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Team Blake’s 56-old veteran backup singer Wendy Moten has been a frontrunner throughout this Voice season, not even letting a broken hand and elbow, the result of a freak accident in top 10 week, slow her down on the way to winner’s circle. This week on Monday’s top five show (the episode that will in fact determine who wins on Tuesday’s Season 21 grand finale), Wendy sang in the all-important final “pimp spot,” making victory seem well within her fractured-handed grasp. And once again, she made it all look easy — maybe even too easy.
Closing the night with a full-circle performance of Patti LaBelle's version of “Over the Rainbow” (a song she won a talent contest with at age 16), Wendy delivered a classic and classy performance that had John Legend stammering, “Wendy, I just don't think I've ever seen anyone with a gift like you have. Your voice is just so flawless and perfect. And then you just stand there and do it with such nonchalance. It's… it's… it's insulting to every other singer that works so hard! We just watch you do it, and it just looks so easy coming out of you.”
“It’s rude!” laughed an equally astounded Kelly Clarkson.
Wendy’s proud coach, Blake Shelton, seemed certain of her chances, at one point in the show even audaciously declaring, “America, this is your winner!” But he shouldn’t start clearing mantel space for a ninth fist-shaped Voice trophy just yet. As I said, Wendy has actually been criticized before for appearing too effortless onstage, and I am uncertain if her two staid performances on Monday’s final showdown will be enough. Her other song, “How Will I Know?” by Whitney Houston, while beautifully executed (“Do you knowhow insane it is to sing Whitney that well?” gasped Ariana Grande), was pure karaoke, with no artistry or individuality to it. Host Carson Daly even said Wendy’s Whitney cover “sounded exactly like the record,” and while he meant that as a compliment, I don’t think this was such a good thing.
Also, it’s quite possible that Season 21’s three R&B powerhouses — Team Blake’s Wendy and Paris Winingham, and Team Legend’s underdog Jershika Maple — could split the public vote, thus allowing for an upset victory by one of two Team Kelly contenders, alt-pop teen Hailey Mia or especially folk trio Girl Named Tom. Tuesday’s finale could be one of the closest calls ever on this series.
But whatever happens, Wendy will definitely go down in Voice history as one of the greatest contestants of all time. “We've never seen anything like you on this stage in 21 seasons, and ladies and gentlemen, when I say ‘world-class talent,’ I'm talking about this may never happen again,” proclaimed Blake. “Wendy, thank you so much for being on The Voice.”
Let’s take a look at the performances by the four other Season 21 finalists, and make some final predictions.
Hailey Mia (Team Kelly)
This emotive, expressive 14-year-old wisely went with hits by zeitgeist-capturing current teen sensations, and in the process she came across as the hippest, most marketable, and most relevant contestant among the top five — the one who could actually become a real pop star. Her fierce cover of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Déjà Vu” definitely got the coolest production of the night (her fellow finalists appeared on be performing in either Branson dinner theaters or on cruise ships), as she sang while seated on an institutional iron bed that seemed borrowed from Billie Eilish’s 2019 “When We Fall Asleep” tour. And she exuded oodles of attitude, even impressively rapping at one point. Ariana told Hailey her “energy was so appropriate,” and Kelly gushed, “The whole goal is to do something unlike you've ever done on the show so far. … We've never had a chance to see you kind of angsty. It's seeping out of you!”
Hailey’s second song was actually by Billie Eilish, “idon’twannabeyouanymore,” a keening ballad that showcased her big pipes and ability to truly connect with a heartfelt lyric. John declared it his favorite Hailey performance yet and told her, “I love the edge and the twists that you put on your voice. Your tone was so rich. I loved every little turn your voice made. It was just so full of heart and soul and authenticity.” Kelly added, “I just think out of everyone in this competition, you are the one that has grown the most every single week, and it's so impressive. I cannot wait to see what you do with your career.” Hailey definitely ended the season strong. She may not win the season, but she has a bright future beyond The Voice.
Paris Winningham (Team Blake)
There’s no doubt that Paris is one of the best belters of this season, but I think his old-fashioned song choices will hurt him this week. His cover of Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” while impeccably sung, felt so dated, and he held back until the very end, so it got a little sleepy too. “Whatever supper club this is, I don’t wanna leave,” joked Carson — again, a supposed Carson compliment that sort of backfired. But John praised Paris for being “such a classic soul vocalist” and “gifted artist.”
Paris’s second song, “Ain’t Nobody” by Rufus & Chaka Khan, was old-fashioned, but this performance did have a lot more swagger to it. There’s no doubt that Paris does the old-school bedroom crooner thing well, and this show’s older audience just might connect to that vibe more than they will to Hailey’s Billie ad Olivia tunes. Kelly called him “the perfect balance of power and strength” and told him he was “killing it.”
Girl Named Tom (Team Kelly)
The first trio to ever make a Voice finale (and the first group to make a finale since duo the Swon Brothers in Season 4), this family band brings something unique to the show. Their first song, Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” had been in their arsenal all along and they pulled it out at just the right time, delivering an epic, energetic performance, especially during that hard-charging coda. And their signature harmonies were “insane,” as Kelly put it. “Everybody is in love with your sound, your vibe. Everyone is excited about you. … Thank you for picking me, not Blake,” said Kelly. “I still think you guys are country, whether you realize it or not,” Blake noted.
Girl Named Tom proved Blake’s point later when they covered the Alison Krauss version of the Foundations’ “Baby Now That I’ve Found You” — a brilliant choice, considering that there are no actual country actd in this season’s top five. This could clinch very well the country vote. It was a magical moment that made good use of the trio’s strongest solo singer, Bekah. Ariana called it “stunning,” “ethereal,” and “gorgeous,” and Kelly said, “It was just a flawless performance that I can feel on an awards show.”
Jershika Maple (Team Legend)
Jershika is indeed the underdog of this season, having scraped her way to the finale by winning two consecutive Instant Saves. But if there was any lingering doubt that she belonged in this finale, she proved all naysayers wrong with both of her songs tonight. Her fiery rendition of “I’m Goin’ Down” by Rose Royce/Mary J. Blige was powerful and elegant, so much so that her own weird supper-club staging couldn’t distract from the spectacular one-woman show. “You are just such a privilege for me and a joy; I feel so fortunate that I've gotten to work with you over this time. … You have just dominated every week, just fighting for yourself, singing soulfully. It's amazing,” said John.
Jershika’s second song was Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” and while normally I’d advise any singing-show contestant to avoid the difficult Adele songbook (especially a song as overdone as this one), Jershika was totally up for the challenge. She even put her own twist on it, with that rocking, rollicking country-blues breakdown. “There are plenty of excellent singers on this show, but there is no one like you — the combination of you being so technically good, but also so soulful and so powerful and such a fighter,” raved John.
So now, it is prediction time. I’m going to take a risk and guess that while Wendy does have a great chance, she will stall in second place, while Girl Named Tom will make history as the first non-solo contestant to win The Voice. I further predict that Hailey will place third, Paris fourth, and Jershika fifth. However, as I’ve noted, this is a close race that could go any which way... so we will just have to wait until Tuesday’s two-hour finale to find out. See you then.
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