"The Voice" pays tribute to the Newtown shooting victimsMonday's final competitive episode of "The Voice" Season 3 opened with a positively tear-jerking and deeply moving tribute to the victims of last Friday's Sandy Hook elementary school shooting--a classy and completely appropriate move given the nation's state of mourning right now, but one that unavoidably set a somber tone that was hard for me, and probably for millions of other viewers, to shake for the duration of the 90-minute show. Even though it was finale week, it almost didn't feel like it. Silly duet numbers like Cee Lo Green and Nicholas David's "Play That Funky Music" (complete with a Cee Lo mini-me) and Blake Shelton and Terry McDermott's "Dude Looks Like A Lady" (assisted by a shirtless Adam Levine) almost seemed just plain wrong--or at least not nearly as fun as they would or could have been under different, happier circumstances. Really, it was only when the top three reprised their emotional breakout performances from earlier in the season (Terry's "I Want To Know What Love Is," Nicholas's "Lean On Me," Cassadee Pope's "Over You") that it seemed like the proper mood was struck.
That being said, it was a little disappointing that the contestants relied on old standbys, rather than surprise viewers with fresher performances or, better yet, actually perform original singles. (Remember Javier Colon's "Stitch By Stitch" and Dia Frampton's "Inventing Shadows" from Season 1? How come "The Voice" never tried that again, huh?) But maybe the show's producers figured it just wasn't worth the bother, since it was already beyond obvious that chosen one Cassadee would win this season, no matter what she, or her two distant rivals, sang this week.
Cassadee already went into this Monday's final showdown with all the advantages a singing-show contestant could hope for--most notably the series' new and confusing "Cumulative iTunes Vote Total" rule (read the fine print under Section 2.3 here), which, as the name obviously implies, means that all of the top three contestants' iTunes downloads since top 12 week will factor into this season's result. Or something like that. I think. (My point is, Cassadee has charted higher, and more often, than any other "Voice" contestant of Season 3.) But then she got the pimp spot; she had what appeared to be coronation-song confetti raining down on her during her final number; and she sang two songs that best fit with the solemn mood of the evening. Add to this the fact that the other two contestants--thirtysomething, retro-style males Terry and Nicholas--were already likely to split the vote, and that they both had nights marred by technical difficulties and/or questionable song choices, and Cassadee's victory seemed all but preordained.
Of course, anything could happen on Tuesday--Jermaine Paul wasn't widely predicted to win last season, remember--so let's recap all six of Monday's solo performances, and figure out if there's any chance that someone other than Cassadee could win this thing.
Nicholas got the "death spot" (insert your own conspiracy theories here, or read between the lines for mine), but at least he tried to get the party started with an ambitious and entirely unexpected medley of Jerry Lee Lewis's "Great Balls Of Fire" and Jimi Hendrix's "Fire," complete with showgirls and a flaming piano. I did admire Nicholas for taking such a risk by doing something so carefree and campy and crazy, and so flat-out FUN. This was something I would have expected from his former Red Zone teammate Cody Belew, but not from Nick; Nicholas definitely brought a little bit of bam-bam back to the competition. However, I worried if the timing here was ill-advised. This performance came right after the show's heartrending Sandy Hook tribute, so this was NOT the point in the show for Nicholas to lurch into wildman mode and rock out. Right now, a performance more along the lines of "You Are So Beautiful" or "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" would have been a better bet, and would have resonated more with viewers. That being said, this was kind of a hoot. "Wow! This is the first time I've seen someone this late in the game being so irreverent. I'm so happy that you took this moment to entertain this crowd and have a good time," said Adam. "I'm sure you'll be expecting a call from the Rockettes, because those were some serious high-kicks," joked Blake. "Your fire tonight burned this house down," raved Nicholas's coach, Cee Lo. Now we'll just have to wait and see if it burned any bridges with especially sensitive voters.
For his second song, Nicholas went back to showcasing his softer side, by reprising "Lean On Me"--which probably would have been better to do first, though it's doubtful he had any control over that. (Insert your own conspiracy theories here, again.) He sang it as wonderfully and soulfully as he did the week that he impressed Bill Withers enough to warrant a personal set visit, but I'm not sure if this was enough to help him win the entire competition. What might help him: Cee Lo's sweet speech afterwards, when he told Nicholas, "Very simply, I believe in you. You make me believe. You move me...I love you, man." A big, bromantic, hug-it-out moment ensued. Aw.
