The Voice Performance Finale Recap: The Agony and the Xtina [Updated]

christina aguilera chris mannMonday’s performance finale of The Voice marked the first live show of Season 2 that didn’t feature backstage correspondent Christina Milian yammering about which contestants were trending on Twitter. Unfortunately, that might’ve been because the show’s main social-media heat probably centered around terms like “Xtina’s side cleavage,” “Adam Levine’s t-shirt,” “Xtina texting,” and “99 Problems lyrics.”

Indeed, a tense vibe percolating through the entire two-hour telecast — and Cee Lo’s “No Problems” t-shirt — seemed to suggest that there might’ve been at least some truth to reports of an ugly Xtina-Adam imbroglio earlier in the day. There was the Lady Aguilera pointedly criticizing Adam’s team member Tony Lucca for choosing a song with lyrics she found “derogatory toward women” while boasting her own protegee Chris Mann was “a real man.” There was Adam mockingly ripping open his shirt to show off a ridiculous, bedazzled “Team Xtina” tee. And there Xtina was flagrantly (and hilariously) texting (or Tweeting?) while Tony took a moment to thank the show’s coaches for helping him on his journey.

Whether such antics will help or hurt Tony or Chris in the voting — and possibly open the door for a righteous victory by Season 2 standout Juliet Simms — remains to be seen.

The night featured three performances from each of the four finalists: A solo competition performance; a second song in which each finalist covered/paid tribute to/boosted iTunes sales for his/her coach; and a duet between each finalist and his/her coach.

Let’s delve deeper into the night’s main solos:

Jermaine Paul (Team Blake): R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” | Yeah, I know that earlier in the season I compared one of Jermaine’s performance to male childbirth, but with this strained exercise in melisma and melody punishment, dude is now the proud father of two. There’s no doubt Alicia Keys’ former backup singer has the ability to hit notes and sing loudly, but his choices are almost uniformly awful. Those low notes Jermaine rocked on the bridge sounded bizarre, and by the time the Gospel chorus emerged (and we all knew they would) and Jermaine riffed on “every night and day,” it was as if his voice was an elephant being pushed into a closet of a tiny Manhattan apartment. It made no sense, and it was kind of upsetting. Grade: C

Tony Lucca (Team Adam): Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” | Whether or not you find the song’s lyrics offensive, you’ve got to admit Tony made a bold choice turning Jay-Z’s hip-hop anthem into an old-timey blues jam — complete with a dude playing the washboard. It was as if Beyoncé’s husband had decided to make a contribution to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Tony definitely knows how to feed into and off of the energy of other musicians on the stage, and in some ways, that makes him a more compelling performer than his competitiors. I sometimes wish he’d dial back on the affectations he’s picked up over his decades in show-biz — yeah, we all knew he was self-censoring the word “bitch” in the lyrics, but did he really have to make a facial tic every time he didn’t sing it? — and I still don’t find anything particularly distinctive about his voice. That said, between this crowd-pleaser and last week’s “How Ya Like Me Now?” dude has definitely made a late-season surge that could carry him to victory. Grade: B+

Chris Mann (Team Xtina): “You Raise Me Up” | If Josh Groban ends up taking Regis Philbin’s spot on Live With Kelly, it’s good to know he’s got a capable understudy in Pale Ben Stiller. Okay, okay…so I’m being a little unfair. But there’s no avoiding the comparison seeing how Chris deliberately chose Groban’s signature hit for his final performance. I’d say he did a solid job with it — and this week, he seemed more genuinely into his music, and less deliberately basking in his moment in the spotlight — but it’s never a good sign when you’re getting upstaged by the sign-language interpreter at stage right. Grade: B

Juliet Simms (Team Cee Lo): Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” | Based on her entire body of work over the last couple of months, I really think Juliet deserves to take home the Season 2 crown.And while “Free Bird” didn’t have the pitch or showmanship of “Roxanne” — there were moments I thought Juliet was too busy trying to line up the train of her dress with the onstage wind machine — I still can’t help but love the distinctive grit and danger of her vocals. Juliet may be less than perfect, but that’s not really the point. She’s one of those instinctive singers who’s willing to dangle off the edge of the cliff, just to let you feel the rush from your living room couch. Sometimes it ends with a splat, other times it ends with a triumphant climb back to safe ground, but dammit, it deserves to be rewarded. Grade: A-

As for the telecast’s tributes and duets…

Juliet Simms (Team Cee Lo): Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” | Relaxed, funky, if not entirely memorable. Grade: B

Chris Mann and Christina Aguilera (Team Xtina): Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli’s “The Prayer” | How come they didn’t give out a number to vote for Xtina’s side cleavage? Also, when people are sick, don’t they typically cover up instead of baring their torsos? Grade: B

Chris Mann (Team Xtina): Christina Aguilera’s “The Voice Within” | Overwrought x 100 = This. Grade: B-

Juliet Simms and Cee Lo (Team Cee Lo): Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” | Proof that lighting and background dancers can be loud enough to drown out a pair of powerful vocalists. Grade: C-

Tony Lucca and Adam Levine (Team Adam): The Beatles’ “Yesterday” | Blessed, stripped-down relief. Grade: B+

Jermaine Paul (Team Blake): Blake Shelton’s “God Gave Me You” | Not sure if Jermaine has 99 problems, but having to go country on the performance finale was definitely one. Grade: B-

Jermaine Paul and Blake Shelton (Team Blake): Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” | How did Blake let this happen? Grade: C

Tony Lucca (Team Adam): Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe” | Aggressive face pulling and theatrical whispering makes it harder and harder to vote. Grade: C+

Your turn. Who do you think deserves to win The Voice? Hit the comments with your opinions. And for all my reality TV news, interviews, and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!