes history as show’s oldest and most seasoned coach

May 2023 marked the end of a Voice era, when the series’ most popular coach, Blake Shelton, finally exited the show after 23 consecutive seasons (nine of which he won). Actually, the instant that Blake announced his Voice retirement, way back in October 2022 — and then shamelessly milked his long goodbye for much of Seasons 22 and 23 — speculation began running rampant regarding which A-lister, presumably from Nashville, could possibly fill his big boots (or his big spinning chair). Eventually, country mega-star (and last season’s Mega-Mentor) Reba McEntire was cast as Blake’s replacement — and on Monday’s The Voice Season 24 premiere, the redhead finally, officially ascended to her red throne.

Reba’s addition to the rotating (no pun intended) Voice cast was exciting for many reasons, not the least of which being the fact that at age 68, she made history as series’ oldest and most experienced coach. After so many early seasons when The Voice was dominated by alpha-males Adam Levine and Blake’s bromance (it took until Season 11 for the show even have more than one female coach on the panel at the same time), and more recent seasons featuring Gen Z/millennial-baiting castings like Ariana Grande, Chance the Rapper, Camila Cabello, Nick Jonas, Miley Cyrus, and even reigning champ Niall Horan, to see a talent-show judge who’s been in the business since before even Star Search was on the air was refreshing indeed.

Reba McEntire makes it official on ‘The Voice’ Season 24 premiere. (NBC)

Reba received a welcome fit for a country queen — arriving to Monday’s premiere via horseback like some particularly memorable The Bachelor contestant, ceremonially cutting the satin ribbon on her chair with a giant pair of Edward Scissorhands-style shears, and flaunting a rhinestone-cowgirl tiara and matching scepter throughout most of the two-hour episode. Niall — who joined Reba on the panel alongside returning on/off coaches John Legend and Blake’s other half, Gwen Stefani — kept swelled-headedly calling himself “The King of The Voice” due his recent victory, but it was obvious pretty early on in this premiere that he’d already been dethroned. At one point in the show, Reba even sat in Niall’s throne, on his lap, to establish her dominance.

Reba McEntire arrives on horseback to 'The Voice' Season 24 premiere. (NBC)

Reba McEntire arrives on horseback to ‘The Voice’ Season 24 premiere. (NBC)

All of Reba’s new rivals did their best to stay in the game — and, to their credit, they did manage to lure some of Monday’s singers away from Reba. Gwen dropped Blake’s name so often, that ought to be Season 24’s new drinking game. Niall invoked Blake constantly as well, even playing various pre-recorded soundbites of Blake — who’d “passed the torch” to him last season — singing his praises. All three coaches offered snazzy recruitment incentives, too: a leather baseball jacket for Team Legend members, a checkered L.A.M.B. hoodie for Team Gwen, a colorful happy-face sweatshirt for Team Niall. But all Reba had to do was offer a less lasting prize, tater tots (yes, tater tots), to tempt contestants.

I will say, based on Monday’s premiere, other than that stunt when she practically literally knocked Niall out of his own chair, Reba doesn’t play nearly as dirty as her predecessor, Blake. That’s because she likely won’t have to. She can leave the shady gameplay to Blake’s successor, Niall, who explained Monday, “Blake taught me you do absolutely anything to get a team member.”

It’s going to be an interesting season. Here’s what went down Monday:

Jordan Rainer, 33: “Fancy”

Of course the first contestant of the season was a sassy female country singer — doing a Reba-popularized classic, yet. Jordan said the Bobbie Gentry story-song was “written by a strong woman, made famous by a strong woman, and it represents lyrically what women do to survive.. … I feel that song in every bone in my body.” And Jordan’s bold personality (she explained that she wears Woman-in-Black/Hamburglar outlaw attire “because it bothers my mother”) and snappy, conversational singing style made her clear Team Reba material.

Who turned? All four coaches, three of which never stood a chance. Niall declared that he wants to win this season with “a real, real deep country singer”— but the King of The Voice might never achieve that goal as long as the Queen of Country is around.

Result: Team Reba, of course.

Joslynn Rose, 16: “Arcade”

Joslynn had an dulcet indie voice reminiscent of last season’s winner, Team Niall songstress Gina Miles — but she could really belt as well. She was impressively, authentically emotive for someone so young. Reba called Joslynn an “old soul.” Gwen called her “dynamic and stylistic.” And Niall (who made a point to say, “I was 16 when I came out a show like this!” — that’s another potential Season 24 drinking game) called Joslynn’s Duncan Laurence cover a “goosebump moment.”

Who turned? Reba, Gwen, and Niall.

Result: Team Gwen. I think Joslynn would’ve been a great fit for Niall, but maybe her decision came down to preferring Team Gwen’s more fashion-forward keepsake sweatshirt over Team Niall’s, which looked like it was purchased at Aahs! or Spencer’s Gifts.

Deejay Young, 33: “This Woman’s Work”

This Hamilton touring cast member was, unsurprisingly, a true showman — Reba observed, “This ain’t your first rodeo!” Deejay possessed an effortless falsetto that Niall called “undeniably insane,” and after he elegantly crooned the Maxwell version of Kate Bush’s classic weeper, John praised his “beautiful ability to combine the feminine and masculine in one song.”

Who turned? John, Reba, and Gwen. Niall later expressed regret that he’d refrained.

