May 08, 2012 at 03:46 PM EDT

The finale feels like graduation. When you look back, it offers a time of reflection. Last night we showed video of the four finalists’ transformations and how far they’ve all come, and you look back and it’s amazing, the journey that we’ve all had. Since the Super Bowl, this season has absolutely flown by. We had a lot of the eliminated artists in the audience last night, and you’ll see some of them on the air tonight. It’s been so wonderful to see how confident everyone is now. The four finalists are all there for a reason, and they’re strong not only because they’re four of the strongest voices in the competition, but they’re the artists who have risen to the occasion. I think anybody could win this thing, I really do. There’s not a runaway winner here. Tonight’s going to be really, really interesting.

We got three performances from each artist last night: a solo performance, a duet with the coach, and a last-minute surprise for the coaches in the form of a tribute cover performance. The artists were really into it. They loved it. They wanted to do something to say thanks, so they were really excited by the idea. It was tricky to keep it from the coaches because they were on set all day yesterday — normally, they’re not necessarily there all day, but because it’s the finale, they were there early. We shoot in a soundstage, so we had to kill the monitor feed back where all the coaches trailers are so they couldn’t see what anyone was rehearsing. That way the coaches would be surprised, and I think they were genuinely moved by their artists’ sentiment. The cover songs provided for some really nice moments of closure, and that was the last time we’re really going to hear the artists talk to their coaches in that capacity. The show’s been really fast-paced, and we wanted to make sure that these final four artists had some time to address their coaches and thank them for everything they’ve done.

Jermaine, even in the first couple of weeks, sang like a backup singer. I think it was his style, when he did the Avril Lavigne song in the blind auditions. It was good, but it wasn’t what you heard last night with R. Kelly. He’s literally found his voice. He’s found his frontman voice. Background singers often sing like background singers — they’re trained to sing in a peripheral harmony, like a complementary singer, because that’s what they do. They’re trained not to overshadow the talent. Well, Jermaine has evolved now to the point where he is the talent. He needs his own backup singers now, and you saw that last night with “I Believe I Can Fly.” If you look at the progression — and the finals is a great time to do that — you can see the growth. Win or lose, Jermaine’s there, and I think Blake helped him get there. I think that “Soul Man” performance last night was a ton of fun, and I thought their rapport together was just outstanding. As I mentioned on the air, Jermaine was an unlikely finalist for Blake, but he believed in Jermaine, and Jermaine needed to be believed in, and that’s all it took for him to stand at the front with some courage. Jermaine’s in a great place as an artist, no matter what happens

The caveat for Juliet is that she was very sick last night. Behind the scenes, she didn’t open her mouth yesterday at all during the dress rehearsal. She was just nodding. She walked through all of her performances, saving all of her energy. If you look at the tape from when we first met her, she’s transformed completely. From “Roxanne,” which is when she really got Cee Lo’s attention, to Aerosmith’s “Cryin’,” when she almost got eliminated and her coach saved her, to James Brown. I mean, just look at her trajectory. She’s hit all the right notes. She’s finally probably gotten the direction from Cee Lo that she needs, which is what it’s going to take for her to be a real artist. She said herself that she was re-energized by her own pursuit of music, by making it in the blind auditions, by Cee Lo turning around. Cee Lo injected a rebirth in Juliet, so now she believes in herself again. She’s got so much star power, too, even when she’s under the weather. When she’s walking on the stage, it’s hard to take your eyes off her because she’s unpredictable. She’s really come a long way.

NEXT: Chris is the Mann, Tony takes on Christina

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A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.
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