In much the same way that Christina Aguilera has demonstrated a wide variety of ways to preposterously style her hair — the bedraggled beehive, the Hot Topic milkmaid, the 75 lb. wave of weave, to name a few — so, too, are there dozens of ways to determine who will and who should win Season 1 of NBC’s The Voice.
Who was the most consistent, and thereby built the most loyal voting bloc, through the early rounds and the three weeks of live performances? Which singer showed the most originality and took the most thrilling musical risks? Who was the most passionate, and made us feel the most while they were up there on the stage? Who scored a TKO in his or her finale performances? Do you factor in contestants’ personalities? Should your affection for a particular coach come into play? And what about the quality of the original songs assigned to the finalists?
The amount of weight that the voting public gives to each of those factors will determine whether front-runners Dia Frampton and Javier Colon can hang on to the top two spots, or if surging underdogs Beverly McClellan and Vicci Martinez can upset the conventional wisdom cart. But before we get to Wednesday night’s season finale, let’s recap what went down on Tuesday’s show:
Javier Colon: “Stitch By Stitch”
Javier entered the finale with a reputation as the show’s cleanest and most polished vocalist, but I thought parts of his performance on the inoffensive but not particularly thrilling “Stitch By Stitch” were wobblier than a rope bridge. Specifically, in the verse and at the ends of phrases, you could hear a nervous quaver make an appearance like a bright red t-shirt under a white oxford. Javier sounded much more authoritative and much less flat in the few places the song gave him an opportunity to hit the pedal and open up his vocals, but I’m not sure coach Adam Levine did him any favors in the song-selection department — or in his tepid critique, which made no mention of the actual performance. “You must be so relieved to have gotten through this,” Adam said before complimenting his protegee’s personality. “It would be hard for me to root for somebody I don’t genuinely love very much,” Adam said. Sweet, but what did you think about the, um, singing?
Dia Frampton and Blake Shelton: Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”
I know some Voice fans find it absurd that a music-biz vet like Dia has been riding a “stage fright” backstory for several weeks running, but I don’t think she’s being disingenuous. For starters, there are plenty of industry vets (Carly Simon, for example) who’ve admitted discomfort in front of big audiences. And what’s more, I find it hard to believe that if Dia really had a bold, vivacious personality, that she’d consider it a good strategy to keep it locked in her dressing room. All that stuff aside, I liked how Blake brought out a little of Dia’s inner cool on “I Won’t Back Down.” Their matching black suits and Ray-Bans brought a smile to my face, and their delicious harmonies on Tom Petty’s ear-candy chorus kept it there. There’s no denying Dia has benefitted all season long by choosing (or being assigned) memorable hits that haven’t been done to death in the reality competition arena, and manage to satisfy hipsters and mass consumers alike. And while her voice is, in a lot of ways, smaller than Blake’s, she played the role of gutsy terrier to his Rottweiler, keeping pace with him from start to finish as though the size of their respective voices had never occurred to her. (Two burning questions: Was I the only one who thought that Blake looked like he had a pierced chin at several angles during the performance? And can anyone translate what Dia said when she was intro-ing her song choice. After a half-dozen DVR rewinds, all I can hear is that she says “I Won’t Back Down” is by “Magnum Sit Tom Petty,” but I know that can’t be right. Help a blogger out down in the comments!)
Vicci Martinez: “Afraid to Sleep”
I may be in the minority here (at least based on what I see on the iTunes singles charts), but I enjoyed Vicci’s original track as much or more than any of her rivals’ solo performances. Granted, the vocals were far from perfect — especially seeing as how Vicci’s voice broke on her big glory note — but there was a passion and theatricality to Vicci’s performance that had me nodding my head at Adam Levine’s critique: “I bought every single second of it.” What’s funny is that the diminutive diva performed her ditty all alone on the fog-covered stage, the band relegated to the background, and yet she managed to fill the entire space by sheer force of will. That denouement where the music dropped and Vicci delivered her final refrain of “baby I’m afraid to sleep” was absolutely riveting. She may not take home the top prize, but she’s got at least one fan in me who’ll follow her career from now until Cee Lo stops speaking like he’s performing at a beat poetry concert.
Beverly McClellan and Christina Aguilera: “Beautiful”
Sure, this performance was capped with a ridiculousness sillier than Christina’s hat: I mean, here was our unhinged diva mentor being tasked with choosing any song in the universe as a duet for herself and her protege — and settling on her own megahit ballad. (Talk about Rated GP…for Girl, Please!) And then, of course, Xtina had to go and ride the melody like a rodeo star on the back of a bucking bronco. But despite all the unnecessary mumbo-jumbo, I still thought this was the performance of the night. Beverly’s showed a restraint in the verses that highlighted the power and control of her vocals, and I’m not gonna lie: I got a tear in my eye when the bald-headed rock vet, clad in a flannel shirt and blue bandana scarf that never would’ve made it through the service entrance of American Idol, hit the line, “I am beautiful, no matter what they say.” You could see Christina was moved, too, the way she looked up at her fellow vocalist and grinned. I can’t think of another moment on this season of The Voice where a contestant connected to a lyric more deeply or meaningfully. And if Bev went into the night as the expected fourth-place finisher, this performance turned her into a winner — regardless of when her name gets called during the Wednesday-night finale.
