The final four faced off one final time on The Voice Season 10 this Monday, and really, it seemed like there were two competitions going on here: one for first place, and one for third. First place will go to either Alisan Porter (spoiler alert: most likely) or Adam Wakefield (mayyyyybe); third place, to either Laith Al-Saadi or Hannah Huston. Going into this week, it seemed like any of the four had a chance of actually winning… but after they sang three times each this Monday (one cover, an original single they wrote or co-wrote, and a duet with their respective coaches), Season 10’s outcome, which will be announced Tuesday, was much more clear.
Alisan Porter (Team Xtina) – “Down That Road”
While Alisan, with her pop and theater background, isn’t exactly a traditional country singer, she has exceled this season doing folk-tinged tunes by Roy Orbison/Linda Rondstadt, Patty Griffin, and the Eagles, so it’s interesting – and probably very smart – that her original single had a twangy Americana feel. She seemed comfortable with the material (she co-wrote “Down That Road” with two longtime collaborators, Ely Rise and her former Canyons bandmate Ilsey Juber), and this felt like a coronation song, with its “inspirational” storyline about never giving up on one’s dreams. I’m going to be honest: The melody didn’t stick with me, and I’m not sure if this could make a dent at country (let alone pop) radio. But Alisan belted it beautifully, and I could at least imagine it making a dent on the iTunes chart.
Adam Levine told Alisan, “Yours is the voice that deserves to win!” – a strange comment, considering that he still had a contender, Laith, in the race. Blake Shelton called Alisan “the real deal.” And her proud coach, Christina Aguilera, said: “You are the epitome of The Voice… You deserve to win.”
Adam Wakefield (Team Blake) – “Lonesome, Broken, and Blue”
This lilting bluegrass ballad, penned solely by Adam, didn’t have the bold triumph-of-the-spirit/coronation-song vibe of Alisan’s single; it was a little mellow and generic. (Adam may have been better off collaborating with someone; surely Blake could have phoned one of his many Nashville-pro pals? Doesn’t Blake have Chris Stapleton on speed-dial or something?) That being said, Adam’s distinctive, earnest vocals sold corny lines like “loving you is like staring at the sun” or “holding on is like trying to bottle the rain” and made them work – because Adam just has a natural knack for infusing every lyric with meaning and heart.
Blake said he was “blown away” and called Adam’s song “brilliant,” comparing it to early-‘90s Keith Whitley. Pharrell Williams told Adam: “I’m personally looking forward to what music you make when you sign this big deal you’re going to get right now.” I hope Pharrell was right. Even if Adam doesn’t win this season, with the right material and collaborators, he really could be a huge country star.
Laith Al-Saadi (Team Adam) – “Morning Light”
Laith compared this self-penned slow jam, which actually appeared on one of his older independent albums, to “Georgia On my Mind.” His coach, Adam Levine, called it a “charming Clapton moment.” Both descriptions were fitting. The song was a little sleepy, but it had a nicely bluesy groove, and more importantly it was a perfect showcase for what Laith can do moving forward after The Voice. Laith likely won’t win that Republic Records contract (which is probably a blessing, because Republic would not know what to do with him), but there’s an audience for what he does – as evidenced by how far he’s made it on this show already. There are thousands of people out there who will buy songs like “Morning Light” and help Laith build a solid career.
Christina told Laith he “killed it on the guitar” and said the song was “cool.” Pharrell, such a big fan of Laith that he has practically been Laith’s honorary coach all season, praised the “amazing chord changes” and begged America to vote for the guy. Laith’s actual coach, Adam, made no such pleas (again, this was odd), and just said, enthusiastically but dismissively: “To me, the only thing that matters in this world when it comes to music is making yourself happy and making everybody around you happy – and you do that better than everybody.” OK, then.
Hannah Huston (Team Pharrell) – “I Call the Shots”
When Pharrell joined The Voice three seasons ago, I was excited about what he could bring to the show as a songwriter. What a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any of contestants to get to record one of his songs! But his past contributions – “Child” for Mia Z and “Bright Fire” for Koryn Hawthorne – were disappointing. And so was this weird and disjointed wannabe empowerment anthem that he co-wrote this season with Hannah. The song was heavy on attitude and sass, but severely lacking in melody. It was repetitive, clichéd, and clunky, and Hannah never seemed comfortable with it. I feel someone like American Idol’s Haley Reinhart or Christina Aguilera herself could have pulled this off, but Hannah didn’t. She was just so stiff. It wasn’t her fault. Pharrell should have given her a better song, but he’s probably saving his best material for himself or for his A-list production clients. Adam actually called this “one of the coolest things we’ve seen on the show,” but I don’t think the voters at home will agree.
Adam Wakefield & Blake Shelton – “The Conversation”
I appreciated Adam and Blake going a little old-school here, but I would have preferred some Hank Williams Sr. (or even Hank III) over a novelty jam by Hank Jr. Adam is lucky he had two stronger moments tonight (and that duet downloads won’t count as votes this week), because while this pairing was fun, it was a throwaway performance that did nothing to showcase his vocal range, artistry, or true grit.
Laith Al-Saadi & Adam Levine – “Golden Slumbers”/“Carry That Weight”/“The End”
Here’s one coach duet that definitely wasn’t throwaway! It was actually quite EPIC. Adam and Laith somehow managed to condense almost the entire Side 2 of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album into three minutes and 14 seconds – non-blasphemously, non-embarrassingly – and they complemented each other perfectly. It felt like an awesome jam session, and it was maybe the most rockin’ performance I’ve seen on The Voice since Terry McDermott competed in Season 3.
