There were three losers and only one winner on The Voice‘s Season 8 finale — that is, if you chose to look at the Starbucks-sponsored plastic cup as half full.
If, however, like Blake, your glass had even a splash of moonshine left in it, maybe there were no losers at all.
After all, as Joshua “My Infant’s Fave Toy Is a Pair of Noise-Cancelling Headphones!” Davis, Koryn “My Ad-Libs + Pharrell’s Face = Magic” Hawthorne, Sawyer “Mortal Enemy of Men Without Hats” Fredericks and Meghan “Remember When I Won Can You Duet?” Linsey pointed out in their final “Voice Confessional” segment, simply making it to the finale of NBC’s smash-hit singing competition was an undeniable triumph. And the fact that they got to respectively duet with Sheryl Crow, Kelly Freakin’ Clarkson, John Fogerty and (encore? yesss!!!) Kelly Freakin’ Clarkson only added to the “You’re a winner! And you’re a winner! And you’re a winner!” vibe of it all.
Yet from a purely technical standpoint — the one overseen by some highly paid accounting firm and based on phone/text/online/app votes (plus iTunes downloads) — tonight’s two-hour extravaganza, in which Luke Bryan revealed the formula for turning a cornfield into a party, had to engage in the ugly business of handing out 4th-, 3rd-, 2nd-, and 1st-place trophies.
Voice pundits (myself included) entered the week considering Sawyer’s win as much a certainty as Meryl Streep’s next burp landing her an Oscar nomination. And after his Monday night renditions of “Please” and “Old Man” landed at No. 2 and No. 3 (behind only the mighty Taylor Swift) on the iTunes chart, the proceedings felt like more of a coronation than a white-knuckle suspense ride.
Before we get to the results, let me first present TVLine’s Season 8 Finale Awards…
BEST VOCAL PERFORMANCE
Kelly Clarkson’s interpretation of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” oozed more heartache and passion than a dozen Nicholas Sparks novels combined, but she still showed enough restraint that duet partner Koryn Hawthorne also had plenty of room to wow the audience. The kid’s “Baby, BABY, BABY!” hollerations were especially delectable — and had Pharrell delivering simultaneous stank face and a “hallelujah!” smile. But Kelly’s end-of-song “She can sing, y’all!” was perhaps the best endorsement Koryn could’ve ever received. Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this duet — but Mark Burnett & Co. gave it to us at the 31-minute mark. Noiiiice!
BIGGEST SCENE STEALER
With her wicked growl and off-the-charts charisma, Kimberly Nichole pretty much dominated Joshua Davis’ bring-back performance of “She Talks to Angels” (also featuring Corey Kent White, Deanna Johnson and Brian Johnson). And I’m not being biased toward my Season 8 fave: I mean, Joshua himself could only grin and point deferentially to Queen Kim as she took the reins for the entire bridge!
BEST PITCH FOR A SITCOM WE DIDN’T KNOW WE NEEDED
I sometimes forget Christina Aguilera’s wicked Kim Cattrall impression on SNL from back in the day — quick! somebody revoke my gay card! — but tonight, she pulled off a task harder than a female coach taking home the Voice trophy: Making one of the show’s pre-taped comedy segments undeniably hilarious. Xtina spoofed Miley Cyrus, Cher, Shakira, Gaga and (most brutally of all) Britney Spears in a “lost coach casting video” compilation. If laughter is the best revenge, then Cher-tina’s “Who’s Blake Shelding?” and “Adam Levine — is that my accountant?” made up for her team members Kimberly and India tragically getting the boot in the last two weeks before the finale.
BUT HOW COME THEY DIDN’T HAVE ANY SEASON 8 FINALISTS ON STAGE WITH ‘EM?
Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” was adorable. Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph” was lovely. And Luke Bryan made quite the impression singing about corn and dust or something like that. But why give ’em such prime performance slots without requiring them to include members of the Season 8 Top 20? I mean, whether or not you lamented the early exits of Sonic, Nathan Hermida, Rob Taylor and Hannah Kirby, didn’t they deserve a moment in the spotlight (outside the iffy Top 20 “fun.” medley), too?
WEIRDEST ‘BRING-BACK’ PERFORMANCE
Typically, if you make it all the way to The Voice finale, you choose four (or even five) of your colleagues to join you on the stage for a feel-good group outing. So while Meghan Linsey and Sarah Potenza were appropriately scratchy/howly (albeit not truly angsty enough for my taste) on “Piece of My Heart,” my main reaction to it was wondering why Meghan didn’t use her opportunity to spread the wealth among her fallen comrades. No me gusta, mami!
WORST SOUND MIX
I was stupidly excited for the duet between John Fogarty and Sawyer Fredericks — and there’s no doubt their voices blended beautifully on a terrific medley of “Bad Moon Rising,” “Born on the Bayou” and “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.” But the way their voices kept fading out, then booming back to the front of the mix, then slipping away again, made me wonder if someone in the control booth had accidentally mixed up his or her water with Blake’s “clear liquid” delight.
FINALE SONG THAT SHOULD GIVE UP ITS INEVITABLE SPOT AT RADIO TO SAWYER’S “PLEASE”
Was it just me, or are we in agreement that Maroon 5’s new ditty “This Summer’s Gonna Hurt” was a cacophonous, mumbled mess? (And if your answer is “it was just you, buddy,” then please leave contact info for AARP along with whatever stinging retort you make down in the comments, K?)
MOST UNEXPECTEDLY DELIGHTFUL NEWS
After Mia Z’s absurdly early exit from Season 8, Pharrell Williams promptly hit the studio with her — and the resulting single is already on iTunes! (I’m about to download it in 5, 4, 3, 2…) Who says nothing good can come from those interminable Sprint Skybox interview segments?
MOST ENJOYABLE BRING-BACK
I know Koryn sees her self as an inspirational artist — or at least that’s what Pharrell keeps telling us — but here’s hoping she catches the groove in her post-Voice life, too. Her lead vocal on “Uptown Funk” was grittier than an unwashed bag of spinach leaves. And her comrades Tonya Boyd-Cannon, Lexi Davila, Caitlin Caporale and India Carney all had very nice moments when the mic got passed their way.
I most definitely enjoyed the coaches’ team-up on B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” — even Blake got a little bluesy up in there. But on a night where a lot of vocal powerhouses sung what they brung, Xtina’s crazy-beautiful “all I can, all I can, all I can, ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ll I can do-ooh-ooh” closing statement served as a reminder that she’s still queen of the red-chair kingdom.
And now, the new Carson Daly patiently waited two hours (three if you count that irksome clip show that could’ve been an hour-long concert starring Voice alums from prior seasons) to announce:
Koryn Hawthorne (awwww…she shoulda been runner-up, dagnabit!)
Season 8 Winner
Oh, heck yeah! Aside from perhaps sixth-place finisher Kimberly Nichole, the soft-spoken teen from upstate New York was Season 8’s most consistently excellent performer — in addition to showing a preternatural ability to inhabit a song’s lyrics and deliver adult-level emotion despite his tender years. If Sawyer doesn’t turn out to be The Voice‘s first victor to wind up a household name, then NBC’s reality competition probably has no shot of producing a superstar ever.