The Voice Performance Finale Recap: And the Winner Is (Most Likely)...

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A coupla weeks ago, I would’ve said that I was looking forward to the Finals of The Voice an extra lot in Season 14 because I really couldn’t predict who’d win. In Season 13, it had been obvious for a while ahead of the last performances that there was no stopping Chloe Kohanski, so there wasn’t a whole lotta suspense. This was going to be more fun. But after the Semi-Finals Results Show — in which Britton Buchanan had to sing for an Instant Save and Pryor Baird was shown the door — I’d come to think that I knew who was going to emerge victorious: Team Blake’s Kyla Jade.

Why? For starters, the powerhouse belter is pretty consistently awesome and has more control over her massive voice than I do over my remote. On top of that, last Tuesday’s episode revealed that Team Alicia’s Britton wasn’t quite as popular as I’d always thought, and Team Blake’s Spensha Baker… Even with her coach stumping for her, I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t going to be ruled out by the fact that I can count on one hand the number of songs she’s made it all the way through in key. That makes Team Kelly’s teen queen Brynn Cartelli Kyla’s biggest — maybe her only real — competition. Did the young upstart deliver the kind of “wow” Monday that could steal the crown I’m already picturing on Kyla’s head? Read on…

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Kyla Jade (Team Blake), “With a Little Help From My Friends” — Grade: B+ | If at first you do succeed, by all means, do the same thing again — it works! That seems to be the thinking behind Kyla following up her stunning Semi-Finals cover of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” with another rendition of a hit by the Fab Four. And you couldn’t fault the logic. (a) People responded big time to “Let It Be” — in fact, it was the highest-charting single of the season. And (b) Kyla sounded kickass on this song, too. There was a little too much sustained screeching for me, but I suspected it was actually the force of those massive notes that was going to be what knocked away anything and anyone that even thought about standing between Kyla and a victory Tuesday.

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Britton Buchanan, “Where You Come From” — Grade: B+ | Wow. This was arguably the most stunning demonstration we’ve gotten all season of the distinction between a good singer and a great artist. Not only were Britton’s vocals powerful if imperfect, but his skill as a songwriter was kinda jaw-dropping. Beneath a melody so rapturous, it could make you forget to breathe, he laid lyrics as clever and profound as, “I found God in the backseat of a stranger’s used car, I found faith in the rumble of a stranger’s guitar.” (And apparently, he wrote it during chemistry and band classes at school.) Whether Britton wins, Alicia has to keep shepherding him the way she has Chris Blue; Britton’s got “it.”

Duet With Coach
Brynn Cartelli and Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t Dream It’s Over” — Brynn’s grade: B | Crowded House really oughta send Kelly a thank-you note after this performance. The coach and Brynn turned the ’80s classic into the kind of soulful dream from which you never want to wake up. Kelly looked like she was having trouble hearing herself, at least at first, yet she and her finalist still managed to tune up and turn out some nice melodies. And who knew runs could fit so well into this ballad? Also of note: In spite of her youth, in spite of her inexperience, Brynn looked every bit as comfortable on that stage as industry vet Kelly.

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Spensha Baker (Team Blake), “Merry Go ’Round” — Grade: B | Man, I wish Spensha always sounded as good as she did on her Kacey Musgraves cover. (If she did, it would bug me a whole lot less that she knocked the far-more-consistent Pryor Baird out of the competition.) Yes, there were some slight pitch issues in this performance. But the overall impression that she left when she was through was overwhelmingly positive. She was poised, emotionally present, and I believed every syllable of the story she was telling. I still didn’t think she could beat Kyla, but it was nice work.

Duet With Coach
Britton Buchanan and Alicia Keys, “Wake Me Up” — Britton’s Grade: C+ | Recalling the way that Alicia hijacked her duet with Chris Blue in Season 12 — not that it hurt him any, obviously — I went into this pairing with some trepidation. But it turned out that that wasn’t the reason I should have been anxious at all. Alicia sounded so off key, especially at first, that I wanted to go back and withdraw my complaint about Spensha’s pitchy-ness. It even distracted me from paying attention to Britton. Not a “wow” moment and definitely not the kinda performance that was going to turn the tide for Britton.

