Tuesday night the four finalists competed on "The Voice" for the last time, performing two songs each. They did duets with their respective superstar mentors, during which they all impressively held their own, as equals--no easy feat when one's duet partner is a large-lung'd, larger-than-life character like Christina Aguilera or Cee Lo Green. But even more excitingly, all four contestants sang ORIGINAL songs. Throughout its inaugural season, "The Voice" has set up its contestants for real, viable music careers (for instance, allowing iTunes downloads to count as votes, so that votes mirror the actual marketplace). And having the finalists all perform potential singles--not "coronation songs" about rainbows and unicorns, but songs that presumably reflect the kind of music they'd like to make after the show, whether they win or not--only furthered this cause. This is how a talent search (emphasis on the word "talent") should be done, people!
The talent is so strong on this show, in fact, that I honestly cannot figure out who's going to win this thing. Until this week, I'd assumed Javier Colon, who'd been a frontrunner ever since his first audition was featured in "Voice" teaser promos, had the competition sewn up. Not so much anymore. After Tuesday's performances, I feel the game is wide open, and one of the three dynamite ladies just might take the title. They're all in it to win it, so to speak.
Here's how everyone did Tuesday...
Thanks to superproducer Rodney Jerkins (OK, maybe "The Voice" isn't so different from "American Idol" after all), Adam Levine's chosen one got a tastefully Tracy Chapman-esque, semi-acoustic ballad that showcased his gorgeous, buttery voice without, thankfully, smothering the song with too many superfluous vocal acrobatics. (Rodney said he wanted to keep things "simple"--advice that showboater Christina might want to take herself sometime. Oh snap.) Anyway, the song was classy and elegant, like Javier himself, but it wasn't quite a "wow moment"--honestly, Javier released catchier songs during his short-lived tenure on Capitol Records in the mid-2000s. The tune was just a tad too adult-contemporary for my tastes--and probably for the tastes of this show's edgier audience (which in the past has voted for neck-tattooed rocker chicks and indie songstresses). Javier performed like the total pro that he is, and he did nothing wrong, but "Stitch By Stitch" simply didn't sound like the song of a champion to me.
OK, first of all, Cee Lo's contestant Vicci worked with pop producer Butch Walker on her song. If you're not already familiar with the awesomeness that is Butch Walker, educate yourself right now. (Here are some Butch solo videos to start you off.) The Butch affiliation was almost enough to sway my vote, but then she sang the titanic power-ballad, and I was little disappointed. The song sounded a bit dated, and it dragged on way too long. "Afraid To Sleep" was, well, kind of sleepy. However, this was a powerful performance that will probably make viewers pick up the phones. While Javier had held back a little, Vicci left her rock 'n' roll heart on the stage, howling her lungs out, and overall the song was a good showcase for her killer vocals. I prefer Vicci banging on tribal drums whole rocking a Florence fauxhawk, of course, but at least "Afraid To Sleep" made it clear that this little lady can sang. And isn't this show called "The VOICE"?
Blake Shelton's protégé got the best original song of the night, co-written by the incomparable Frazer T. Smith (James Morrison, Keane, Adele, Ellie Goulding). It was incredibly well-suited for her sweet voice and singer-songwriter style, and it sounded like she could have written it herself. It was exactly the type of music I'd imagine her recording in the future...and exactly the type of music I'd imagine hearing during a pivotal love scene of some CW Network teen soap or in an iPad commercial. (This is a compliment, by the way.) It was also exactly the type of music I'd imagine people downloading in droves. Of the four originals I heard this evening, this was the one I'd personally be most likely to buy--and if the rest of America agrees, then all those iTunes downloads might be enough to make Dia win this competition. On a personal note, I may vote for just her because "So You Think You Can Dance" alum Alex Wong was one of the shadow-dancers contorting in the background of her performance. Get outta your mind!
