The Voice recap: The top four compete for the last time
[Rubs hands] Here we go.
It’s the last week of The Voice’s 15th season, which means the contestants no longer have the option of making mistakes and leaning on the instant save to see them through to the next round. Tomorrow, a winner will be chosen from the final four, based at least in part upon tonight’s performances.
With one cover, a coach duet, and an original song for each to get through, they have a lot of chances to remind us why they’re still here and make a case for why they deserve the big W. So, who comes out on top of tonight’s performances? Let’s take a look.
“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Blake Shelton says that Chris Kroeze is “swinging for the fence” with this piece because it’s “the most iconic rock song of all time,” but really, it’s not that far off from most of the material he’s dealt with before. It suits his high rasp and echoes the personality we’ve seen from him in previous performances as well — this is an anthem about Southern pride, and he seems to have just that, even if he is from the midwest. Chris seems comfortable with the flow of the number, and since he has never been the kind of singer that lives on his range or put-on intensity, this is about as good as it gets with this singer.
“It’s a Little Too Late” by Tanya Tucker
It’s definitely not too late for Chevel Shepherd “to do the right thing now.” By picking this song, coach Kelly Clarkson thinks audiences are going to get to see her “soul” and “a whole new version” of her, but it’s not as though we need to. Chevel has so far made a name for herself on this show by being a genuine honky tonk tyke with a unique talent for throwing in yodel notes to break up her brusque singing moments. She still struggles to find those lower notes here, but there’s something fun about the way she plays into the drama of this exaggerated intro before breaking into the brisker pace of this sashay-style country favorite. Adam compliments her “classic voice” and how much power she possesses in such a small (by his estimation, 4’10”) package, but what her own coach wants the world to know is that she’s still ready to learn and improve as her still-very-young “career” progresses beyond this stage.
It’s never been Kirk Jay’s precision or technical prowess that’s made him such a buzzy contestant on this show. Instead, it’s the sprawling heart that he seems to bring to the stage every single week — if he’s not connected to the song itself, his vulnerability is captivating, and if he is into what he’s singing, it’s all the more endearing. Tonight, his sharp drawl fits well with this song because we don’t get overwhelmed by too many vibrato strands. Although it’d be nice to hear a choice power note or two thrown into the hook for emphasis, what resonates with Kirk Jay again tonight is how much of his personality and earnestness comes through in his delivery. Jennifer Hudson, ever the enthusiast for this contestant, tells him, “You are a true country artist. And you made a true country fan out of me.” For coach Blake, that’s exactly what he’s been hoping to hear because he knows that Kirk Jay can help shake up the genre with his uniquely brassy tones.
“Love Is Free”
Well, this is just about as fun as it can be, no? It kind of feels like the type of song you’d hear during the credits of a feel-good ensemble dramedy film, with all its body-positivity and earworm choral elements. Now that she’s the only pop-soul singer left in this thing, she’s able to singularly own this space without being too over-the-top with the runs and power notes, and it ends up being a bop that can get people smiling. She’s showing us one of the many lanes she might choose to travel down if she has a professional future in this industry. As coach Jennifer Hudson puts it, “You made the room feel how you feel right now, which is so important.” The world could use a little sunshine, and Kennedy’s got it to spare.
Kirk Jay and Blake Shelton
“You Look So Good in Love” by George Strait
This season’s duets have been surprisingly enjoyable. Here, Blake takes the lead on most of the song but allows Kirk to break away with his Aaron Neville-meets-Ronald Isley crowing. They’re singing two different songs entirely, but because they seem to know that they won’t be able to harmonize much, they give each other space instead of trying to force it. (Side note: This would be one of those situations where the “find you a man who looks at you like” meme would come into play because, yeah, Blake’s a believer of Kirk Jay.)
Kennedy Holmes and Jennifer Hudson
“Home” by Stephanie Mills
Both of these women can wail, but they don’t get too carried away with the gospel game in their duet. What works for Kennedy in this song is that she quickly reminds us that in addition to that peppy pop style she’s got going on, she’s also a rather elegant soul singer who can embrace her diva side just as easily as anything else.
