“It’s been an incredible season!”
At least that’s what Carson Daly tells us to kick off the final performance night of “The Voice” season two. And if you can’t trust Carson, who can you trust?
For the first time this season the audience has full control — the coaches can’t save or eliminate anyone — so it will be the biggest test yet of the show’s voting pool. From classic rock (Juliet) to pop rock (Tony), RnB uplift (Jermaine) to classical uplift (Chris), a choice must be made. Who will it be?
To help us decide, each contender gets three songs: a solo of their choice, a duet with their coach and a “tribute” performance of a song made famous by their coach. Here’s how they did:
JERMAINE PAUL (Team Blake)
1) Solo song choice: R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”
Strategy for success: Each week he has two goals: to emotionally connect with the lyrics and find a song America would love.
How’d he do? It’s a singing competition cliché performance: dressed in white and wailing overwrought, one-note uplift backed by a full choir. Jermaine has positioned himself as Javier 2.0, and there’s little reason to believe he’d be any more successful outside the show.
What the rival coaches thought: Christina thinks the song was made for Jermaine; Cee-Lo appreciated the staging and Jermaine’s “strong” simple look; Adam wants to say something different and settles on Jermaine is a “powerful, incredible” performer with a casual style.
What Blake thought: He has “listened to that song a million times but I don’t think I’ve ever *heard* it until you performed it tonight.” He wants Jermaine to teach him how to perform (!!??) Calm down there, Blake!
2) Coach tribute performance: “God Gave Me You”
How’d he do? Jermaine got stuck with the short straw here: as great as Blake is as a coach, he doesn’t have a particularly rich catalog to mine for tribute picks. And yet somehow Jermaine makes this straightforward uplift more fresh and convincing than “I Believe I Can Fly.” I also like how relaxed Jermaine is performing it.
3) Duet performance: “Soul Man”
How’d they do? It’s more “Blues Brothers 2000” than “Blues Brothers,” but they follow Chris Mann (more on that later), so anything with a pulse will do. And Blake’s effortless likability certainly helps (even though he’s not the one competing).
JULIET SIMMS (Team Cee-Lo)
1) Coach tribute performance: Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”
How’d she do? She rocks it out…mildly. It’s nothing radical but just enough outside the box to stay interesting, and most likely the best song available to any of the finalists to select as a tribute.
2) Duet performance: Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild”
How’d they do? Not bad but Cee-Lo had better chemistry with Vicci last year, and she was a more exciting performer. At least we still get the dynamic staging and costumes we expect from Cee-Lo.
3) Solo song choice: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird”
Strategy for success: The more Juliet connects with a song (“Roxanne,” “It’s a Man’s…World”), the better she does. After years of struggling she’s decided to go big or go home.
How’d she do: Easily her best of the night, Juliet finally comes alive and clearly connects with the song. Presumably she’ll feel inspired by her own material, but this inconsistency could be a challenge if she wins and gets stuck with generic rock material.
What the rival coaches thought: Adam says no one sings like Juliet; Christina loves the song and performance and wardrobe and also admires Juliet’s ability to perform while sick.
What did Cee-Lo think: His t-shirt says it all: “No problems.”
CHRIS MANN (Team Christina)
1) Duet performance: “The Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion
How’d they do? I can’t say for sure but I think my TV momentarily flipped to a PBS pledge drive. I certainly wasn’t watching a pop music competition. Although Christina’s near wardrobe malfunction as her cleavage fought a valiant battle with gravity and physics spiced up the snoozy selection just a bit.
2) Coach tribute performance: “The Voice Within”
How’d he do? While a letter Chris wrote to Christina is projected behind him, he indulges himself on a treacly ballad that could have just as easily come from Celine Dion”s catalog. No matter the challenge Chris definitely stays true to himself, no doubt about that.
3) Solo song choice: Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up”
Strategy for success: After years of doubting whether or not he should pursue an operatic singing style he’s finally decided to be himself. “A lot of the other singers on the show are doing things that are so hip and relevant,” he says. But not Chris!
How’d he do? Well… The ASL interpreter on stage seemed like a nice touch to maximize the cheesy hilarity, until the full choir broke out into sign language for the big finish. Also some sort of heavenly light shined on Christina as she watched and Joel Osteen (seriously!) applauded from the audience. Overkill? Not for Chris!
What the rival coaches thought: Cee-Lo calls Chris “by far one of the most incomparable vocalists I’ve ever heard” and adds that Chris is very cool.
What Christina thought: Tonight is a celebration and all about positivity. Chris made it this far based on pure talent. (And other nonsense that sounds like a bunch of thinly veiled swipes at Tony.)
TONY LUCCA (Team Adam)
1) Solo song choice: Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”
Strategy for success: Christina slamming him as one dimensional “changed the entire course of [his] career.” Now he’s a risk-taker and Adam declares Tony has the most range, “there isn’t a more diverse contestant on the show” (which considering these finalists is probably actually true).
How’d he do? Turning Jay-Z’s rap anthem into blusey rock is nothing new, but that’s typical of the “risks” on shows like this. And frankly Tony sells it with ease. It’s probably the best performance he’s given on the show to date, and not a moment too soon. (Or should that be too late?)
What the rival coaches thought: Blake thought it was a lot of fun and really cool version of the song; Christina finds another way to be condescending by pointing out that Tony’s wife and kids are in the audience cheering him on as he performs a song that’s derogatory to women; Cee-Lo grins ear to ear and declares it “hard.”
What Adam thought: He wants to clarify what the song is about: It’s not about misogyny, it’s about all the problems life throws at you. He thinks Christina needs to understand what a metaphor is. Christina isn’t convinced, but Adam rips off his shirt to reveal a “Team Xtina” t-shirt underneath and she’s too distracted to keep arguing.
2) Duet performance: The Beatles’ “Yesterday”
How’d they do? Pretty, pure, simple — it’s a smart choice on a show that has more than its fill of bombastic singing. I’d listen to this a million times over before even considering a second listen of “The Prayer.”
3) Coach tribute performance: “Harder to Breath”
How’d he do? Adam and Tony’s musical sensibilities seem the most aligned, so it’s an easy fit. But unlike his competition, Tony doesn’t have a chance to demonstrate versatility here or take the kind of risks he’s been aiming for since Christina’s “one dimensional” diss. He also fumbles the lyrics at one point but recovers immediately.
It was a very middle of the road night of final performances. Chris and Jermaine both played it safe and failed to show us anything new, while Juliet fought back illness and came fully to life on her final song (probably the strongest moment of the night). But Tony emerged as the most consistent and weathered the increasingly petty criticisms of Christina.
My vote would go to Tony, but I’ll play it safe and predict Juliet to win thanks to that closing number. Chris could be a wild card, but if he wins I think it will seriously damage any credibility “The Voice” has as a relevant music competition.
Who do you think was the best of the night? Are you sick of Christina’s attitude against Tony? And do you agree with Carson that this season has been “incredible”?