Season 17 finale may be the closest race in 'The Voice' history

For the first time in seven seasons, all four coaches on The Voice are represented in the finale — even Gwen Stefani, who only made the top four once, way back in Season 9, with Jeffery Austin. And this just might be the closest race in the entire history of The Voice, too. Before Monday’s all-important final fan-voted episode of Season 17, I figured this was either Kelly Clarkson’s all-American country crooner Jake Hoot or John Legend’s powerhouse show-woman Katie Kadan’s competition to lose, with Blake Shelton’s blues-rocker Ricky Duran gunning for second. But now I think even this season’s outlier, Team Gwen’s diva Rose Short, has a decent shot.

On Monday’s two-hour telecast, the four contestants each performed three times — once with an original single, once with a cover tune, and finally in a holiday number with his or her coach. And all four had their standout moments. Jake, Ricky, and Katie all had memorable, recordable originals. Rose definitely had the best cover song. Katie and Jake more than held their own — in fact, they excelled — in their delightful coach duets. Overall, I think Katie pulled off the most consistently fantastic night, performance-wise, but Jake still seemed most likely to be embraced by mainstream voters. However, let’s not rule out the advantages that Ricky and Rose enjoyed by performing last, in the episode’s “pimp spots.”

Any of these victories would be notable. Katie and Rose, women in their mid-thirties who don’t look or sound like typical pop stars and have overcome multiple hardships, represent what The Voice is supposed to be all about. Jake would not only fulfill Kelly’s dream of winning with a male country artist, but he’d be the first true one-chair contestant to win the show. (Season 12 champ Chris Blue was technically a one-chair turn, but he auditioned last, when Alicia Keys was the only coach with an opening on her team, so that doesn’t really count.) And finally, four-chair contestant Ricky would help Blake, the series’ most historically successful and only remaining original coach, return to the winner’s circle for the first time since Season 13.

Let’s assess the night’s nine performances, shall we?


Solo: "Running Down a Dream"

I am always happy to see Tom Petty represented on any singing show, and this Full Moon Fever track was certainly a more left-field and inspired pick than the overdone “Free Fallin’.” And Ricky’s guitar shredding was indeed impressive. Still, this was too forgettable and MOR for a finale performance; a more visceral Petty selection like “Breakdown” or something anthemic like “American Girl” would’ve been a more strategic and competitive choice. “He comes out here, rolls up his sleeves, and gets the job done every freakin’ time,” said Blake. Sure… I just don’t know if “getting the job done” was enough.

Original: "A Woman Like Her"

Ricky fared better with this emotionally connected performance of an undeniably well-crafted song. (While Ricky isn’t a country artist, Blake is no dummy, so he recruited Nashville heavy-hitters Eric Paslay, Laura Jeanne Veltz, and Charles Kelley — the latter a member of Lady Antebellum — to write this one.) Ricky fancies himself a Dylan-esque storyteller, and Kelly likened him to Bruce Springsteen… and while both of those comparisons were a big stretch, John said the song was “magical” (he was actually jealous that it hadn’t been pitched him!), and Blake said this was Ricky’s finest performance of the season.

Duet: "Run Run Rudolph"

This was a bit of a throwaway and unlikely to steer the votes in any direction, but it was fun and upbeat, and Blake was a generous duet partner, allowing Ricky to shine. The highlight, once again, was Ricky’s guitar-playing, which was a red-hot as Rudolph’s nose.


Solo: “Border Song”

This was such a smart song choice. It was Elton John, who after Rocketman is as relevant and popular as ever; it was the Aretha Franklin version, which allowed Rose to soar; and its fervor worked with Rose’s churchy gospel vibe. All around, this was a spectacular performance and a massive win for underdog Rose. “Sometimes God puts a little extra drop of cool, extra drop of talent. He did that with you. You are an excellent human being,” raved a proud Gwen.

Original: “Steamroller”

Sadly, Rose’s chances got steamrolled her. Oh, she sang the hell out of this song, but there wasn’t much she could do with material so unremarkable and sluggish. She needed a power ballad (remember how awesomely fiery she was on “Maybe I’m Amazed” and “I Want to Know What Love Is”?) and this song had no power. But host Carson Daly compared Rose to Mary J. Blige, and Blake asserted, “I don't know that I ever heard a better pairing of an original song and an artist over the seasons I've been doing this.” OK, then.

Duet: "My Gift Is You"

Gwen wasn’t quite as generous a duet partner as Blake was. While this cute retro-‘60s number was billed as “The Gwen & Rose Show,” there was a whole lot more Gwen than Rose here. This was a Gwen song, from Gwen’s own holiday album, so Rose was relegated to the role of backup singer/hypewoman — which was a shame. If Rose has any chance of winning, it’ll be because of her “Border Song” tour de force.


Solo: “Amazed”

Seriously? This clichéd Lonestar wedding ballad again? But Jake, a workmanlike and generic country singer — the only country singer in the top 12, and a male one at that — never had to take many chances this season, so I suppose there was no real reason to start now. The heartstring-plucking smash, dedicated to his girlfriend, will likely rack up the votes. “They're not booing, they're saying, ‘Hoooooot,’” Carson noted, as the studio audience cheered. Since this week marks the 30th anniversary of The Simpsons, I’ll say I thought the spectators were saying, “Booo-urns.” Either way, this was a crowd-pleaser, I guess.

Original: "Better Off Without You"

Jake co-wrote this confessional divorce song with his brother, and I have to say I was impressed by its quality. As Kelly noted, it sounded “radio-ready,” and it actually sounded Tom Petty-esque, with a rough-hewn roots-rock vibe that could have worked for Ricky as well. It was a pleasant surprise to see a little more of the artistry I’d witnessed during Jake’s cover last week of the Eagles’ “Desperado.”

Duet: "Wintersong"

I didn’t expect Jake to pick a Sarah McLachlan song, nor did I expect that song to work as a twangy country number. But Jake confounded and exceeded my expectations tonight. This was magical and lovely.


Solo: "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"

If there is any song that I never need to hear on a singing show again besides “Amazed,” it’s “The Asteroid Song.” If Katie wanted to do Aerosmith, something with passion and bite — like “Dream On,” or even “Cryin’” — would have been so, so much better. Katie did her thing here, tapping into her Pentecostal church roots and singing at a Steven Tyler level, but this was hardly her greatest moment. Unlike Jake, Katie has taken risks all season and it has paid off… so I don’t know why she stopped now, when it mattered most.

Original: “All Better”

If Katie wins (and, as I’d noted many times before, I really hope she does), it’ll be because of this bluesy barnstormer, penned by star songsmiths who know their way around diva material (they’ve written for Kelly Clarkson and Christina Aguilera). Katie was phenomenal here: channeling Aretha, selling the drama, and pulling off the sexiest, fiercest, most intense, most epic performance of the night. That “eat my dust” line was ev-er-y-thing!

Duet: "Merry Christmas Baby"

Forget about “The Gwen & Rose Show” — I want “The John & Katie Show” on my TV every week! Either that, or Katie needs her own Christmas special. This was an absolutely charming, enjoyably bluesy version of the Otis Redding classic. I smiled from ear to ear throughout.

So now, it is prediction time. I tentatively predict Jake will prevail, based on his past Apple Music track record — he has charted the highest, week after week — with Katie placing a close second (though I’m rooting hard for her to come in first), Ricky third, and Rose fourth. But please note I said “tentatively.” Do not use my predictions to place any bets, lest you want to end up flat broke. This one could go any which way. Tuesday’s results announcement is going to be a real knuckle-biter, in true NBC must-see-TV fashion. See you then.

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