Pharrell Williams may be the only coach this Voice season without a singer in the finale, but on Monday’s final showdown between the top four, he proved he’s still looking out for the contestants’ best interests. Speaking to presumed frontrunner Jordan Smith, he surprisingly, candidly expressed concern over Jordan’s fate once the 22-year-old powerhouse inevitably wins a deal with Republic Records – the label that has famously failed to promote the Voice stars it signs.
“My greatest hope for you is that [your] dream is realized, but in the proper way – maybe go to a label that really understands everything that you need and everything that these [fans] have come to fall in love with,” said Pharrell during his final Jordan critique of the night. “You know, not becoming something else, not chart-chasing. Just being Jordan Smith.”
Oooh, the shade of it all. The subtext of Pharrell’s speech was this: Jordan has landed five iTunes #1’s, and once even managed to dethrone Adele from the top iTunes spot… but worryingly, Republic probably won’t know what do with this Kentucky choirboy and will somehow bungle his post-Voice career.
This was a very bold thing to say. Jordan’s coach, Adam Levine, voiced similar complaints about the show’s record label support (or lack thereof) during a recent Howard Stern interview, and he was even more frank… but for Pharrell to make such a remark on live television, on the show’s supposedly celebratory finale, was actually more of an eyebrow-raiser.
So, would Jordan be better off not winning The Voice? Well, that’s probably a moot point, since all signs point to a Jordan Smith victory this Tuesday. Let’s just hope the top brass at Republic heed Pharrell’s warning and do right by this guy.
Of course, all four contestants competed Monday, and while it’s unlikely, there is a slight chance of an upset this season. Each contestant performed three times – one final pick, one coach duet, and one Christmas song. (Sadly, there were no original singles this season, but since Republic has never managed to create a real, lasting hit out of any past originals, not even Matt McAndrew’s “Wasted Love,” holiday tunes will probably do better on iTunes anyway.) And each non-Jordan contestant, especially underdog Jeffery Austin, had a special moment or two.
MAIN FINAL PERFORMANCES
Jordan Smith (Team Adam), “Climb Every Mountain”
Well, I’ve got to give it up to Jordan. This kid is not one to rest on his laurels, even though he’s possibly the most frontrunning shoo-in and shoo-inniest frontrunner in the history of the series. Last week, he left it all on the stage with Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” and while I personally much preferred that unhinged and flamboyant performance over this week’s more conservative one, I must say the bombastic Sound of Music classic “Climb Every Mountain” – accompanied by a white-clad choir and showers of fiery pyro – was a smart song choice.
Jordan didn’t need to do this – seriously, he could’ve sung the “Nae Nae” song and probably still hit #1 on iTunes – but this was a go-big-or-go-home-in-second-place power play. This was only the first performance of the night, yet it felt like his coronation song. (He was even wearing a tuxedo!) I was practically convinced that Jordan’s surname is secretly Von Trapp, after this.
Barrett Baber (Team Blake), “Die a Happy Man”
I’m not sure this was enough to secure a victory for Barrett, but if he gets a record deal after this show, this sentimental Thomas Rhett ballad is the sort of (hopefully adequately promoted) material I’d like to see him do. Forget about those hokey, awkward wannabe-soul performances like “Delta Dawn” and “Ghost” – this heartfelt heartland fare is what Barrett does best. This performance felt authentic, professional, rock-solid, and comfortable. It felt like something I’d see on the CMAs.
Jeffery Austin (Team Gwen), “Stay”
Country music has always been hugely popular on The Voice, but Jeffery did country his way, delivering a stunning, heartstring-yanking rendition of Sugarland’s “Stay” (not Rihanna’s “Stay,” as many people likely assumed from Internet song spoilers, although that would have been awesome too). Jeffery, the dark horse of this season, always hits the stage as if he’s singing for the last time and singing for his life, and this may have been his most passionate performance yet. My heart was pounding, my eyes were welling up, and my breath was catching the entire time. If this had been in the “pimp spot,” Jeffery might have been able to pull off an upset and win over Jordan. Maybe he still can. This was the performance of the night.
Emily Ann Roberts, “Burning House”
This was, surprisingly, the performance in the “pimp spot.” I would have assumed that spot would go to Jordan, but maybe producers figured he didn’t need it. Anyway, this melodramatic (and fantastic) ballad by relative newcomer Cam was exactly what Emily needed. “This song gives you a shot,” Blake told her. He was onto something.
After a pep talk from Blake in which he claimed she could become the “next Carrie Underwood” or “next Taylor Swift,” Emily came out with mermaid-waved bombshell hair and delivered a stunning, star-making performance. She seemed connected to the lyrics and her vocal was, as Pharrell put it, “flawless.”
“If anybody in this competition could have just pulled an upset, it was that right there, sis. That was unbelievable,” raved Blake. I had to agree. This was my second-favorite performance of the night, after Jeffery’s “Stay.” Emily Ann unfortunately had an uneven night (more on that later), but this just might have been enough.
Emily Ann Roberts, “Blue Christmas”
The Voice has become increasingly religious over the years, with more singers taking on traditional hymns and being very vocal about their Christian faith. Emily has been among those contestants, but interestingly, she was the one singer in the top four who went with a secular holiday song this Monday. The Elvis classic didn’t have many major power-note moments, and that, actually, might hurt Emily more than its lack of overtly religious theme – especially since she sang right after Jordan. She was giving me some young LeAnn Rimes realness, which was nice, but she didn’t seem to feel the lyrics – I didn’t believe that she was pining for an absent love. That disconnect and flat affect might’ve had something to do with her age. Anyway, the overall result was underwhelming. This middling midtempo number was not the kind of performance that wins The Voice.