Gah, what is it with all these feel-punch originals tonight?! Blake says this song showcases the “diversity” of what Chris Kroeze can do and that “he doesn’t belong in a box” because it’s a little more pop-rock-oriented than some of his recent pieces. While he does have that early aughts jam band vibe going on here, it’s still not a total reinvention. There’s not that much distance between this church rock style and his usual southern rock persuasion. Even so, there is something nice about the way his friendly gravel tones match with these lyrics that speak of how alike we all are. As Blake notes, it’s a good song for the times, and if Chris Kroeze wants to be the new frontman for a religious-bent band in the vein of Creed or Jars of Clay, his voice would be a warm addition to that world.
Chevel Shepherd and Kelly Clarkson
“Rockin’ with the Rhythm of the Rain” by The Judds
Chevel Shepherd and Kelly Clarkson are a surprisingly odd vocal coupling. Chevel’s got this unwavering steadiness about her, even when she’s playing up the rhythm as with this number, while Kelly tends to look for opportunities to break away (pun not intended) a bit, so they spend a good bit of this song trying to find a way not to clash.
Chris Kroeze and Blake Shelton
“Two More Bottles of Wine” by Delbert McClinton
This duet clearly isn’t meant to be some revelation for Chris Kroeze because he’s already done enough to remind us of his consistently cool sound tonight. This is more just an opportunity for Chris and Blake to jam out and have some fun one last time on this show, and why not? It’s a little surprising that he finishes up his competitive set with a mostly forgettable duet like this, but he’s still likely done enough to keep his fanbase happy tonight.
“I Won’t Let Go” by Rascal Flatts
It’s hard not to root for Kirk Jay. The guy has so much spirit and an unbridled desire to win this thing. Voice contestant “stories” can be a little much sometimes, but the reason Kirk’s resonates so well is that he doesn’t beat us over the head with the fact that he comes from extreme poverty and hardships. He’s probably the least polished singer left at this point, but as Adam Levine points out, he has an original sound that’s impossible to miss. This song, in particular, is meant to be a “full circle” moment since his fateful blind audition was with Rascal Flatts’ “God Bless the Broken Road.” It has some bumpy moments where he falls flat but plenty of others where he sells it. Carson Daly sure is impressed by what he’s done, forming a chef’s kiss hand gesture while he says, “That’s the stuff of finale right there, Kirk.” It’s certainly not a bad way to end the competitive portion of his time on The Voice that’s for sure.
Chevel Shepherd (Team Kelly)
Yet another strong single. This one is something Kelly Clarkson wanted to record herself, and it’s a little surprising no one else has scooped it up yet because although simple, the melody seems like something the Dixie Chicks or Miranda Lambert or Sara Evans or Jennifer Nettles or any number of other country singers would be teeing up. Kelly appreciates the “innocence” Chevel brings to her performance, and, although she’s incredibly stoic and keeps it as laser focused and even-keeled as ever, she’s still such a little bundle of authenticity for her deep country genre.
“Confident” by Demi Lovato
Kennedy Holmes has saved her feistiest moment of the night for last. This time, it’s her showmanship and, well, confidence that she’s tapping into to close things out. This song might’ve been a better match for a power singer like Sandyredd, but Kennedy Holmes seems to be having a blast with it all the same. Whereas everyone else kind of huddled around their strong suits for each of their songs tonight, Kennedy decided to give us a taste of several things she can do when given the chance.
Predictions: This … isn’t easy. It never is, but especially not this season. What Chevel Shepherd and Chris Kroeze bring to the table is consistency and a good grip on their genres. Meanwhile, Kennedy’s got a lot of star power and the ability to continue surprising everyone, despite all we’ve seen from her so far. But Kirk Jay has still been compelling all season long, and even if he does need a little ironing here and there before he’s really ready for the next level, the singularity of his sound and the fact that he seems to be such a genuine article makes it hard not to believe he’ll walk away with it.
Sigh, here’s my theory on the Top 4 (don’t yell at me):
4. Chris Kroeze
3. Kennedy Holmes
2. Chevel Shepherd
1. Kirk Jay