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Two weeks ago, Blake Shelton made the audacious yet entirely credible prediction that his Season 20 contestant, soul-pop wunderkind Cam Anthony, would become the “first superstar” launched by The Voice in all of its 10 years on the air. And as the 19-year-old phenomenon sang one last time for America’s votes Monday, giving it his all, he still seemed to be on a fast track to the winner’s circle, with Blake proudly musing, “To be here for 20 seasons… and in the 20th season, God put this young man in my life, on The Voice, that may change everything for this show. I do believe that.”
But then John Legend’s finalist, gospel-crossover powerhouse Victor Solomon, came blazing out of nowhere, spectacularly closing the night — and he changed everything, with John describing his octave-hopping, jaw-dropping tour de force of Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar’s “Freedom” as “the best performance I have witnessed on this stage.”
Cam could very well still win on Tuesday’s finale, or maybe Victor will put off an upset, but one thing was certain Monday: Two superstars were launched this historic evening. These showman delivered two of the greatest Voice moments of the past decade, just when I thought this series had gotten so stale that not even recruiting new coach Ariana Grande could revive it.
NBC viewers, if they were flipping channels or tuning in late when Cam and Victor performed, might have mistaken Monday’s Voice episode for the Billboard Music Awards, which had aired on the network the night before and had been hosted by current Voice coach Nick Jonas. Cam’s awards-worthy moment was an artfully staged, thrillingly hypermodern interpretation of Cynthia Erivo’s “Stand Up.” The undeniably talented Willie Spence had just covered the Harriet movie anthem on Sunday’s American Idol finale, albeit in an old-fashioned, dinner-jacketed crooner style. But Cam’s pyrotechnic, high-production version, with him runway-strutting down a long white boardroom table flanked by masked, red-tracksuited interpretative dancers as he effortlessly belted, took it to a whole new level.
This was bold and dramatic number, inspired by writer Napoleon Hill and dedicated to all people “no matter what race, religion, age, sexual orientation, body type, fine hair or kinky locks” — and the fact that it aired when there was still more than an hour left in Monday’s broadcast seemed strange. Surely none of the other top five contestants could follow this, right?
Wrong. Victor’s first performance, of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You love Me,” was pleasant enough, but no one — not John, not Cam, certainly not myself — saw “Freedom” coming. A similarly sociopolitically charged and highly stylized performance, this almost seemed too good, too big for The Voice. The song began with the preacherman kneeling in front of an American flag, surrounded by military-suited Rhythm Nation dancers and fire cannons, while he figuratively spat fire (and brimstone) all over the stage. Victor was channeling Beyoncé and Kendrick all at once, and his ferocity was nothing less than astonishing. He was a changed man. I knew he could sing, even sang, but I had no idea he had this in him. I wonder if Victor even knew.
A winner don’t quit on himself, indeed — and Victor just might have won Season 20 with this blockbuster. “The combination of you singing, rapping, dancing, complete mastery of all three… I am so proud of you, Victor,” declared John. “I have seen you do everything on this show. America, give this man a chance. Give him that ‘V’ trophy. It's custom-made for him.
So now Season 20 seems like a close race between Victor Solomon and Cam Anthony. Surely none of the other top five contestants could win this thing, right? Wrong. Of course, we cannot rule out the safe choice, Team Kelly country teen Kenzie Wheeler, considering the strong country music voting bloc among reality-watchers. (Note that country-rocker Chayce Beckham won American Idol Sunday night over Willie Spence and another power-singer, Grace Kinstler.) But regardless of who actually wins The Voice this season, I can totally imagine both Victor and Cam winning BBMAs trophies, or even Grammys, in the future. Honestly, they should win Emmys for Monday’s episode alone.
On Monday, the top five — Cam, Victor, Kenzie, Team Jonas’s folky songbird Rachel Mac, and Team Blake’s other contestant, rootsy guitar-slinger Jordan Matthew Young — all sang twice, doing one special dedication and one uptempo tune. Let’s review the rest of the night’s performances, anticlimactic as they may be, and make some final predictions below.
Kenzie Wheeler (Team Kelly), “Heartland”
This George Strait feel-good tune about Everytown, USA, was a bit pandering and predictable. It’d be a fun sing-along moment at the Kenzie concert, but it wasn’t exactly finale material. But Kelly Clarkson insisted that this “amazing,” saying the performance “reminds everybody again how we all miss live music and going to shows. That's what that moment was. I want to go to bars. Thank you for the inspiration.”
Jordan Matthew Young (Team Blake), “Key to the Highway”
Going back to the type of music that inspired him to pick up a six-string in the first place, Jordan delivered a surprisingly badass Clapton cover with some tasty slide-guitar licks. It wasn’t a showstopper, and it was hardly a showcase for Jordan’s comparatively limited vocal range, but it was undeniably cool and very vibey. “I love what you bring to the show. No one is doing music like you on the show. It's great for all of us and America that you are bringing a different energy. … It's all working for me,” said John, while Blake proclaimed, “Jordan, thank you for rocking.”