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Kyla Jade, “The Last Tear” — Grade: A | Hmm… Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Kyla. But this song… When it started, I thought, “This is it? This is her lead single?” And then it kept going, and I thought again, “No, really — this is it?” Kyla saved it as best she could with her radiant, emotional performance — it was actually very Mariah, wasn’t it? — but the song was a snooze up until the point where it had built up to the bigger notes that let her remind us why she was looking like the frontrunner headed into the Finals. Boring song. Solid vocal.

Duet With Coach
Spensha Baker and Blake Shelton, “Tell Me About It” — Spensha’s Grade: C+ | With an assist from her coach, Spensha tried to show off her playful side on this Tanya Tucker cover. And bless her heart, she is adorable. But cutting loose clearly does not come naturally to her. It was a little like watching your sweet aunt attempt to get wild and wacky at a kids’ party. Vocally, not bad but not great, either. (I did like that last little run, though — ironically, that was the moment when Spensha seemed to be having the most fun up there.)

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Brynn Cartelli (Team Kelly), “Walk My Way” — Grade: B- | Well, isn’t this catchy as hell! Excuse me a sec while I download it. OK, back now. But seriously, this Julia Michaels-penned song rang all my bells; it sounded like something Goldfrapp or Ladyhawke might do. I expected something bigger and more soulful for Brynn’s single, since she’s such a fan of bombast, but I can’t say I was disappointed. It’s a hit! Brynn tripped over some pitch issues here and there but still managed to come off like the total package. Between her social-media following and that star power, again, she’s the one who poses the biggest threat to a Kyla victory.

Duet With Coach
Kyla Jade and Blake Shelton, “Only Love” — Kyla’s Grade: B+ | If it doesn’t work out for Spensha in the country-soul lane, Blake should contemplate crossing over Kyla. On their Wynonna Judd duet, she sounded beautiful — understated and as wistful as a memory that’s almost too sweet to bear. And a performance from her that’s this successful and restrained is a good reminder — to me, at least, since I tend to be such a sucker for the wild, go-for-broke showstoppers — that bigger isn’t always better.

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Britton Buchanan (Team Alicia), “Good Lovin'” — Vocal grade: C-; performance grade: A+ | Why? Just… why? We knew Britton could work the crowd with the energy of a caffeinated puppy. That was never in question. But his Rascals cover was so straightforward, and so not like the kind of music I was under the impression he wants to make in his career, that it felt like a wasted chance to win over viewers who were on the fence about to whom to give their votes (or to set the stage for future releases). Plus, he was having such a great time bounding from one end of the stage to the other that it occasionally fudged up what otherwise would’ve been a pretty great vocal. Loads of fun, if only he hadn’t sounded like he’d just run a 5k.

Original Single
Spensha Baker (Team Blake), “Old Soul” — Grade: A- | Believe it or not, every time Spensha steps up to the mic, I’m rooting for her. Like the geekiest of fans, I want her to succeed, to keep her voice in check and deliver on the promise of her raw talent. (It isn’t fun clocking contestants on their pitch issues.) Here, she really lived up to her potential, delivering vocals that were strong, clear as a bell and as warm as the sun setting on a summer day. What’s more, her single wasn’t just lovely, it felt so country that I forgot I was listening to it on the sofa and not in the passenger seat of a beat-up old pickup.

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Brynn Cartelli (Team Kelly), “Skyfall” — Grade: A- | It doesn’t just take a big voice to tackle an Adele song — and a Bond theme, no less — it takes nerves of steel. But again, Brynn proved that she had both, slaying with her enviable lower register before taking off to hit thunderous notes that really seemed like they could make the sky fall. And that performance — she was so in the moment, I couldn’t take my eyes off her any more than I could my ears. Helluva high note for Brynn to go out on — and certainly one that would make me nervous, were I Kyla.

So, who did you think gave the winning performance? Who are you rooting for? Vote in the polls below, then… oh, who am I kidding? You’re already in the comments, aren’t you?