The Voice Performance Finale: I Know What You Did With Idol's (Overdone) Songs in the Dark
“Hello, and welcome to The $25,000 Pyramid: The Voice Season 5 Performance Finale Edition! Our famous clue-giver is Carson Daly, and our contestant is ‘Who cares, this person isn’t a superstar celebrity!?’ Let’s get started!”
Carson: “Ummm…Whitney Houston’s ‘I Have Nothing.’ Bryan Adams’ ‘Everything I Do (I Do It for You).’ ‘And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going’ from Dreamgirls!”
Contestant: “Songs that have been ground into the carpet for 12 seasons of American Idol!”
Carson: “No, no, no, think harder!”
Contestant: “Songs that are irrelevant to modern radio! Songs that frighten Jennifer Lopez! Songs used to support a backhanded compliment from Christina Aguilera!”
“We interrupt this program with the following newsflash: The Voice Season 5 may have three contestants remaining, but coach Adam Levine feels he has enough information to call the competition on behalf of Tessanne Chin — even though his second protégé Will Champlin has yet to take the stage for his final performance. Will is being asked by Adam to exit through a back door and collect his consolation prize of Trivial Pursuit: Reality TV Edition and a box of Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat!”
Lord help me, we’re only a few hundred words in, and this recap has already gone off the rails. (OK, OK, maybe it went off the rails while I was writing THAT HEADLINE.)
But pardon my crazy, because tonight’s installment of The Voice — or at least the last half hour of it — made me go all Cypress Hill*, or rather, “Insane in the Membrane.” (*Not a drug reference. Wayyy too square for anything stronger than sauv blanc. Seriously.) For starters, I found myself going bonkers for a rendition of the song that edged out “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now”) as The Most Overdone Ballad in the History of Reality Singing Competitions. And then the same thing happened with a song that’s already part of a joint custody agreement between Jennifer Holliday and Jennifer Hudson, and really doesn’t need anyone else trying to lay claim to it.
But great talent — and let’s be honest, whether Tessanne, Will and the human firecracker that is Jacquie Lee experienced a stumble or two this week, they’re all pretty flippin’ fantastic — has the power to rewrite rules, to negate conventional wisdom, to make you download ditties you didn’t realize your iTunes wanted. So even though Will is most likely to finish third, and even though I’d personally give Jacquie the Season 5 crown over Tessanne by .00114 of a percentage point, and even though I’m uncertain that “.00114 of a percentage point” is a mathematically sound figure, I’ve got to tip my imaginary hat to every member of the Final 3 (or the Bottom 3, as Xtina likes to call it).
With that said, it’s time to get going on letter grades for the night’s performances:
BLIND AUDITION RETREADS ROUND
Tessanne Chin (Team Adam): Pink’s “Try” — Grade: B | Tessanne being Tessanne, you could count the missed notes on this number on one finger. Unfortunately, though, the former background singer’s energy level dragged throughout the number, almost as if she was directing the “you gotta get up and try, try, try” lyric to some part of her that wasn’t quite revved up to kick off the finale. (Then again, maybe Tessanne was still reeling from the shock of seeing the show’s quartet of mentors willingly tackle “Pour Some Sugar on Me” on national television?) Whatever the case, though, this was one of the Jamaican powerhouse’s most hollow performances: All shiny glory notes, with none of the gooey emotional center needed to truly sell a “diva overcoming heartache” anthem.
Will Champlin (Team Adam): Gavin DeGraw’s “Not Over You” — Grade: B- | I wasn’t sold on Will’s Blind Audition way back in early October because, for starters, “Not Over You” is to songs what uncooked pizza dough is to food — bland and vaguely shapeless — and also because it’s not a great fit with his instrument. Indeed, Will’s voice — which has been incredible on tracks like “At Last” and “Carry On” and “When I Was Your Man” — sounded tight and a little tinny through much of this performance, and worse still, seemed to intermittently taper off and get drowned out by the band. The feedback from Adam and Xtina was about as harsh as it was gonna get for a Voice finale, with the former oddly accusing his own contestant of working so hard that it’s “stressful” and the latter repeatedly referencing Will’s tendency to overthink and his one time in the Bottom 3 (of Adam’s Final 5, during Top 20 week) without ever really commenting on his actual vocal performance.
Jacquie Lee (Team Xtina): Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” — Grade: A- | Yes, the last 10 seconds got overbaked, but let’s give credit where it’s due: Jacquie was the only member of the Top 3 to dig deeper, take bigger risks and attempt to truly reinvent her Blind Audition cover. Exhibits A-D: The slightly off-the-beat delivery on the second verse; the growly conviction on “my odds are stacked”; the lofty places she took the melody on the “tiny penny” verse; and especially the warm, husky tones on the repetition of “blaaaack” toward the end. Creativity — and a totally authentic, old-school soulfulness — must be recognized. Now recognize it, America!
MENTOR DUET ROUND
Tessanne Chin & Adam Levine: The Beatles’ “Let It Be” — Grade: A- | Call me blasphemous, but I loved-on-top-of-loved the reggae breakdown in the final verse, a risk that paid off and upgraded what was already a very pleasing — if slightly staid — interpretation of the Beatles’ hymn-like classic. The take-it-to-the-church ending worked wonderfully, too, but when Tessanne gets movin’ and groovin’, that’s when my brain presses the Siri button and asks, “When will I get to hear Tessanne on the radio?”