Rachel Mac (Team Jonas), “The Chain”
Rachel the teen angel rocked in her own way, swirling Stevie Nicks-style through an onstage enchanted forest and truly blossoming. She definitely didn’t have this much confidence or star power at the start of the season. This perfectly paced performance had a certain sense of urgency, and she took the song to places vocally that I hadn’t expected. “I love your energy, how you wanted to rock out physically. Those high notes were so strong and powerful. The song had so much of a journey to it and so much dynamic to it, and you nailed it,” said John. “This would have been an amazing concert to see — I would have wanted you to keep going on for another 30 minutes, because you just added another dynamic,” said Nick.
Cam Anthony (Team Blake), “Wanted Dead or Alive”
I would not have expected Cam to do Bon Jovi, and the coaches themselves expressed initial disbelief at the song choice, which was apparently all Cam’s idea. But Cam brought those retro-‘70s rock ‘n’ soul vibes, with a touch of ‘90s Lenny Kravitz, and he was a rock star. He’s already a superstar. This whole-package performer can do anything and make it legit. “Not only did you nail that song, obviously, but you can not only conquer the music industry but be an actor. You are extremely entertaining and captivating,” said Kelly. “There are people who are born with talent, and then there are people born with whatever it is you are born with. We don't see it that often, man. We all know what we are witnessing here,” Blake testified.
Victor Solomon (Team Legend), “I Can’t Make You Love Me”
This bittersweet Bonnie Raitt ballad was an odd choice dedication for Victor’s fiancée, who he met on Twitter and then aggressively pursued before realizing he needed to slow his roll. That story was kind of weird, and even borderline-stalkerish, but Victor’s sweet, jazzy interpretation of the song was creative. “This is one of the best songs ever written, and to take the song and make it your own, I'm proud of you,” said Nick. “I love how much personality, how much soul, how much of your own artistry you put into this song. I love the dedication and passion you sing with every time you come out here,” said John. I actually thought Victor’s voice sounded a bit weather and shot here — but I later realized he was probably preserving his pipes for “Freedom.” Smart move.
Rachel Mac (Team Jonas), “I Hope You Dance”
Tearily dedicating this Lee Ann Womack classic to her 8-month-old nephew, Rachel delivered again, looking like a radiant sun goddess in her gilt Aphrodite headdress and matching robe. This was more subdued than “The Chain,” and she didn’t quite nail the big notes at the end, but she shined during the smaller moments. Overall, this was lovely and ethereal, a balm for the ears and eyes. “The sweetness of your voice is so pure and angelic. It’s captivating. It's my favorite part of your voice. When people think The Voice, they think big, huge voices that can wail — and you can wail — but my favorite part of your voice is that,” said Kelly. “You have so much depth as an artist and person. You work so hard. I'm so proud to be your coach and to go on this journey and watch you grow as a superstar. I think America probably feels the same way watching that performance,” said Nick.
Kenzie Wheeler (Team Kelly), “The Keeper of the Stars”
Kenzie dedicated his Tracy Byrd tune to his small hometown of Dover, Fla., and this was yet another pedestrian performance. Kenzie had a good season, but sort of flatlined tonight. This kid is young, only 22, and I wish he’d taken some swing-for-the-fences risks like Victor and Cam did tonight. But as I mentioned before, maybe he didn’t need to. “I don't think I have ever worked with anybody who had no idea how gifted they were. That's what I love about The Voice — finding people maybe we wouldn't have found otherwise. … I'm sorry I stole you from Blake, but I am so pleased I got to work with you,” laughed Kelly.
Jordan Matthew Young (Team Blake), “Stay”
Dedicating this melodramatic Rihanna weeper to his two grandmothers, Jordan did a tasteful country version that demonstrated some genuine artistry. I think the performance was too vocally linear to stand out on a night with big belters like Victor and Cam, and America’s country fans will likely go for the more mainstream Kenzie, but this was a nice swan song for Jordan. “You are so good and have such a cool voice. I am so excited to buy your records when that comes out. I know you have a lot of depth and soul to share. … If this was any indication, you can do it all. You should be proud of your entire run on this show, and that performance was top-notch,” said Nick.
And now, it is prediction time. While I think Victor gave the best performance of the season and one of the best performances in Voice history, I am going to tentatively guess that Cam will win and Kenzie will place second, followed by Victor, Jordan, and Rachel. But this one could go any which way, so Tuesday’s finale is going to be a real nail-biter. The finale, coinciding with the series’ 10th anniversary, will also be nostalgic, as original coach Adam Levine, who seemingly acrimoniously left the show two years ago, returns to perform with Maroon 5. Other guest performers from the extended Voice family of coaches and mentors will include Gwen Stefani, Kelsea Ballerini, Snoop Dogg, Thomas Rhett, and OneRepublic, along with Justin Bieber, Lauren Daigle, and Ben Platt.
But this season’s real superstars have clearly already graced the stage.
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