The Voice recap: Live Finale, Part 1
Tonight was the very last night of performances on The Voice this season, and the show did all it could to make its final moments count. The four remaining singers packed three performances each into a tight two hours. These performances fell into three categories: duets with the coaches, Christmas songs, and personal selections by the contestants.
First, let’s talk about the songs picked by the singers themselves. Jordan Smith opens the show with “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” from The Sound of Music — you can just see the NBC live musical tie-in being conceived before your very eyes. As always, Jordan’s voice is extraordinary, full of thrilling high notes and massive power. Still, choosing to end his Voice history-making run on a rather stiff Rodgers and Hammerstein number, rather than looking forward to the type of song he’d put on an album tomorrow, is something of a letdown. Luckily, Jordan gets two more songs to recover some cool points before the episode is through.
Barrett Baber’s pick, “Die a Happy Man” by Thomas Rhett, is much more in line with the artist he hopes to become after he leaves this show. This single is very radio-friendly — which would explain why it made it to No. 1 on the Billboard country charts. It’s folksy and funky at the same time, and that’s Barrett’s lane 100 percent. It also perfectly fits the narrative he’s been pushing all season, which is “Did I mention how much I love my wife and kids?” During the first half of the song, I’m missing the heat Barrett’s been known to lay on his best performances, but he picks up steam as he goes, and he ends the song on an emotional and energetic high.
Jeffery Austin chooses “Stay” by Sugarland as his final appeal for America’s votes. Gwen remarks on how rare it is to hear a country song flipped into Jeffery’s pop-soul style. By the time this dude is through with it, though, you never would have guessed “Stay” had been recorded any other way. Sometimes it is startling how good Jeffery is — as Blake put it, he sneaks up on you. This song is heartfelt and passionate, and it contains echoes of last week’s mind-boggling “Make It Rain.” As Jeffery finishes, Gwen stands up and declares herself the first female coach to win The Voice. Any other season, I’d say she’s right on the money. But with Jordan in the mix, any other winner would be an upset.
Emily Ann Roberts closed the whole show with her personal choice, Cam’s “Burning House.” It’s the first current song she’s performed this entire season, something I hadn’t realized. All the coaches go on and on about what a throwback her voice is, but what’s actually interesting to me is how that classic sound can be applied to the music that’s currently being made, not how much it sounds like the singers of yesteryear. “Burning House” is right in Emily Ann’s wheelhouse, despite her protestations that she’s “going out on a limb” with this final choice. It’s very pretty and a little melancholy, and Gwen calls it her favorite performance of Emily Ann’s all season.
Best Personal Song: I’m giving this one to Jeffery for putting pure passion above all else.
NEXT: It’s the most wonderful time of the year
The second group of songs is Holiday music (but let’s get real: All four are Christmas tunes — there is nothing non-denominational about this episode). This category feels quite forced. Surely none of these artists would have picked “Jingle Bells” or the like for a final performance unless they were required to — not to mention the general schlocky-ness of most Christmas music is something they’d all want to avoid on the eve of possibly being rewarded a record deal.
Emily Ann Roberts starts us off with “Blue Christmas,” a standard popularized by Elvis. There’s not much going on in this song that Emily Ann can use to show off the meat of her voice — that she saved for the duet with her coach. Instead, “Blue Christmas” is designed to show off her cutesy side. She wears what looks like a ice-blue figure-skating costume and performs from atop a giant snowflake. It’s basically her Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade audition, and she sells it, but in terms of this vocal competition, it’s her weakest outing of the night.
Next, Jeffery Austin gets into the holiday spirit with “O Holy Night.” (He could have slayed Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas,” but it does not do to dwell on what shall never be.) The sight of Jeffery’s very glittery and entirely impractical jacket does much to ease my disappointment. He digs deep on this one, giving us a new version of the Christmas classic that stays entirely in his gritty chest voice instead of reaching into his higher register. Once again, he shows why there was absolutely no reason he should have been in the bottom six last week.
