Monday Service: Former Kanye West choir colleague goes it alone on 'The Voice'

Lyndsey Parker
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·8 min read

It has been quite well-established at this point, by Jennifer Aniston and many other voices of reason, that Kanye West running for president is a not a good idea, and that no one should put his name down as a write-in candidate on Election Day. But someone who does deserve your vote — on The Voice, that is — is a dynamite woman named DeSz. The 30-year-old Houston diva — most recently seen traversing the globe, from the Hollywood Bowl to Paris Fashion Week, as part of Kanye’s purple-robed gospel choir — gave the standout, cliffhanging performance of Monday’s Voice episode, and she had all four coaches testifying.

Kanye West's Easter Sunday Service during Weekend 2 of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2019. (Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Kanye West's Easter Sunday Service during Weekend 2 of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in 2019. (Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

This wasn’t the first audition that DeSz had aced. “I ended up auditioning for this guy on Instagram,” she said Monday, explaining how she first came to work with Kanye last year. (She received a mysterious text two weeks later, inviting her to make her Sunday Service debut with the born-again rapper at Coachella on Easter morning.) As it turned out, DeSz was accustomed to pouring out her heart and soul at the pulpit: The very first time she sang in public, at age 11, was at the funeral for her mother, the woman who had encouraged her to overcome her childhood shyness through song. A “fire was ignited” that day, as Desz put it, and DeSz brought that fire to Coachella — and, this week — to the Voice stage.

Clearly not shy anymore, DeSz took on what John Legend called “not an easy song to sing,” Toni Braxton’s multi-octave “Un-Break My Heart,” demonstrating masterful control of those tricky, iconic alto notes. “You just set the bar — and it’s pretty high,” declared coach Kelly Clarkson, while John raved about DeSz’s ability to personalize the beloved Braxton ballad with her tastefully chosen runs and adlibs.

Choir members perform at Sunday Service during the 2019 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 21, 2019. (Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella)
Choir members perform at Sunday Service during the 2019 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 21, 2019. (Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella)

The episode ended abruptly, with the spoilt-for-choice DeSz still struggling to pick her team. My prediction is she will sign up with John. While she didn’t mention her Kanye connections onstage (which was probably wise, since John isn’t the biggest fan of ‘Ye these days), John did also get his career boost from Kanye, who signed John to his GOOD Music record label way back in 2004. So, John and DeSz have that in common — plus, their shared churchy backgrounds make them a perfect Team Legend match. However, we will have to wait until Tuesday to find out DeSz’s final answer.

Desz delivered Monday’s only four-chair audition, but these were the other singers who succeeded in inspiring at least one coach to hit the red button:

Rio Souma, 28: “Cruisin’”

This Detroit auto worker left his dependable job to try out for The Voice, but he left his heart in Motor City, and therefore paid tribute to his roots with a Motown classic, Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’.” His performance felt a bit dated -- his beautifully supple voice could’ve worked well on a Weeknd or Sam Smith song – but Kelly thought he “took this song that is a classic to a real place.” Regardless, I was impressed with Rio’s range: As he effortlessly swerved from his lower to upper register, he almost sounded like he was dueting with himself. Gwen Stefani marveled, “Music just lives inside you,” while John called Rio’s performance “magical from the very beginning.

Who turned? Gwen, Kelly, and John. It’s a good thing that Blake Shelton -- whose Detroit knowledge apparently begins with Eminem and ends with Kid Rock -- didn’t spin, because he didn’t even know the song, bafflingly!

Result: Team Legend. Although Kelly and Rio bonded over Sister Act 2, Rio’s “starstruck” reaction to John made it obvious what his choice would be. He was excited just to shake John’s weird social-distancing rubber hand.

Ryan Berg, 27: “Waiting on the World to Change”

This guy seems deep; there are layers to him, and I am ready to see more. The soulful, Ray Charles-influenced Dallas troubadour showcased what they call in this business a very “recordable voice,” and he had a quiet, stoic presence that made me really listen to the lyrics of this overdone, mawkish John Mayer song for the first time in years. And he looked like the fourth missing Midland member, which was not a bad thing. Ryan is also what they call in this business a “package artist.”