Alisan Porter & Christina Aguilera – “You’ve Got a Friend”
I figured these two powerhouses would do some massive diva duet that would make that leaked footage of Christina singing with a Whitney Houston hologram seem like an acoustic performance by Owen Danoff. So I appreciated that the ladies reined things in with this sweet, lovely, tasteful Carole King cover instead – and that Christina didn’t showboat and try to outsing her team member. (Let’s face it: Christina has done that in the past.) This was a match of vocal equals, and they genuinely did seem like peers… and even friends. Aw.
Pharrell Williams & Hannah Huston – “Brand New”
This duet was a bit of a mismatch. Pharrell, an undeniably charismatic fellow, gave a more vivacious and confident performance (not a surprise, since “Brand New” is his own song), but his vocals were terribly pitchy. (If he were a regular Blind Auditioner on this show, he wouldn’t turn even one chair.) Hannah sounded great, but Pharrell didn’t give her much of a chance to shine onstage, relegating her to backup-girl status most of the time, and she didn’t seem to be having much fun. (This song was originally recorded by Pharrell with Justin Timberlake. Suffice to say, Hannah Huston is no Justin Timberlake.) Hannah and Pharrell’s embrace at the end was cute, but I wish that playful chemistry could have been a part of the entire number.
Laith Al-Saadi - “White Room”
Last week Laith ventured out of his blues/rock comfort zone with an Adele cover, and the risk didn’t pay off – he got knocked out of the top three and had to fight for the Instant Save in order to make it to the finale. So this week, he was back in his element and catering to his fanbase, doing Cream’s “White Room.” His vocals veered on being a bit too growly and shouty, but the Clapton classic was the perfect showcase for what he really does best: shred on guitar. Laith performed like a natural, and I felt like I was watching a veteran rocker from back in the day; if I’d fastened some rabbit ears to my TV set, I could have easily imagined this was a Voice episode from 1969.
Blake congratulated Laith for “making it to the finale, dude, and doing it your way.” Adam added, proudly but (again) oddly: “I’m feeling so good, because I have like zero agenda. I am not playing the game, all I’m doing is enjoying my guy up there doing what he does with such purity of spirit and heart that I couldn’t possibly care less about anything.” Adam, normally such a fighter to the bitter end, seemed like he was giving up on his contestant. But while Laith is definitely an underdog – many people, including Blake, Adam, and probably Laith himself, probably never thought he’d get this far – he deserved a little more respect from his own coach.
Hannah Huston – “Every Breath You Take”
Hannah, already an underdog (even more so than Laith), took a major risk with this Police cover, a song that in general often doesn’t go over well on TV talent shows. The arrangement drastically transformed it into a jazzy torch song, which might have upset some purists (like Adam, who was very “protective” of the song and at first objected to this cover). And the dark, obsessive subject matter could have made this sweet, soft-spoken schoolteacher seem scary and unlikable. (Or worse: She could have performed it like it was a straight-up love song, like some clueless singing-show contestants have done in the past, and the impact of the song would have been lost entirely.) But Hannah’s performance was riveting. She played the woman-scorned role brilliantly, and convincingly, but without ever coming across as a psycho bunny-boiler. I imagine if Adele ever covered “Every Breath You Take,” this is what it would sound like. Carson Daly even described it as a “James Bond performance,” and he wasn’t far off.
Adam admitted that despite his earlier doubts, this remake worked. Blake insisted that this risk would pay off. Pharrell called this performance “genius.” Hannah may not have much chance of winning, but this could be what earns her the bronze this season. “Every Breath You Take” was her moment, and one of the top performances of the entire night.
Adam Wakefield – “When I Call Your Name”
This tender Vince Gill tune was a pleasant pick for the gruff country balladeer, but Adam didn’t do very much with the song – he sang it straight, with minimal embellishment or ab-libbing. And I’m not sure that was enough to secure the win for Adam over Alisan. (When I review Alisan’s final performance in a moment, you’ll understand why I say that.) Will Adam have to settle for second this Tuesday, or will Carson call his name? I predict the former.
Blake, however, was more optimistic. “I don’t know how to express how happy I am for you right now, because people across this country… they know what you just did with an iconic Vince Gill song, dude. You just blew the roof off this place,” Blake raved.
Alisan Porter – “Somewhere”
This seemed like such a winning moment, I almost thought it was Tuesday night and I was watching the finale already. Alisan got the “pimp spot,” a West Side Story song assignment that played to her Broadway-trained strengths, an emotional edit, a choir, and pyro. All that was missing was the confetti and a fist-shaped trophy. Normally this would bother me – how calculated and manipulated it all seemed – but man, Alisan’s vocal was STELLAR on this. Superb. Magnificent. A masterclass. The show’s producers could have put her in the “death spot” and she still would have rightfully earned the Season 10 title with this Grammy-worthy tour de force.
“You are standing on top of the mountain right now, and I think rather than just pontificating, I’ll just say congratulations,” said Adam. Christina, in tears, gushed, “If anybody deserves to take the cake and be the winner of The Voice, it’s you… You’re an inspiration for everybody and anybody that literally has a dream and wants a second chance.”
So now, it is prediction time. Does anyone have a chance of winning besides Alisan, after that? Before this week, I would have called it for Adam Wakefield, and I do think he still has a shot. But I’m going with this final order: Alisan, Adam, Laith, and Hannah. We will find out if I am right Tuesday, on NBC’s big finale! Until then, enjoy these music videos for the top four’s original singles: