On Monday, the Voice Season 14 final four — Britton Buchanan, Brynn Cartelli, Spensha Baker, and Kyla Jade — competed one last time, and this just might be the closest photo finish in the show’s history. They each sang three times — one new cover, one original single, and one duet with their coach — and each singer experienced a water cooler moment or two.
Who will win? Only Tuesday’s morning’s iTunes numbers will give us a clear picture. But let’s take a look at their performances, and then let’s assess.
Kyla Jade (Team Blake), “With a Little Help from My Friends”
This rendition, which owed more to Joe Cocker’s version than the Beatles’ original, started off slowly, but by the end this gospel diva was in full church mode, so much so that she once again seemed to be competing on BET’s Sunday Best. All that hooting and hollering might have been excessive or even annoying if it came from a less seasoned singer, but Kyla executed a masterful balance of abandon and control. “If you don’t win The Voice, I don’t know why we call this show The Voice!” hollered Blake Shelton.
Spensha Baker (Team Blake), “Merry Go Round”
Singing in a crystal cage, Spensha was an exquisite songbird, symbolically breaking through the beaded bars midway through. She was classy and classic, yet fresh — because, like Kacey Musgraves, she’s an exciting new female voice in country. Blake’s prediction that “we are going to be hearing about Spensha in country music for a long time” was easy to believe. (My one minor gripe: Did NBC censors stop Spensha from singing the word “damn”? Really?)
Britton Buchanan (Team Alicia), “Good Lovin’”
This could have corny in a Pryor Baird-does-Branson sort of way, but Britton was exuding so much sass on this growling, howling Rascals classic, I couldn’t help but want to join his party. Britton was serving Eddie & The Cruisers realness, with a touch of Cody Belew from Season 3, and that was a very good thing. Eddie lives! “You just set this whole place on fire. You just woke the whole place up,” Alicia Keys raved. I was lovin’ this.
Brynn Cartelli (Team Kelly), “Skyfall”
This was a double challenge: an Adele song and a Bond theme! For a 15-year-old! Ambitious, indeed. She made some questionable rounded-vowel diction choices, but when it came to building the drama and intensity that a Bond song requires, Brynn the babydiva delivered an Oscar-winning performance. Or at least a Voice-winning performance. “I am so lucky,” Kelly Clarkson gloated.
Britton Buchanan, “Where You Come From”
This was the night’s only single written by an actual contestant, which in theory gave Britton an advantage, since he was already familiar with/connected to the material. But this didn’t have a particularly memorable melody. The melancholy bar-band ballad had that Springsteenian everyman vibe that Britton does so well, but maybe he should’ve considered working with some pro songsmiths this week.
Kyla Jade, “The Last Tear”
Penned by Tommy Sims (co-writer of Eric Clapton’s “Change the World”) and Randy Goodrum (Anne Murray’s “You Needed Me,” Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherrie”), this was an old-fashioned song, with no real place in any radio format. Then again, since when has any Voice winner’s coronation song ever received radio play? Moot point or not, Kyla sang this ‘70s soft-rock schmaltz as best she could, but I don’t expect an impressive iTunes number for it.
Brynn Cartelli, “Walk My Way”
Brynn was assigned the best songwriting team: Best New Artist Grammy nominee Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter (Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean,” Imagine Dragons’ “Believer”), and Selena Gomez/Lady Gaga producer Nick Monson. With its bouncy chorus, echoing disco guitar, and Adam Lambert-does-“Ghost Town” whistles, this single felt current. (I’m surprised Kelly didn’t snag this song for herself.) I’d just say Brynn needs to work on her pop star persona: She was awkward and flailing during her performance.
Spensha Baker, “Old Soul”
Written by Marti Dodson (Luke Bryan, Rascal Flatts), Kat Higgins (Carrie Underwood), and Voice Season 3 contestant Sam James (he lost to Melanie Martinez in the Knockouts), this pleasant, plaintive ballad was a nice fit for Spensha’s honeyed vocals, but it was about as memorable at Britton and Kyla’s songs. Still, Spensha elevated the average material with her storytelling style. And she looked like a star.
Brynn Cartelli & Kelly Clarkson, “Don’t Dream It’s Over”
This was an odd choice for someone hoping her Voice dream won’t be over this week (you may recall when Season 9’s Maddie Davis did this as her Instant Save song, she broke into tears). But these ladies did create a dreamy vocal blend on the Crowded House classic, with young Brynn coming close to Kelly’s near-untouchable level.
Britton Buchanan & Alicia Keys, “Wake Me Up”
Paying tribute to recently departed superstar DJ Avicii, Team Alicia covered his Aloe Blacc crossover hit, with Britton on guitar and Alicia on piano. I can’t say it was a game changer for Britton, but it was a sweet moment, especially when Alicia shouted, “This one’s for you, Avicii! Let’s celebrate life!”
Spensha Baker & Blake Shelton, “Tell Me About It”
I can’t say this lighthearted Tanya Tucker romp was an effective showcase for Spensha’s (or Blake’s) singing abilities, but the duo’s playful chemistry was adorable. And kudos to Spensha for honoring another badass lady in country, this time old school-style.
Kyla Jade & Blake Shelton, “Only Love”
Kyla took on a tune by her former boss, Wynonna Judd (Kyla’s positive Judd experience is what inspired her to choose Blake, a country singer, as her coach), making this a full-circle moment for her career. And I expected Kyla to sing circles around Blake. But the key seemed a little high for her, and/or she was having issues with her in-ears. She didn’t have her usual lung power, which made this a letdown for her last competitive performance of the season.
And now, it is prediction time. Who’s winning this thing? Up until now, I thought Kyla had the best shot, but she had a weak night Monday. Britton rocked the joint (and is a cute boy, let’s face it); Spensha is the top four’s only country contestant; and Brynn had the most over-the-top moment of the episode. So, it could go any which way.
But my gut is now going with … Brynn.
Whoever wins, Tuesday’s finale will feature special guests Ryan Adams, Florence & The Machine, Dua Lipa, Halsey, and the welcome returns of both on/off coach Jennifer Hudson and Season 13 winner Chloe Kohanski, doing her actually good new single. See you then!
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