For his first song, Terry did..."Broken Wings." By Mr. Mister. Really? Mr. Mister? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for Terry tearing a page from the classic '80s rock songbook, as he often does--but come on, "Broken Wings" wasn't even considered cool when it came out in 1985. Plus, this was just kind of a mellow song selection, not exactly the type of slam-dunk rock 'n' roll anthem that gets voters to pick up the phone like, say, "Don't Stop Believin'." (Apparently "Broken Wings" is Terry's son's favorite song. That kid needs to listen to more Journey.) Yes, the AOR (or MOR) ballad had some lyrics about healing and stuff that might have connected with emotional viewers, but it didn't help that Terry apparently experienced some sort of technical difficulties at the start of the performance, fiddling with his earpiece and as a result backing away from the mic and mush-mouthing some of those lyrics. He rebounded like the pro that he is, finishing strong, and Adam praised Terry for "getting out of that hole"--but the frustration and disappointment was evident on Terry's sad Hobbit face, and I don't think he ever totally recovered from this setback. His confidence seemed deflated. His coach, Blake, told him, "Every time you get onstage, something epic happens." I just hope this wasn't an epic fail.
Terry's reprise performance, of Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is," definitely helped him redeem himself, however; it was actually better than his bar-setting original version. The vocal was, as Terry's voice has frequently been described on the show, "pitch-perfect"; the song's sentiment was perfect for this post-Newtown episode; and the violin-bowing ladies and glowstick-waving spectators made the whole number feel like a real finale performance. If, on the off chance Terry actually wins on Tuesday night, it will be because of this. "I think you sang that song better tonight than you did the first time around. It absolutely drives me crazy, because you blow me away. I don't know how you do it. I am so honored to be associated with you," gushed Terry's proud coach, Blake. Basically, Blake is winning Season 3, no matter what. So it was no wonder that he was feeling proud.
For her reprise song, Cassadee once again belted out Miranda Lambert's "Over You," a heartrstring-plucking ballad co-written by Blake about the death of his older brother. Of course she did. And it should be noted that she did this song right after Nicholas's poorly timed "Fire" medley. (Insert your own conspiracy theories here, again.) "Right now, America's heart is heavy, and it's about healing. This was just a great moment. It somehow starts the healing process; that is what music does," said an overly preachy Blake. But hey, I can't hate: It was a no-brainer that this would be Cassadee's encore performance. After all, it was her first number-one iTunes song a few weeks ago, and it'll probably go to number one again this week. And besides, she did do a great job with this. "You nailed that song once again. You give it such heart. The sky's the limit for you," said Christina Aguilera, who hopped on the Cassadee train three weeks ago, once her last team member was eliminated. "Just as an instrument, you've developed your voice so much. It is so finely tuned and so strong," marveled Adam. The element of surprise was missing here (as it was to some degree with all three contestants' reprise performances), and I am not exactly sure if it "healed the nation" and all that...but this was still solid.
So then Cassadee got the pimp spot, in the final minutes of the episode. Of course she did. And Blake had her sing some country, doing Faith Hill's "Cry." Of course he did. Upping the ante was the fact that Cassadee came out in a major fantasy gown with a train so long I expected Pippa Middleton to be carrying it, and the entire elaborately staged production had "coronation song" written all over it. I wasn't all that impressed with Cassadee's semi-shaky vocal in the verse, but by the big finish, she was indeed nailing it. And by then, I figured the only suspense to look forward to on Tuesday was finding out whether Terry or Nicholas would be named the runner-up. (SPOILER: It'll be Terry.) Let's face it, this was the moment when Cassadee won, if she hadn't won already. "I've never heard you sing as good as you did tonight, and that's saying a lot," Blake said, practically gloating as he fantasized about adding "two-time 'Voice' winner" to his already long list of 2012 achievements. "I wanted you on my team, but the great thing is I don't care," Adam probably fibbed, "because you accomplished everything that I hoped you would on Blake's team."
So on Tuesday, Cassadee Pope will likely be named the champion of "The Voice" Season 3, right? Come on, is that other Pope Catholic? Yes, she will, and she will probably go on to become the series' most commercially successful champion after that, if her iTunes sales are anything to go by. And that will be a good thing for "The Voice" in the long run. But in the two long hours running up to that somewhat anticlimactic announcement, there will be plenty of good times and good music to be had, with performances by Rihanna, the Killers, Bruno Mars, and Kelly Clarkson, along with duets by Cassadee with Avril Lavigne, Terry with Peter Frampton, and Nicholas with Smokey Robinson. So surely Tuesday will be a celebratory affair, for everyone involved. See you then!
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