Who turned? Gwen — who then blocked John. “I wish I could fight Gwen for you,” John moaned.

Result: Team Gwen. However, John hinted that he will try to use a Steal on Ryan if he gets the chance — and he might, since Gwen’s failure to launch Ryan’s victory “Team Gwen” tee from her social-distancing T-shirt cannon might’ve been a bad omen.

Jus Jon, 30: “Talk”

This church-raised belter did go with a modern song, by Khalid, which was smart. But this was not a perfect performance; I honestly expected him to be a no-chair reject. While he sounded impressive at the top of his range during the chorus, he faltered in the verses. Kelly and Gwen later explained that they didn’t turn because they were waiting to hear more dynamics (“It was all in one place,” lamented Gwen), and even John, who once enlisted Khalid as his Voice team adviser, didn’t hit his button. But surprisingly, Blake gave Jon a shot at the very last minute.

Who turned? Just Blake. (Or should I say, Jus Blake?)

Result: Team Blake, obviously. But this pairing could work. Jon expressed interest in going in a “rugged” country music direction, and Blake, The Voice’s winning-est coach, noted, “Many of my many victories have been with non-country artists.”

Ben Allen, 42: “Red Dirt Road”

This Tennessee-born, Florida-based, Marlboro-mannish outdoorsman and ex-mountain biking champion brought his competitive spirit to The Voice, showcasing the sort of traditional (and, yes, recordable) country voice that always gets the votes. “I miss the good old-fashioned, nasally-sounding country singer,” said Blake, describing Ben as “everything that country fans love.”

Who turned? Blake, Gwen, and John. I don’t know why the other coaches even bothered (Kelly, the one non-Blake coach that might have had a shot, refrained). But Gwen, who just scored a CMA Award-winning No. 1 country single with her beau Blake, did jokingly argue, “I’m kind of country now!”

Result: Team Blake, of course. Ben made this easy decision after Blake gave a long-winded speech about how “country is all I want to do” – thus contradicting everything he’d just told Jus Jon about working with non-country artists. Oops!

Kelsie Watts, 29: “I Dare You”

This Lubbock-born badass wanted to be a pirate growing up... and she sort of is, now that she makes her living singing in a Nashville riverboat revue. It was a huge risk for her do one of Kelly’s songs (historically, Kelly tends to be tough on contestants that cover her material, and rarely turns around for them), and this performance did start off a bit shrill and forced. But when Kelsie got to that well-placed dolphin-whistle note — a tactic that Kelly used to great effect in her breakout performance of “Natural Woman” on “a singing competition” in 2002 — Kelly simply could not resist. “You just sang that crap out of my own song!” Kelly exclaimed, even crazily claiming that Kelsie’s was the superior version.

Who turned? Kelly and Gwen.

Result: Team Kelly, naturally. Gwen didn’t even put up a fight.

Carter Rubin, 14: “Before You Go”

This was the episode’s requisite surprise gender reveal, with all of the coaches thinking this kid was a girl until they turned around a feigned their usual shock. “I cannot believe what I am hearing and seeing right now!” gasped Gwen. Carter, whose grandfather was in Jay & The Americans (most famous for their ‘60s cover of “This Magic Moment”), delivered a very mature performance — “You sound polished, you sounded strong, and your voice has control which a lot people your age wouldn’t have,” observed John – but I’m still not sure if he’s ready for prime time.

Who turned? Gwen and John. A “broken-hearted” John had lobbied hard, explaining that he’s usually “too snobbish” to go for super-young contestants but was willing to make an exception for Carter, but Gwen’s promise to be a “mother figure” to this sweet teen was too convincing.

Casmé, 39: “Baby I Love You”

I had hoped that this cool New Orleans diva, who runs a mentoring program for young girls, would have brought more fire and pizzazz to this R&B classic. She did bring it at the end, which was when an excited John hopped to his feet and applauded, but for the majority of the song, she seemed to be holding back. But with John as her coach, Casmé, a late-bloomer performer, might be able to tap into her full potential.

Who turned? Just John. “I am so happy that I get to have you all to myself,” he gushed.

Result: Team Legend.

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