Singing the only truly uptempo original of the night (courtesy of Stone Temple Pilots/Hole/Sixpence/Taking Back Sunday producer Bill Appleberry), Christina's contestant rawked the house. She played piano, she sprawled on TOP of a piano, and she basically came across like a female Springsteen, or better yet, a female Meat Loaf. (This is a good thing.) At first I found it hard the envision a song like this on the radio, but then I realized if "Lovesick" were stripped of its arena-rock guitar riffs and embellished with dance beats, it wouldn't sound out of place on Lady Gaga's Springsteenian Born This Way LP. (Seriously.) That's when I began to believe Beverly could win this whole thing. She might be on the edge of glory.
This turned out a lot cooler than I'd expected. I figured the Tom Petty classic would be a perfect match for Blake's twangy voice, but I wasn't sure if Dia's winsome croon would work with it. But she oozed rocker-girl cool in her Ray-Bans and new wave suit and tie (she and Blake were dressed like the, um, Blues Siblings, and it was adorable), and she exhibited a certain spunk and confidence I hadn't seen from her since, well, she was on the Warped Tour with Meg & Dia. I do admit that when Blake started singing, he drowned out his young, shy protégé's whispery tone with his booming baritone (not a shrewd strategy; I can only imagine what might've happened if he'd been dueting with Xenia up there). But when she was allowed to sing on her own, Dia performed like a star. All she needs is for Blake to get out of her way and let her do her thing. And to keep covering Tom Petty songs, like she said she'd like to do on the "Voice" summer tour. Tom Petty is rad.
This could have been a risk for Bev. First of all, it's Christina's signature song (none of the other mentors chose to duet on songs that were their own). Second of all, when a singer shares the stage with Xtina, it's likely that that singer will get even more drowned out than anyone singing with Blake. (Let's face it, Xtina could probably drown out a duet partner with her microphone switched off.) But Beverly is big personality with a big voice, and she very much held her own. But more importantly, I actually could not imagine a better song for Beverly. In her forties with a shaved head and neckful of tatts, she's hardly a cookie-cutter pop-star beauty, but when she sang Xtina's proto-"It Gets Better" empowerment anthem, belting, "I am beautiful, no matter what they say," the audience roared. And they believed her. Even Xtina looked moved, at risk of smearing her mascara as her eyes welled up with pride. It certainly didn't hurt that the song's composer, Linda Perry, performed with Bev and Xtina as well. If Beverly wins "The Voice," it may be because of this big moment. I guess Christina knew what she was doing when she chose this song after all.
If Javier does not win, it will be because America was afraid to look at themselves in the mirror. (Kidding. That's an "American Idol" inside joke.) This seemed a little anti-climactic compared to the previous two duets, but Javier easily outsang Adam here (the same could not totally be said for the other contestants with their duet partners), and he did a Michael Jackson classic justice only three days after the anniversary of MJ's death. That's got to count for something.
Wow. Not since Adam Lambert was paired with Kiss in "Idol" Season 8 had I seen such a seat-of-leather-pants talent show finale duet as this! This was pure THEATER! Vicci almost looked like she'd borrowed Adam's Kiss-inspired, cage-winged shoulderpads for this insane performance, actually while Cee Lo looked like he'd borrowed Sanjaya Malakar's Mohawk. And they both looked like they'd raided Nikki Sixx's makeup case. In case that wasn't awesome enough, they were also backed by '80s-attired, backflipping dancing kids who looked like they'd come running off the set of The Warriors, plus enough pyro to make James Durbin jealous. Yes, it was over-the-top, even by Cee Lo standards, and yes, I totally loved it. The one drawback to this performance was the crazy, fiery theatrics may have deflected attention from Vicci's actual great singing voice, but this was one helluva way to close the show, and it's quite possible that Vicci may be the victor on the "Voice" battlefield after this.
So now it is prediction/picks time. Like I said, it's so tough to call; if I got this one right, I'd start playing the Lotto right away. If I base my prediction on who had the best original song, then it's Dia (with Beverly a close second). If I base it on who gave the best solo performance, that's Beverly. If I base it on who had the best duet, then it's a close race between Vicci and Beverly. And if I guess based on who had the most momentum all season, and who Justin Bieber has repeatedly endorsed via Twitter, then I say Javier will win. Add this all up and it seems Beverly has a slight edge...but who knows?
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