Shudder as Carson Daly introduces contestant Terry McDermott’s reprise of a Foreigner track by calling it “the song that defined him as a true rock star.” (Wait, I thought he was still a contestant on a reality singing competition!)
Let out an audible “huh?” as Cee Lo Green declares he didn’t know voices like Nicholas David’s even existed anymore — at least until the “spiritual Minnesota soul man” showed up at the Blind Auditions. (Come to think of it, I think PBS may have run a documentary on how Blue-Eyed Soul met a quiet, inglorious death back in 2002.)
And hit CTRL+ALT+DEL on your inner cynic as Blake Shelton tells Cassadee Pope that “God definitely broke the mold” when he made her. (Cut to God, throwing a side-eye: “Srsly, NBC? And after the ratings miracle I gave you to kick off the fall TV season?”)
Side note: Did you know Nicholas and Terry are family men? That they have children and spouses to support? And work ethic? And CHILDREN? Also, Cassadee once took a cross-country road trip with her mom and her sister. NBC thought you’d want to know that before you voted.
But hey, it’s a season finale — and the holidays are in full swing. Sometimes you have to accept the prevailing spirit of generosity coming through your TV screen, even if some of the critiques feel like dollar bills being perfunctorily stuffed into a Salvation Army collection box.
My heart, though, won’t grow two sizes or more till
Amanda Brown Cassadee Pope collects her championship trophy come Tuesday night. Yeah, she hit a couple of bum notes in her lower register, but at least she dug deep and performed like there was truly something at stake, not as if she had an attitude of “second or third place would be just fine, thanks very much.” And with that, here are my letter grades for the final set of Season 3 performances:
Nicholas David: Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire”/Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” | I’m all for musical mashups on reality singing competitions — unless someone decides to combine “I Have Nothing” and “Against All Odds,” of course — but Nicholas’ only non-repeat solo of the night felt like it had been conceived by some kind of “random iTunes mashup generator” that seeks any two songs with a common word in their titles and awkwardly binds them together using bailing twine and Elmer’s glue. (Strangely, the “Fire”/”Fire” combo also strayed from Nicholas’ pre-performance comment about building his season around songs with messages of hope and love.) And while Nicholas’ vocal was mostly on pitch — the guy really does have a lovely tone — it too often felt like he was straining to be a raucous hepcat when he’s really more of a gentle barn tabby. The team of go-go dancers, the flaming piano, and Nicholas’ own stilted karate kicks at the end of the performance played into the vibe that the bearded hippie was trying it all on for size — and that the fit was somewhat lacking. I mean, can you really imagine Nicholas repeating this kind of performance in his actual post-Voice career? (Let’s hope not!) Grade: C+
Cassadee Pope: Miranda Lambert’s “Over You” | I’ve never been a huge fan of reality singing contestants repeating “greatest hits” on finale night — oooh, I just had a happy flashback to when The Voice cooked up original songs for its finalists back in Season 1: remember that? — but if Cassadee had to look backwards, at least she picked the exact right song and put it in the exact right spot on her set list. This rendition, which featured Cassadee in a fantastic gown that looked like it had been woven from the glistening detritus of a shattered mirrorball and standing on what appeared to be the top of a spaceship emerging from the misty marshes, was even more stripped down and intimate than her Top 10 Week cover. And the hush that fell over Cassadee’s second take on the chorus made it even more dramatic when the drums kicked in and the Season 3 front-runner tore into those final glory notes. Honestly, this deserved a lot more praise than Adam’s dismissive “you’re so shiny”/”we’re proud of everybody” non-critique, no? Grade: A
Terry McDermott (with Blake Shelton): Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like a Lady” | On paper, it made sense for Terry to enlist cheeky Blake Shelton in covering Aerosmith’s winking gender-bending ditty. The only problem was Blake’s outsized charisma dwarfed Terry’s comparably muted (and occasionally bored-looking) stage presence, rendering the shaggy haired Scotsman as dull as 11th-grade trigonometry class*. And since Terry didn’t really do much of anything to add new life to the song’s vocals or arrangement, it made it even easier to shift focus to a shirtless Adam Levine playing guitar while rocking a long red wig and that stumbling stiletto-wearing backup dancer who may or may not have had her mic turned off. In other words, this felt like a 10th-place kind of performance rather than a Season 3 coronation. (*Side note: My chemist husband and his chemist friend — who declared Cassadee the easy winner of Round 1, despite the fact that she’d never seen an episode of The Voice — both launched immediate objections to my math-phobic simile; I stand corrected, apparently?) Grade: B-
Nicholas David: Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me” | I’m still not sure why Nicholas chose this as his repeat performance, thereby ensuring that every track he covered this week was a minimum of 36 years old; if I were in his cream-colored shoes, I’d have gone with his excellent Knockout Rounds’ cover of “Put Your Records On,” giving him a chance to prove he’s got some modern looks in his retro-soul suitcase. Aside from staging — the Gospel choir sat and swayed on wooden crates this time around — the performance was pretty similar to what Nick delivered in Top 10 week. And that lack of innovation gave the performance an aura of leftover Monday-night meatloaf: Undeniably warm, nourishing and enjoyable, but also not terribly exciting. Grade: B