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Following Jeffery, Barrett Baber performs another beloved favorite, “Silent Night.” His take is also an update. He speeds up the arrangement and makes his version more upbeat and less plodding. It’s a welcome change to a very expected choice, and Barrett is smart to mold the song to his own style. The coaches remark how, this far into the season, there just isn’t much left to say about Barrett (or any of the other contestants) besides that they all continue to sing really well.
Finally, Jordan Smith takes the stage to deliver “Mary, Did You Know,” originally by Michael English. From the moment Carson announced the singers would be performing Christmas music, we all knew this category was Jordan’s for the taking. Not only has he excelled with religious selections in the past, he also has the perfect tone for resonant, spiritual songs. And he does not disappoint. His “Mary, Did You Know” is hauntingly beautiful. This is not the canned Christmas jingle you hear pumped throughout malls for months on end. This song is stirring and triumphant and obviously meaningful to Jordan. Adam says he originally picked a different record, but Jordan chose this instead at the last minute. Good call, buddy.
Best Holiday Song: Jordan, hands down.
NEXT: Coaches: They’re just like contestants
The final category of songs on this fine finale night is coach duets. These songs were clearly the favorites of most of the singers. As cool as it is to be a Voice finalist, it’s probably even cooler to record alongside Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, or Blake Shelton.
Blake, the only coach left with two singers in the mix, pulls double duty in this category. First, he sings Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” with Barrett Baber. This show is all about comparing and judging voices, and that mentality is easy to map onto these duets. Barrett and Blake never harmonize or sing in unison; instead they trade verses back and forth. That only makes it easier to size Barrett’s voice up against Blake’s, and the comparison is not always favorable to the contestant. Although a different arrangement might have done him more favors, Barrett does look and sound comfortable in old-school country mode, and this song is sure to rally the base.
Then, Adam and Jordan Smith duet on what Adam calls the best song ever written, “God Only Knows” by the Beach Boys. It’s the lightest and most pop-y number we’ve heard Jordan sing in the past three months, which is a refreshing change of pace. Coach and contestant stay in unison for most of the song, and they create a sweet, whimsical performance — which is only made sweeter by their synchronized air drums.
All season long, Blake has been vocal about his fondness for Emily Ann Roberts (or “Sis,” as he believes she’s named), and their collaboration seems particularly friendly. Blake chooses Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ “Islands in the Stream.” It’s a powerful song choice with some big moments for Emily Ann to shine, but she’s overpowered by Blake’s rich tone whenever they sing in harmony. It’s only when she gets a solo to herself that she comes out from under his shadow (literally, as well as figuratively: He towers over her). But when she does step out on her own, she lights up the stage. Her yodeling, bluegrass-inflected tone shines bright on this song.
Gwen and Jeffery Austin are the final pair to perform. She chooses “Leather and Lace” by Don Henley and Stevie Nicks. The odd staging means that Jeffery is completely in shadow. A spotlight only finds him when he begins singing. Once the lighting issues are sorted out, Jeffery and Gwen’s voices combine well. Jeffery is a phenomenon, but Gwen rises to meet his talent, and gives her own best performance of the season.
Best Duet: Emily Ann and Blake. There’s obviously a lot of love between them, and they put it to good use on this song.
And there we have it. The final performances of Season 9. Who do you think should win it all?
- Tonight was the first night I can recall Carson actually mentioning the prize for winning The Voice: a recording contract with Republic Records. On most competition reality shows, the prize package is repeated so often, you can mouth it along with the host by episode three. It’s odd Republic Records doesn’t demand more name drops
- So many celebrity performances tomorrow! Coldplay, Sam Hunt, Wynonna Judd, Missy Elliott, Tori Kelly, Usher, the Weeknd, and Justin Bieber will all be on hand to bring The Voice season 9 to a fabulous conclusion
- My Season 9 final ranking predictions: Jordan wins, followed by Emily Ann, then Jeffery, then Barrett
A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.