Dia Frampton: “Inventing Shadows”
Note per note, and lyric per lyric, I’d say Dia drew the night’s best original track. “Inventing Shadows” had a subtle, pulsing rhythm and a classic kind of melody that might actually score it some radio play right here in the dog days of summer. (Side note: I can’t type that expression without a blast of Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over.” Tell me it’s not just me.) Yes, there were moments where Dia pushed her vocal to the intersection of intense and unpleasant, but overall, I liked that she showed she’s not just all baby-doll-emo-quirky-interesting, that there’s a fire starting in her heart, so to speak. Xtina and Adam were right, though, that the shadowbox dancers behind her were absurd and distracting — I kept waiting for them to spell out “Y.M.C.A.” — but they were worth it just to get this hilarious retort from Blake: “You know what else is gonna be distracting? When [Christina and Adam] turn on the phone in 30 minutes and see you sitting way above their records [on the iTunes charts].” Pure genius, even if it couldn’t manage to bring a smile to Dia’s petrified face. (Girrrrl, stop taking stage-presence tips from Xenia!)
Javier Colon and Adam Levine: Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”
Javier and Adam’s rehearsal banter said it all. Javier noted that there’s no way to improve on Michael Jackson’s original. Adam replied that the goal was to “have fun” and “make it our own.” But alas, I’m not 100 percent convinced the duo cleared either of those low hurdles. Both guys sounded perfectly fine on the inspirational ode to taking a good look in the hotel magnifying mirror — and not getting distracted by blackheads — but there wasn’t anything particularly inventive or passionate happening, and I’m not sure that “fun” was part of the equation, either. The stacatto talky parts — “if you wanna make the world a better place…” — came off a little too languid in Javier’s mellifluous style, and there seemed to be something wonky happening with the sound mix (a major problem all season long on The Voice). But, hey, Javier can definitely belt, and he washed the Lusky Stank right out of “Man in the Mirror.” So while I think he got outperformed by his three female rivals when it counted, I wouldn’t go tearing my garments if he pulled off the win, either.
Beverly McClellan: “Lovesick”
Of all the songs in all the gin joints in all the world, Christina goes and picks this one for her final remaining team member? Look, there’s no denying Beverly performed this boppy rock ditty with a sense of utter joy and excitement — and her vocals were rock-solid, to boot — but the track itself was disappointingly generic, its lyrics inarguably inane, and worst of all, it failed to showcase the bluesy, soulful side of Beverly’s vocals that Xtina spent most of their rehearsal time talking about. Adam was right that when Beverly is on stage, she transcends any notions of a reality TV competition. So here’s hoping she scores herself some kind of record deal, lest our last impression of her involve a chorus that declares, “I’m lovesick. I’m lovesick! I’m sick of love!”
Vicci Martinez and Cee Lo Green: Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield” (embedded below)
If you thought the Shadowbox Voguers Extravaganza Alliance troupe was distracting during Dia’s solo performance, how about the army of apocalyptic child dancers who tried to upstage the outrageously costumed Vicci and Cee Lo on “Love Is a Battlefield”? The fact that The Voice‘s director kept cutting away from Vicci to focus on those pint-sized pelvic-thrusting peanuts was the second-most-infuriating part of the finale — right behind the soul-destroying legions of swaybots who populated the audience. Because, really, when I rewound my DVR and listened to Vicci’s performance with my eyes closed, I realized hers was perhaps the most explosive and spot-on of the night — and even more entertaining than Cee Lo’s red vinyl bodysuit with matching mohawk and Dacentrurus spikes. Girlfriend killed it so thoroughly and completely, not even the most radical procedure from the doctors at Seattle Grace could resuscitate it. And on that note, I’m going back to my iPod to listen to it again.
But before I do, let’s jump into the evening’s letter grades, plus my will be/should be Top 4 rankings:
Tonight’s Letter Grades
Beverly McClellan and Christina Aguilera, “Beautiful”: A
Vicci Martinez and Cee Lo Green, “Love Is a Battlefield”: A-
Vicci Martinez, “Afraid to Sleep”: A-
Dia Frampton, “Inventing Shadows”: A-
Dia Frampton and Blake Shelton, “I Won’t Back Down”: B+
Javier Colon and Adam Levine, Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”: B
Beverly McClellan, “Love Sick”: B
Javier Colon, “Stitch By Stitch”: B-
Should Be the Order of the Final Four: Vicci, Dia, Beverly, Javier
Will Be the Order of the Final Four: Dia, Javier, Beverly, Vicci
What did you think of the evening’s performances? Was it just me or was the sound mix on the judges’ performance of “Under Pressure” absolutely catastrophic? Did Allison Haislip’s schilling for the EVO3D from Sprint and use of “Interwebs” make you queasy? And who do you think will and should win the competition? Vote in our polls below, then hit the comments to share your thoughts on this all-too-fast Voice season!