Result: Team Legend. No shock there — Deejay said John’s Get Lifted album literally changed his life.

Sophia Hoffman, 18: “Tell Me You Love Me”

Sophia auditioned last season and turned no chairs. But she was a changed woman this season, attacking Demi Lovato’s advanced-level rock ballad like a seasoned pro. She came across like a baby Taylor Dayne, a classic throwback diva, while Niall detected some “J.Hud grit” in her power vocals. “I am thrilled to death you came back,” Reba told Sophia. Reba then threw her new rival under the bus by pointing out that Niall — the only returning coach from last season — had failed to hit his button for Sophia the first time around.

Who turned? Reba and Niall.

Result: Team Niall. I guess we can’t rule Niall out just yet.

Jackson Snelling, 21: “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away”

Jackson emotionally dedicated this Justin Moore ballad to his late father and showcased an extremely recordable classic-country voice that Reba described as “honest” and “rich, like great chocolate.” When Jackson proudly announced onstage that he has high-functioning autism and music has been a big help to him in life, Reba told him, “I am so proud to be in the country music business, and so proud that you’re representing us.”

Who turned? Gwen and Reba.

Result: Team Reba. Like Niall, Gwen really wants a country artist this season, so of course she unashamedly bragged that she’s had two No. 1 country hits with her husband. Reba called Gwen out on her constant namedropping (“Oh, you’re pulling that card now? Is that fair?”), and readily pointed out that she’s had “more than two” country No. 1’s herself (24, to be exact). To quote Reba: “Next!”

Alexa Wildish, 34: “Songbird”

In her pre-performance package, Alexa was marketed as a van-living, kooky free spirit, jumping and high-kicking with an electric guitar in a red Meg White jumpsuit. So, I expected her to be a rocker. I did not expect this lovely, plaintive Fleetwood Mac cover, which Niall even declared would make the late Christine McVie proud. Both Niall and Reba noted a few pitch issues, but they could tell that was because Alexa was overcome with emotion (a single glistening tear actually leaked from her eye during her performance). “I got a really peaceful feeling when you were singing. I will take what you delivered over pitch-perfection any day,” Reba assured Alexa. John called Alexa “angelic” and “mesmerizing,” and Gwen told her, “The way you sing sounds like you’re a songwriter. … There was just something so real about it.”

Who turned? All four coaches.

Result: Team Niall. “How do you make a choice like this?” Alexa gasped, and to be honest, this one could have gone any which way. But Niall seemed to want Alexa most — he was wooing her so aggressively that John joked that it seemed like Niall was about to propose marriage — so this will likely be a good match.

Olivia Minogue, 19: “Lay Me Down”

This woman had the marquee-worthy name of a pop diva, but her performance started off shaky, with awkward phrasing and pacing. However, once she got into “that raspier, bluesier side” of her voice, which was Niall’s “favorite part,” she got a lot more interesting. She’s no Rodrigo and she’s no Kylie, but Niall thought she was a “diamond.” She could be a diamond in the rough.

Who turned? John, Niall, and Reba.

Result: Team Niall. John and Reba knew they didn’t have a shot once Olivia, an avowed Directioner, flashed her prized Niall Horan pendant necklace and got all weak-kneed when Niall gave her a hug. Niall didn’t even need to namedrop his “good friend,” Sam Smith, to land this contestant.

Kristen Brown, 24: “Blown Away”

A former member of teen country girl group Auburn Road, Kristen’s solo vocals lacked power. This Carrie Underwood barnstormer was way too big for her, and suffice to say, she did not blow me away. But country expert Reba and the country-adjacent Gwen detected potential. “I heard a few little pitch things, but your enthusiasm was wonderful,” said Reba, promising Kristen she would dole out the tough love and “tell you what you need to hear.”

Who turned? Gwen and Reba.

Result: Team Gwen! Even Gwen seemed shocked, gasping, “What?” I think Kristen made a big mistake here, because she could have flourished more under the guidance of disciplinarian Reba than with the gentle and enabling Gwen (who vowed to “mother” Kristen). But Kristen does sound more like a pop singer than a country crooner, so maybe her decision will make more sense later on.

Mara Justine, 21: “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”

As per usual with Voice premieres, the episode saved the best for last. This ingenue had a truly distinctive throaty, sultry tone, with incredible mastery of her lower register. (“You have such a soft-spoken voice to have such a big voice,” Reba marveled, while Gwen said, “Your voice has so many beautiful parts to it.”) Mara made Elton’s oft-covered classic her own with some interesting and unexpected choices, and she had a lot of sparkle and swagger — the girl’s already a star. Niall told her she’d “set the bar high” for the season, and John called her a “magical gem.”

Who turned? All four coaches.

Result: Team… to be continued!

Yep, the premiere ended with a cliffhanger. I think it’s all going to come down to Niall, who pulled out all the obnoxious stops (doing that head-pointy gesture he learned from his old buddy Blake; bringing out Blake’s old foam-finger gimmick; literally lying on the stage floor, begging at Mara’s feet) vs. John, who suggested that Mara duet with him on “All of Me” right then and there. Given how perfectly Mara and John’s vocals blended when she surprisingly accepted that challenge, it seems Mara might go with John — who, after Blake’s departure, has become the Season 24 panel’s veteran coach (this is John’s eighth season).

But then again… Mara might just end joining Team Reba. Tune in Tuesday and find out.

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