Jacquie Lee & Christina Aguilera: Xtina’s “We Remain” — Grade: B | There were some lovely moments in this collision of Big Diva Voices — but, yeah, my choice of “collision” rather than, say, “marriage” or “intertwining” is telling. There were several instance where one of the gals (my ears think it might’ve been…Xtina?) faltered on her harmonies, and other spots where the cacophanous imagery on the backdrop — firepots! animated forest! the Doctor Who wormhole! — drew my attention from the driving Hunger Games anthem that sounded a lot hookier here than when I’d first heard it on the internet a while back.
Will Champlin & Adam Levine: Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” — Grade: B- | Anyone who’s ever seen Almost Famous, or had this tune come on the radio during a road trip, knows how fantastically rousing it can be. Will and Adam’s interpretation, though, never reached the anthemic, “I’m not 100 percent sure what the lyrics are about, but DAMN I’m feelin’ em!” heights that Elton’s endlessly crescendo-ing melody promises. Will layered on too many embellishments; Adam came off like his charisma was back in the spinny-chair sucking down a Starbies; and the contestant’s final ad-lib flopped to the mic like a trout on a dock. It wasn’t terrible or aggressively pitchy, it was just less than what it should’ve been, like being given a winning MegaMillions ticket and then buying a lightly used Kia.
FINAL SOLO ROUND
Tessanne Chin (Team Adam): Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” — Grade: A+ | Before tonight, the idea of me giving any performance of “I Have Nothing” an A+ seemed about as likely as the Barefoot Contessa removing butter from all her recipes or that last Vince Vaughn movie — you know, the one with the preview where the sperm-donor guy throws around the idea of “fatherhood” like it’s a hacky sack — winning an Oscar. I mean, “I Have Nothing” is, as I said earlier in this recap, The Most Overdone Ballad in the History of Reality Singing Competitions: Eight performances during 12 seasons of live voting rounds on Idol, along with renditions during The Voice‘s Season 4, Season 3 (twice!) and Season 2. Tessanne, however, embued the Bodyguard soundtrack cut with such a wicked combination of grace, power, intensity and most of all delicacy, that I had no choice but to give it a perfect grade. Sure, Tessanne’s cover in no way strayed from Whitney’s original. And yes, the falling curtains and eruption of sparks were ordered directly from 1-800-Bombast. But so what? For two minutes or so, Tess’ stratosphere-scraping rendition made me forget all prior versions, made me put aside my cynical disdain, and made me grin and hoot with sheer delight. I can’t pretend “I Have Nothing” will ever be on my personal musical menu, but it doesn’t mean I’m so stubborn that I can’t gobble it up and bow down to the chef, either.
Will Champlin (Team Adam): Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do It for You)” — Grade: B | Am I the only person wondering if Will might’ve been fighting a cold tonight? Or maybe dude was just fighting the urge to cold cock Adam, after hearing his coach, moments before he went on stage, tell Tessanne that “I know in my mind and in my heart that you are the winner of this show.” (Ouch!) The opening verse had a slight case of Bowl of Jello syndrome, and Will lost his grip on pitch when he tried to take some chances on the bridge. That final move where he went out into the audience and delivered the last lines to his wife and baby daughter were sweet, sure, but it was most likely a case of too hokey, too late.
Jacquie Lee (Team Xtina): “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (from Dreamgirls) — Grade: A+ | I can’t honestly make the case that Jacquie’s performance was as note-perfect as Tessanne’s, but before you go all Stern Russian Figure Skating Judge on me and demand a recount on my grades, let me say this about that: In my mind, there’s more to music than correctly executing a series of notes. We’re not talking about making a figure-8 in the ice. It’s not coloring within the lines. It’s not following a recipe down to the tablespoon. And for me, I was gobsmacked by the audacity of Jacquie’s performance — the almost haunted quality of that opening verse, finished off with a robust “ow-ow-ow” that had me nodding my head in approval; the way she dragged the mic stand toward the front of the stage, practically defying the audience to blink, lest they miss a single second; the epic length of the note on “there’s no way I WILLLLLLL” swooping directly into a thunderous “And I aaaammmm…”; the literal explosiveness of those final notes with all the pyrotechnics going off behind her. It all spoke to me — on a gut level — in a way no other performance did tonight. And so, yes, when I spend Tuesday morning cooking up a photo gallery of the best Season 5 performances, I’ll have to rank “I Have Nothing” above “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” But when it comes down to which one I’ll play back on YouTube when I’m having a crap day — just so I can get transported to somewhere better, brighter and more electrifying — nine times out of 10, it’s gonna be Jacquie.
Oh, I almost forgot!
The Voice Coaches: Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” — Grade: SMDH (I could never get past the line “Do you take sugar? One lump or two?” without a piece of my soul flaking off, crawling under the couch and attaching itself to a dust bunny.)
Your turn. What did you think of the Season 5 performance finale? What were your favorite numbers? Who should and who will win it all? Take our polls below, then hit the comments with your thoughts! And for all my Voice-related interviews, recaps, news and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!