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The Voice Performance Finale Recap: Which of the Top 4 Contestants Sounded Like Season 15's Winner?

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Well, Voice fans, it’s been a long and bumpy road. Over the course of Season 15, we’ve seen good singers cut too soon (SandyRedd, Kameron Marlowe, etc.) and mediocre ones cut too late (Tyke James, Reagan Strange, etc.). We’ve discovered just how far into his own mouth Adam Levine can stick his own foot, and watched Kennedy Holmes kick ass. And we’ve sat through so many of Carson Daly’s inane questions for the contestants that we’ve all but given up groaning like Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers when he asks ’em. But Monday night, at last the finish line came into view.

You already know who I think will win (Team Blake Shelton’s more-than-worthy Kirk Jay) as well as who I hope will (Team Jennifer Hudson’s JV superstar Kennedy). So the question on my mind throughout the episode was, did the latter do anything so spectacular that she could conceivably steal away the victory from the former? And had I underestimated Team Blake’s Chris Kroeze and Team Kelly Clarkson’s Chevel Shepherd? Were they not just stiff on stage but actually stiff competition? Read on, and we’ll discuss.

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the-voice-recap-top-4-performances-kirk-jay-chevel-shepherdChris Kroeze (Team Blake), “Sweet Home Alabama” — Grade: B- | The Skynyrd classic — “the most iconic rock song of all time,” in Blake’s estimation — is such an obvious choice for Chris that I had to double-check what’s left of my memory to make sure that he hadn’t already done it on the show. (He hadn’t.) And he sounded as natural on it as his coach looks with that happy-making cup in his hand. He still stood as motionless as a statue on stage, which didn’t exactly make for an electrifying performance, and his idea of working the crowd reminded me of the sort of “enthusiastic” greeting you’d get from a bored flight attendant. But speaking strictly vocally, he was fine. Not thrilling but fine.

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Chevel Shepherd (Team Kelly), “It’s a Little Too Late” — Grade: B | From the start, Chevel had her Tanya Tucker cover well and truly in hand: She sounded as at-home as a cowgirl feels on horseback, and didn’t even seem as troubled as I’d have expected her to be by the notes that called for her to go low. By the time she was done, she’d worked in a little yodeling and pretty much sung the whole dang farmhouse down. I do wish she didn’t so much of the time have the deer-in-headlights quality of somebody’s kid who’s been pushed on stage to show off her purty voice at the county fair — that doesn’t exactly scream “star quality” to me. However, her vocals deserved a yeehaw, if not a full-on yippie-ki-yay.

Original Single
Kirk Jay (Team Blake), “Defenseless” — Grade: B- | Ballad? Check. Heartfelt? Check. (“Let’s cry this time,” Kirk even joked during recording.) Lyrics befitting someone who’ll be country till the day he dies? Since the contestant likens himself to “a hollowed-out sycamore” on his single, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that’s a big ol’ check. So basically, “Defenseless” has everything that we Kirk fans could want from a Kirk song. And he sang it well. Yet my reaction was still “meh.” Maybe it was just kinda a dull song. Or maybe I was distracted by the way sometimes Kirk’s vibrato took on a goat-like quality. This wasn’t his most emotional performance ever, either. But it wasn’t bad at all and probably was still plenty good enough to get him the win. It would have been cool, had he found a way to surprise us, but I guess in his shoes, we all would’ve played it safe, right?

Original Single
Kennedy Holmes (Team Jennifer), “Love Is Free” — Grade: A | Something about Kennedy’s sunny single brought to mind Beyonce’s “Love On Top.” Or maybe I just wished that this was as catchy as “Love On Top.” Either way, this was pleasant enough — bright and cheerful, and the youngster sang it for all it was worth. But it didn’t seem to be any kind of challenge for her; therefore, it didn’t really allow her to show off anything but what we’d already heard (in short, that she can polish any number to the point that she can see her reflection in it). If Kennedy wasn’t the frontrunner to win before — and as far as I could tell, she wasn’t — this seemed unlikely to change her standing. Great singer, so-so single.

the-voice-recap-top-4-performances-kirk-jay-chevel-shepherdDuet With Coach
Kirk Jay (Team Blake), “You Look So Good in Love” — Kirk’s Grade: B+ | Apparently, Blake learned from “Body Like a Back Road” that uptempo isn’t a great look on Kirk. So his coach joined him on a George Strait ballad that invited him to do what he does best: sing as if he’s always one note away from letting fall the tears that we can hear in his voice. And oddly, I liked his vocal a lot better on this cover than I had on his single. Yes, there was a froggy note here and there, but overall, he sounded stronger and more confident than he had on “Defenseless,” if just as heartbroken as I think by now he’s contractually obligated to.