Terry McDermott: Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings” | I got excited during the rehearsal package for the song, when Blake and Terry discussed if there was a way to “de-’80s” Mr. Mister’s soft-rock staple. “Whoa! Here’s Terry’s big chance to escape the karaoke ghetto!” Unfortunately, aside from some amped-up percussion, Terry’s interpretation turned out to be a pretty by-the-numbers affair (save for those opening few lines where some kind of earpiece problems resulted in a muffled, off-key intro). Adam Levine praised Terry for a quick recovery, but I thought the panic of those technical difficulties wrapped around the rest of the performance like the smell of old Chinese takeout from the back of the fridge. As Terry wandered up and down flights of stairs to nowhere, limply carrying his mic stand, his facial expression remained peculiarly blank and, even worse, you could hear the strain in his upper register. And while it was sweet to hear that “Broken Wings” is a favorite of Terry’s adorable son Liam, is that really reason enough to repeat Season 2’s “deserving dad wins the prize” story arc? I sure hope not. Grade: C+
Cassadee Pope (with Blake Shelton): Sheryl Crow’s “Steve McQueen” | The good news? Crow’s rockin’, underrated “Steve McQueen” was my favorite out-of-left-field song choice in weeks. The bad news? The verses were pitched too low for Cassadee, and sent her back to the corner of Flat and Inaudible where she’d been hanging out for the early part of the Voice season. The bonus bad news? An on-stage motorcycle and vintage car, plus the use of checkered-flag graphics, added a stiff literalness to the proceedings. I did enjoy when Cassadee’s voice opened up on the chorus, and I didn’t even mind her spoken-word shenanigans into a megaphone, but the end product was hammy enough that there’ll be enough leftovers for Cassadee and Blake’s Christmas dinner tables. Grade: B-
Terry McDermott: Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” | It can’t be easy keeping time with the music when glowstick-wielding swaybots are rocking out of sync with each other, with the beat of the song, with everything that is good and righteous about music in the first place. Yet somehow, staring into the face of crippling unmusicality, Terry persevered in giving us a solid encore presentation of a classic 1984 power ballad. The Scotsman went with slightly more elaborate sets this time around — the Serious Strings Section was positioned around cream-colored lit-up towers, the kind you might expect Bonnie Tyler to emerge from out behind while you’re watching VH1 Classic — but the arrangement remained sparse and haunting. This was hands-down Terry’s best of the night, although if I’m being honest, I’d have preferred a repeat of “Maybe I’m Amazed.” I have to ask, though, what was the deal with Xtina’s wacky critique? “How many songs have you sung today? It’s, like, a lot!” she yapped, while praising Terry’s work ethic and ability to perform while he’s tired. Was the “Dirrty” singer implying Terry put in more effort than Cassadee and Nicholas? Or was it a subtle dig that the mullet-y rocker was less energetic than usual? I guess we should just be glad she didn’t find a way to work in another plug for Lotus — now available in stores and on iTunes. Grade: B
Nicholas David (with Cee Lo Green): Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” | I’m not going to lie: I wasn’t 100% sure how I felt about this performance as it happened, nor do I have much more clarity having had a couple hours to think on it. I mean, if you didn’t see it with your own eyes, you’d just assume that the song choice and staging — a pair of second-rate aerialists lazily posing out-of-sync on giant ceiling rings, Cee Lo in sequined zebra-print Capri-length jumpsuit, and a child dancer dressed up to look like Mr. Green’s “mini me” — were comically awful. And, yeah, I guess they kind of were. But Nicholas put some serious stank into his vocal, working overtime to make the song land on the “pleasure” side of the “guilty pleasure” spectrum. Plus, as bizarre as the entire spectacle was, I can’t deny that it was also really entertaining. Grade: B
Cassadee Pope: Faith Hill’s “Cry” | “Cry” is the overstuffed deli sandwich of country power ballads: With its low, delicate verse, and high, blasting chorus, there aren’t many folks who can bite into it without a little bit of mess and strain. And to be fair, the opening bars of Cassadee’s rendition disappeared like breadcrumbs in a dishwasher. But after that inauspicious start, girlfriend emerged from the lovely archway of autumn leaves Blake probably hand-constructed for her and really hit her stride vocally, infusing an undeniably great song with foot-stomping, risk-taking, deeply felt passion. (Verse two, btw, was completely on pitch.) This may not have been Cassadee’s most perfect vocal, but it was definitely her most committed. And it certainly felt like the night’s strongest get-out-the-vote salvo — so much so that I put my money where my vote was and downloaded it on iTunes. Grade: A-
Oh, and I’d be remiss if I failed to note that the show-opening performance of “Hallelujah” by the Voice coaches and contestants — done in tribute to the victims of last Friday’s horrific school shooting in Connecticut — was subtle, haunting and downright beautiful. I know I nitpick about the show’s coaches and voting patterns and song choices and everything, but there’s really no questioning its remarkably consistent tastefulness. Well-played!
With that, I turn things over to you. Who should win Season 3 of The Voice? Who actually will take the crown? Take our polls below, sound off in the comments, and for all my reality TV recaps, commentary and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!