Jeffery Davis, “O Holy Night”
It was a little surprising to see this usually risk-taking contestant sing something so traditional. I would have loved to hear Jeffery take on Queen’s “Thank God It’s Christmas” or maybe belt every single line of Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” (especially the Bono, George Michael, and Boy George parts). I didn’t sense as much of a deep connection to the material as when Jeffery takes on his signature weepy breakup ballads. But still… O holy vocals! At least this was a song that allowed Jeffrey to vocally stretch and show off (unlike Emily’s more subdued pick), and in his Fashion Santa gold blazer, Jeffery sounded and looked like a star.
Barrett Baber, “Silent Night”
This was a pleasing enough version, but “Silent Night” is such a much-loved classic, it’s not one to mess with. There was just enough twang and a nice gospel vibe… but, there were some very noticeable pitch issues. Still, unlike Jeffery and Emily with their holiday songs, Barrett seemed connected and very much in the zone. This performance had the potential to be CMT Christmas special material, but it fell a little flat.
Jordan Smith, “Mary, Did You Know”
Jordan, a church singer who’s actually performed at the Vatican, kept it classy and conservative with this solemn holiday hymn. I actually expected this to be more over-the-top (he had a choir for “Climb Every Mountain,” but not for his Christmas song?), but he still brought the drama at the end. This was the most emotionally invested Christmas performance of the evening.
Barrett Baber and Blake Shelton, “Rhinestone Cowboy”
As Barrett told Yahoo Music’s Reality Rocks in an exclusive interview at Henson Studios, where the iTunes version of this duet was recorded, he wanted to do a more stripped-down take on this Glen Campbell hit. However, Blake insisted on doing a more straightahead, traditional version. I understand Blake’s decision, since this performance did have a pleasingly nostalgic Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour ‘70s variety show vibe to it, but in the end it didn’t really showcase Barrett at his best.
Barrett shines when he does tasteful acoustic fare (see his cover of Conway Twitty’s “I’d Just Love to Lay You Down,” or even this week’s “Die a Happy Man”), and he veers into corny territory whenever he tries to be a flashy showman. The latter situation is what happened here. Thus, I think “Rhinestone Cowboy” wound up being a better showcase for Blake than for Barrett. I don’t think Barrett’s coach was totally looking out for him here.
Jordan Smith and Adam Levine, “God Only Knows”
Team Adam ruined the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” during a horrific group number this season (it was literally the worst group number in Voice history). And my Voice association for “God Only Knows” will forever be Matt McAndrew’s amazing performance from Season 7. But I wasn’t worried. I knew Jordan could handle those famous Wilson falsettos, and I knew Adam is a massive Beach Boys fan who would at least try to treat the material with reverence and respect. Still, I wasn’t expecting Adam and Jordan’s vocals to blend so magically. This duet was an unexpected delight.
Emily Ann Roberts and Blake Shelton, “Islands in the Stream”
OK, let’s try to forget that Blake is 39 and Emily is 17, and here they were singing a love duet. Hopefully most viewers won’t overthink that bit of ickiness when it comes time to vote. I think the bigger issue here was that this was another lighthearted performance, just like “Blue Christmas” – and, as was the case with “Blue Christmas,” this wasn’t a song that Emily could connect to lyrically. (I suppose if she had connected to lines about “makin’ love with each other, uh huh” and “from one lovah to another, uh huh,” that would have been especially icky. Thankfully, Blake and Emily avoided those potentially awkward and definitely inappropriate lines entirely.) Once again, this didn’t feel like a winning moment. If it wasn’t for her possibly game-changing Cam cover, I would be predicting a fourth-place finish for Emily right about now.
Jeffery Austin and Gwen Stefani, “Leather and Lace”
This was the most glaring example of a contestant outsinging a coach tonight. But that’s OK – Gwen already has her record deal and her L.A.M.B. empire, so this was Jeffery’s time to shine. There wasn’t a huge amount of chemistry between Jeffery and Gwen, but when Jeffery was solo at the mic, he sounded sublime. It was actually extremely noticeable how the audience roared to life when he started to sing the Don Henley part of the song. I would have rather heard Jeffery sing this alone – Gwen is great in her own style, but Stevie Nicks balladry isn’t exactly her forte – but this number had some wonderful moments.
So now, it is prediction time. I still think Jordan will win, but since he didn’t have a “Somebody to Love” breakout moment this Monday, I’m not as convinced as I was before that this will be a landslide victory. So there may be some suspense on Tuesday’s finale after all. I actually think Emily or even Jeffery have a shot. If you’re the betting type, now’s the time to join your office pool.
However, I’m going to predict this: Jordan wins that hopefully-not-worthless record deal; Emily is runner-up; Jeffery places a respectable third; and Barrett, due to a split of the Team Blake/country vote, comes in fourth.
Come back Tuesday to find out if I’m right. But even I’m wrong, and even if your favorite doesn’t win, it’s sure to be a fabulous finale, with performances by A-listers Coldplay, the Weeknd, Justin Bieber, and Missy Elliott, along with duets between Emily and Ricky Skaggs, Jordan and onetime Voice coach Usher, Jeffery and Tori Kelly, and Barrett with Wynonna Judd. See you then!