With tears in their eyes and a song in their hearts, the final four Voice contestants took the stage at 9 p.m. tonight as hopeful amateurs looking for their big break. Two hours later, one singer emerged a victor. Who was crowned the winner of The Voice’s ninth season? Before he or she can be revealed, let’s talk about those performances.
Carson promised us an epic finale, and he wasn’t lying. There were 15 performances crammed into the episode — not to mention individual tributes to the four coaches and silly skits about go-karts (you know, the children’s carnival sport most related to vocal ability — duh).
The show brought back our Top 24 for a big group performance of “Lean On” by Major Lazer and DJ Snake. (Although no one mentions it, it’s actually the Top 23 that performs: Ellie Lawrence tweeted earlier this week she couldn’t make it.) Then, Carson tells us how this shebang will play out: Each finalist will sing once with an eliminated singer of their choosing and once with a celebrity who dropped by for the event. Coldplay, Missy Elliott, Sam Hunt, The Weeknd, and Justin Bieber also perform, but they’re too dope to duet with reality-show finalists. (In all seriousness, Missy and The Weeknd both crushed it. They are transcendent live, and the energy of their performances was the highlight of the episode.)
For his Bring Back performance, Barrett chose to duet with Zach Seabaugh on Randy Travis’ “Forever and Ever, Amen.” It’s disconcerting to hear the much-younger Zach bust out with his classic bass, which sounds more world-weary than Barrett’s cool tenor, despite the fact that Barrett’s twice as old as Zach. It’s also a good thing voting is closed, because Zach’s half of their duet blew Barrett’s out of the water. Where was this distinctive, confident sound during the semifinals?
Then Coldplay performs their new single, “Adventure of a Lifetime” (aided by some dancers in monkey suits that seriously cross the line into the uncanny valley). Following that oddness, we hear “Love Train” by the O’Jays from five eliminated R&B singers: Nadjah Nicole, Celeste Betton, Darius Scott, Mark Hood, and Regina Love.
Getting back to the finalists’ performances, Emily Ann duets with country icon Ricky Skaggs on his song “Country Boy.” Emily Ann seems to have a knack for winning over the legends of the genre, and she, Ricky, and the rest of the band have a grand old time on stage. The stars of the performance are the musicians (Skaggs include) who pick and pluck the hell out of their instruments, but the upbeat performance is a breath of fresh air on this tense night.
NEXT: It’s all about Missy
Following “Country Boy,” Jeffery tells us he’s picked Madi Davis as his Bring Back performance partner. They duet on Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own.” In theory, the combination of Jeffery and Madi on a gorgeous Winehouse jam sounds like my ideal song to ugly-cry to (in a good way). But phrasing has never been either of their strengths, and the rapid, long lines on “Tears Dry on Their Own” are a challenge for both of them. They gain control during the slower chorus, but this was not a homerun for either one of them. There are also sound issues with the mics during this and other performances, making it difficult to discern all the lyrics.
Missy and Pharrell (but really, it’s all about Missy) next perform “WTF (Where They From).” She comes spitting fire, they bring the puppets from the video, and it’s a masterpiece all around. Then Jordan gets to perform with a celebrity partner: Usher! They sing “Without You,” David Guetta’s song, which Usher is featured on. It is far and away the best celeb/finalist pairing of the evening. Both these men’s voices are so smooth and effortless on this record, not to mention they can both reach notes only audible to dogs and angels. “Without You” builds to an epic conclusion marked by the longest note Jordan’s held all season. Usher actually starts looking at his watch in disbelief because he is adorable.
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The Voice doesn’t want to spoil us with too much of a good thing, though, so after that crazy performance, they let Sam Hunt take the stage. His “Break Up in a Small Town” is mostly talking, interrupted by a serviceable chorus. Moving on, Jeffery teams up with Tori Kelly on her single “Hollow.” Just like his duet with Madi, a Jeffery/Tori Kelly performance sounds like a pretty perfect idea. “Hollow” works out better than “Tears Dry on Their Own,” but Tori obviously takes the lead, relegating Jeffery to second-in-command, even though this is his night. The elegant strength of his voice is a good balance to her hard edge, but I was hoping for more collaboration.
Then Barrett gets to duet with a celeb of his own, Wynonna (who Carson announces is one of Barrett’s all-time favorites). From the first notes, Wynonna completely overshadows him on “No One Else on Earth” — but, in his defense, how could Barrett possibly compete against that hair? He seems to happily accept defeat, grooving around to Wynonna’s parts, just thrilled to be in her presence. When it’s his turn to sing, he sounds easy and less forced than on his standard lovesick ballads.
Fresh off the announcement of his seven Grammy nominations, The Weeknd is next to strut his stuff on stage. Perhaps in deference to his recent success (or just because he deserves it), The Weeknd gets to perform a medley of three hits: “The Hills,” “Earned It,” and “Can’t Feel My Face.” An hour and a half into this spectacle and still no closer to finding out who’s won this damn thing, I’m starting to flag. But this performance reinvigorates the entire evening. I nominateTthe Weeknd for guest coach next season. Rihanna can come, too.
NEXT: We have a winner
Jordan is down to his final Voice performance, which is his Bring Back. He makes the most of it, bringing back not just one friend, but five: Evan McKeel, Amy Vachal, Korin Bukowski, Regina Love, and Mark Hood all rock out on Journey’s “Any Way You Want It.” The stadium anthem is a fun, fresh change of pace for Jordan, and all the eliminated singers try their best to out-belt one another, which is the perfect way to play this song.
The very last finalist to perform is Emily Ann. For her Bring Back she, along with Ivonne Acero, Nadjah Nicole, Riley Biederer, Morgan Frazier, and Shelby Brown all get down on Rascal Flatts’ “Summer Nights.” The country-pop confection is not at all Emily Ann’s style, but tonight is more about letting loose and having fun with performances than trying to show America what’s in the contestants’ hearts. All the votes are in, after all, so “Summer Nights” is more about Emily Ann jamming out with her girls.
To bring the night to its musical conclusion, Justin Bieber hauls out his hit, “Sorry,” but no one is really paying that much attention, because as soon as he gets through the song we will find out who won The Voice. Justin apologizes one more time, and then, suddenly, we’re here. We’ve arrived at the moment we’ve all dreamed about since September. We’re standing at the precipice of a new world order dominated by the latest Voice champion.
Carson announces the third runner-up: it’s Jeffery Austin. I had expected Barrett to take that spot, but it seems I underestimated the power of the Country Mafia. Barrett takes second runner-up, and then it’s just down to Jordan and Emily Ann. When Carson shouts out that Jordan Smith has won, happy tears well in his eyes, his parents rush the stage, and confetti falls from the heavens. It’s a very expected, but also very touching, conclusion to season 9 of The Voice.