The Voice Recap: Did The Right Artist Win? Plus — Season 9 Finale Awards!

One thing was a near certainty heading into The Voice Season 9 finale: No mention would be made of the NBC reality juggernaut’s prior eight winners — Javier Colon, Jermaine Paul, Cassadee Pope, Danielle Bradbery, Tessanne Chin, Josh Kaufman, Craig Wayne Boyd and Sawyer Fredericks.

OK, OK, maybe I’m being unnecessarily shady. But while Cassadee and Sawyer did, in fact, get chances to perform their latest singles during recent results-show telecasts, let’s keep it Pharrrrrrr-eally real: The one gray cloud that hangs over NBC’s reality competition is its complete disinterest in/commitment to helping launch its champs to Kelly Clarkson/Carrie Underwood levels of stardom.

Heck, even last year’s winning coach Pharrell Williams referenced the conundrum when essentially coronating Jordan Smith at the end of Monday’s Season 9 performance finale: “People are just ready for you to make a record, man. My greatest hope for you is that that dream is realized — but in the proper way. And you go to a label that really understands everything that you need and everything that these people [in the audience] have come to fall in love with out of you. Not becoming something else, not chart-chasing. Just Jordan Smith. That’s what they want.”

The question is, if even Pharrell is in “Free Sawyer!” mode, are the suits at Republic Records willing or able or even cognizant of what it’ll take to launch The Voice‘s latest victor*? And why aren’t NBC brass and exec producer Mark Burnett more invested in using their Emmy-winning series to launch their alumni into the Billboard-charting stratosphere? Because — let’s be clear — at some point, I fear that the show’s 14 million viewers will question the wisdom of giving up every Monday and Tuesday night from September to December — and then again from February through May — if all their Voice app voting and iTunes downloading and whatnot never leads to them hearing their favorites on the radio. (*Not a reference to Viktor Kiraly, but where was he during the finale?)

Anyway, before I dole out Season 9 Finale Awards, let’s cut to the actual results:

Fourth Place
Jeffery Austin (Team Gwen) — HOW WAS THIS AMAZING TALENT NOT AT LEAST THIRD?! #OhRememberWhenKimbelyNicholeFinishedSixth

Third Place
Barrett Baber (Team Blake)

Second Place
Emily Ann Roberts (Team Blake)

Season 9 Winner
Jordan Smith (Team Adam)

No surprise, really. No surprise at all.

Right from the Season 9 premiere — when Adam declared Jordan “the most important person that’s ever been on this show” after he belted a Blind Audition about a party girl and her blackout drinking habit — the narrative has been in place. And by never hitting a single bad note and dazzling viewers with his enviable technique, Jordan managed to “climb ev’ry mountain, ford every stream” of the Voice journey. I’m not sure if I’ve ever really connected emotionally with what he’s been singing, but I’m in the minority, so… so what?

I’ll never quite understand The Voice‘s disinterest in building a little suspense around its proceedings, but whether or not Jordan’s your cup of sauv blanc, you can’t say he doesn’t have talent. Now, whether or not Republic Records follows Pharrell’s edict, perhaps we’ll know by the time Season 10 gets into swing next spring.

And now… my Season 9 Finale Awards!

BEST PERFORMANCE
Tori Kelly and Jeffery Austin’s rousing, ridiculously tone-tastic “Hollow” had me throwing my shoes and my gospel hand every which way but toward the actual TV screen. Seeing how the former singer didn’t even make the Season 9 semifinals of American Idol, here’s hoping the equally terrific Jeffery strides into his post-Voice career with more confidence than Serena Williams playing a qualifier in the first round of a Grand Slam.

BEST PERFORMANCE (RUNNER-UP)
I wasn’t sure Barrett Baber had the chops to hang with the awe-inspiring Wynonna Judd, but their joint effort on “No One Else on Earth” was delectably growly — and a great showcase for the third-place finisher’s country-soul aspirations.

MOST SURPRISING SUCCESS
Usually, when a reality singing competition puts 10 or more contestants on stage together, the result is nails-in-a-blender terrible. But the Top 24 actually sounded really sweet covering that iTunes ad hit “Lean On.” Bonus points to Jeffery, Zach and Nadjah for getting into the groove/getting their boogie on!

SCARIEST STAGING
I know that once you’ve been married to Gwyenth “Goop” Paltrow, nothing in the world probably seems all that alarming. But damn, Chris Martin and Coldplay, those gorilla-suited dancers who started out in the coaches’ chairs then got up and shook their moneymakers? Deeeeeeeply disturbing!

MOST EMBARASSING INTRO TO A TERRIFIC PERFORMANCE
Oh, Lord… how I cringed at the coded message of Carson Daly declaring “it’s time for the season’s most soulful vocalists!” before the five black artists who made it to the Live Playoffs (Regina, Celeste, Mark, Darius and Nadjah) delivered a red-hot and very, very fun rendition of “Love Train.” (C’mon now, if the number was simply about being “soulful,” why weren’t milky white Evan McKeel and Jeffery Austin invited, too?) Nevertheless, it was nice to see a quintet of singers who never got to reach their full competitive potential join forces and soar (especially Regina, whose gruff holleration stole the show).

BEST LIPSYNC
While I’m pretty sure every word of Missy Elliott and Pharrell’s “WTF” was pre-recorded, their funky marionettes and enthusiastic dancers had me dipping it low in my living room. As Deee-Lite once declared, “Damn, that’s my jam!”

WORST LIPSYNC
Ugh, Justin Bieber could’ve at least held the mic to his lips during “Sorry,” no?

BEST COMEBACK
I love Pharrell as a coach, but how nice to see Usher — equally effective in his two seasons of competition — return and slay “Without You” in a duet with Jordan. Sure, the track-heavy mix occasionally threatened to swallow the vocal powerhouses, but overall, this was a rock-solid showing.

MOST ACCURATE COMMENT BY MY CANTANKEROUS HUSBAND
“Wait, he’s a successful artist in 2015?! I thought he was some ’80s act trying to make a comeback — and doing it terribly,” exclaimed my better half, listening from the kitchen as Sam Hunt gasped his way through “Breakup in a Small Town.” With country acts like this, Emily and Barrett should be sleeping on mattresses full of money by Memorial Day 2016!

MOST DISAPPOINTING OMISSION
Was the dashing and undeniably talented Viktor Kiraly tied up in a backstage dressing room — or was there some other reason he had less than a nanosecond of screentime tonight?

MOST DISAPPONTING SONG CHOICE
If I ruled The Voice — and all its votes — we’d have had a Jeffery-vs.-Madi showdown in the finale. Which is why I was a little flummoxed hearing the crazy-talented duo fall out of the pocket and struggle to stay in tune on the verses during their take on “Tears Dry on Their Own.” I still want to hear Jeffery cover Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” however, and may not rest comfortably until that day/performance arrives.

WORST TREND
I loved how past seasons’ “Bring Back Performances” found finalists teaming up with three, four, maybe five of their favorite ejected competitors. Oddly, though, Jeffery and Barrett only selected one other artist to join them in their farewell ditties – leaving me to wonder if it was the contestants’ decision not to spread the wealth, or an edict from Mark Burnett & Co. regarding the two lowest guys on the finale totem pole.

MOST IMPRESSIVE GLORY NOTE
Goodness gracious — Jordan Smith’s whopper of a riff on his bring-back rendition of “Any Way You Want It” was as muscular as The Rock lifting a mid=sized vehicle with his bare hands!

OK, your turn. What did you think of The Voice Season 9 finale? Did Jordan deserve to win? And who gave your favorite finale performances? Take our poll below, then sound off in the comments!