Duet With Coach
Kennedy Holmes (Team Jennifer), “Home” — Kennedy’s Grade: A++ | Now, see, Adam Levine? If you’re gonna fight for “your girl” on the show, this is the level of talent that that girl had better have. Had Kennedy, not Reagan, been his contestant and the singer for whom he’d fought so hard, I would’ve totally understood it. Because, as she demonstrated here, JHud’s mini-superstar is an absolute beast of a vocalist. She sang with such breathtaking emotion, such stunning control, such impressive range and such perfect pitch that not even her amazing coach could outdo her. (And actually, I sorta appreciated Kennedy’s relative restraint.) This was so astonishingly good that if Kennedy isn’t named the winner Tuesday… gads! I’m gonna be grumbling about it forevermore! (Consider yourselves forewarned.)

Original Single
Chris Kroeze (Team Blake), “Human” — Grade: C | Chris’ single gives off less of a retro vibe than I was expecting. That said, I loved it — it was hooky as hell and had an appealing cut-yourself-some-slack message. Unfortunately, his performance was no higher energy than any of his past ones, and there just aren’t enough dancers you can trot out on stage to cover for the fact that he has the presence of wallpaper. What’s more, this wasn’t his strongest vocal performance. It wasn’t bad, but it was kind of… limp. Which is a real shame, because he seemed to be connecting with this song more than he had some of the classics that he could do by rote. At any rate, I’ll still download it off iTunes (the studio-sweetened version is, as you’d expect, much more polished).

Duet With Coach
Chevel Shepherd (Team Kelly), “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain” — Chevel’s Grade: B | Kelly and Chevel’s Judds cover was such a toe-tapper that it made me wish I was wearing spurs, just so that I could jangle along as I two-stepped from the comfort of the couch. Even performing with her coach couldn’t loosen up Chevel any, but she kept pace admirably with force of nature Kelly. Which only reinforced my general impression of the youngster: She sounds like a star, she just doesn’t come off like one on stage. (BTW, I know I’m giving out a lot of good grades tonight, but it is the Finals — I mean, they’re supposed to not suck, right?)

the-voice-recap-top-4-performances-kirk-jay-chevel-shepherdDuet With Coach
Chris Kroeze (Team Blake), “Two More Bottles of Wine” — Chris’ Grade: B+ | Hilariously, in the pretaped intro with Blake, even he had to push and push to get Chris to show some personality, some passion. And if ever he was gonna do it, this was gonna be the number that he’d do it on. Because the Emmylou Harris cover wasn’t just a golden opportunity for him to show off the spectacularly sandpapery quality of his voice, it was also as much fun as having two bottles behind you instead of ahead of you waiting to be drunk! Alas, while Blake taught a master class in commanding the stage without moving around a whole helluva lot, Chris, expressionless and static, faded into the woodwork like a terrific session musician. Solid vocal, dull performance.

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Kirk Jay (Team Blake), “I Won’t Let Go” — Grade: D | All together now: Lighters in the air! For his last solo cover on the show, Kirk returned to the Rascal Flatts songbook that had served him so well. (You’ll recall that his rendition of RF’s “Bless the Broken Road” made him stand out as a frontrunner as far back as the Blind Auditions.) This time, though, Kirk struggled big time, hitting a clunker of a note early on and then going flatter than the proverbial pancake. In fact, for much of the song, I would’ve sworn he was singing off key. I’m a big Kirk fan generally, but this was sort of… what’s the word? Bad. (Maybe Kennedy had a shot at the win after all.) Afterwards, Blake called the performance brilliant, which only made me want to find out whether he knows what “brilliant” actually means.

the-voice-recap-top-4-performances-kirk-jay-chevel-shepherdOriginal Single
Chevel Shepherd (Team Kelly), “Broken Hearts” — Grade: B- | Clearly, Kelly is well aware that she’s struck gold with Chevel in the retro-country lane. Though the teen’s new song is by design new (duh), it sounded like it could’ve been released decades ago — and, for that matter, been a hit decades ago. And Chevel sang it with a disarming sweetness that made her voice sound on the bigger notes like honey left to warm in the sun before being drizzled over achy-breaky notes. Which only made it that much more of a bummer that on the smaller, lower notes, her struggles were once again audible. Love the song (and I’m sure I’ll love the studio-perfected single mix) but only liked the performance. It felt like it should’ve been a starmaking moment but was in reality more of a star… hinting moment, indicative of the vocalist that Chevel could become but wasn’t quite yet.

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Kennedy Holmes (Team Jennifer), “Confident” — Grade: A | Ha! Since I can only venture a guess that Kennedy had to sing for the Save during last week’s Top 8 Results Show because her self-assuredness had somehow turned off viewers — why, people? Why?!? — the message embedded in her Demi Lovato cover was beyond perfect. “What’s wrong with being confident?” she sang with, yes, total confidence. She didn’t sound as pitch-perfect as she normally does, but she still sounded better than many of the mega-famous guests that pass through the show, looked like a million bucks, served enough attitude for three contestants, and totally reinforced my belief that she should be Season 15’s winner. The choreography alone — holy crap! And the life in her eyes every second she was up there! This kid deserves to have her name in lights — or, as JHud noted with mock envy — her name on stairs! A total star. No other contestant in the Finals could put on a show like that! Blown. Away.

So, last chance to predict the winner — and reveal who you wish would win. Vote in the polls below, then hit the comments.