Monday night on "The Voice," on the final competitive episode of Season 4, Team Blake's country contenders Danielle Bradbery and the Swon Brothers faced off against Team Usher's quirky girl Michelle Chamuel. Each of the contestants did three songs: one new number, one reprise of a "defining moment" from earlier in the season, and one duet with his/her/their coach. And by the end of the night, it was looking like Blake Shelton was on his way to a third consecutive "Voice" victory, thanks to his golden child/chosen one, Danielle. Even Adam Levine predicted Danielle would win.
But don't count out my girl Michelle just yet. (It's probably safe to count out the Swons, but they are WGWGs, so you never know.) I think Michelle has a decent chance, since it's possible that the other two contestants may split the country vote (or the Blake vote).
Read on to find out how all three finalists fared on the most important night of "The Voice" Season 4 so far…
The Swon Brothers, "I Can't Tell You Why" by the Eagles – The Swons continued to court the older demographic (you know, the people who actually still watch TV) with their second Eagles cover of the season. I had to give them credit. They clearly know their audience: graying music fans who own lots of Time-Life Mellow Gold compilations of old-school tunes by Kenny Loggins, Bob Seger, the Eagles, et al. Hey, it's been working for the brothers, so they were smart to stick with that sound. It was also probably smart of them to keep (slightly) veering away from straight-up country, as they have been in recent weeks, to help broaden their voter base. ("What's so special about you is you have this universal appeal; you're country, but people like me love you," Shakira told them, as she waved a "GO OKIES" flag.) But was it smart of the Swons to do this particular song so late in the game? I'm not so sure. This was pleasant, and their previously unheard falsettos were nice ("All that was missing was the third Bee Gee," joked Usher). But this wasn't exactly the wow moment they needed to stand out in the finals.
Michelle Chamuel, "Why" by Annie Lennox – Goosebumps time! Annie Lennox is basically a goddess and NOT an easy singer to emulate, but I knew Michelle would pull it off because, like Annie, she is brilliant at tapping into a song's raw emotion. Even without all the bells and whistles and smoke and (literal) mirrors of the staging, this would have been a powerful performance, but Michelle definitely got her wow moment here: In a full-circle nod to an early coaching session when Usher had her practice in front of a mirror, she began "Why" singing to her reflection…except it wasn't a reflection, but a prerecorded illusion! So cool. Shakira, wearing horn-rimmed spectacles as a tribute to Michelle, praised Michelle's combination of "talent and humility," while Usher praised her "likability and capability." I think she's actually capable of winning, but we shall see.
Danielle Bradbery, "Born to Fly" by Sara Evans – This was, shockingly, the first truly uptempo song Danielle ever performed on "The Voice," and it was a good song pick that suited her girlish, youthful vibe and sunny disposition. It didn't blow me away — and in the finals, I WANTED to be blown away — but it was solid. "Your perfection is almost boring me, it's too perfect," said Adam, praising Danielle while simultaneously and perhaps accidentally pointing out her one problem (that she, unlike Michelle and even the Swons, never has any element of surprise). Usher called her "a special thing." And Blake laid it on thick, raving, "Thank God that you came to 'The Voice' to debut yourself, because you're such an important part of music." I think all of Blake's big talk about Danielle being some sort of groundbreaking artist (he also said she was one of the most important singers to ever grace the "Voice" stage, and claimed this was the best "Voice" season yet) was all a bit much. But hey, Danielle is probably going to win, so there ya go.
DEFINING MOMENT SONGS
Michelle Chamuel, "I Knew You Were Trouble" by Taylor Swift – It was awesome that Usher picked one of Michelle's more rockin' previous performances for her reprise, because one thing Michelle really has going for her is that, well, she ROCKS. She has the passion and fire that, frankly, the Swon Brothers and Danielle sometimes lack. The drum kit emblazoned with her name, the blasts of pyro, the boot-stomping, the hair-flipping…this performance was just so cool, and even a little emo, and it was really necessary to keep up this episode's momentum. "You're needed out there as an artist," said Shakira, who also told Michelle, "Your energy is crazy! It's contagious." Said Adam, "You feel the energy. You can't fabricate that…People are screaming so loud that our ears hurt." Even Blake had to admit, "You've become this rock star right in front of our eyes." I actually think Michelle was always a rock star; that was evident when she first auditioned with "I Kissed a Girl." But I was pleased to hear her receive such high praise, especially from her coach Usher's rival.
The Swon Brothers, "Danny's Song" by Kenny Loggins – It was somewhat understandable that Blake picked this for the brothers, since this really was a moment for them last week, shooting all the way up to number two on the iTunes chart and helping them get to the finale in the first place. But please note the words "last week" in my previous sentence. The Swons just performed this song last Monday. How did Blake expect it to have the same impact again, so soon? If the Swons had performed a radically different version from last week, it might have made an impression, but they didn't, so this came across as a rerun. And that was a problem. The conspiracy theorist in me wondered if Blake had set up the boys to fail by giving them "Danny's Song" two weeks in a row, while Danielle was assigned a song that she did many weeks ago and would therefore feel more fresh. Hmmm…
Danielle Bradbery, "Maybe It Was Memphis" by Pam Tillis – If Danielle wins "The Voice" Tuesday night, this Tillis performance — both her first one from top 16 week, and the one she did this Monday — will have a lot to do with it. "Memphis" was a watershed moment for her earlier this season, and she nailed it again this time, performing with grace and poise that belied her youth. Shakira, now wearing a cowgirl hat as part of her "trifecta of support" for all three contestants, called Danielle "amazing." Adam went even further. "Your voice is so unbelievably perfect and powerful; it's one of the better voices I've heard live. I think Danielle is the winner of this thing," he declared. I think Adam may have been right.
Danielle Bradbery & Blake Shelton, "Timber, I'm Falling in Love" by Patty Loveless – Blake turns 37 this week. Danielle is 16. This was a love-song duet. So, um, yeah…this song choice was a little odd, and a little icky. Danielle certainly sang the song well — she never doesn't sing well, with her crystalline, bell-like vocal tone — but she didn't seem very emotionally connected to the song (a common problem among younger contestants in general). This was a bit of a miss, but fortunately for Danielle (and for Blake!), none of the night's duets received critiques. Personally, I would have loved to hear what Adam had to say about this.
The Swon Brothers & Blake Shelton, "Celebrity" by Brad Paisley – It was a little ironic that Blake picked a duet song that skewers reality shows. (Brad Paisley's music video for the song actually spoofed "American Idol.") But at least this allowed the brothers' goofy humor, something that made them fan favorites in the first place, to come out again, on a night when they otherwise played it pretty straight. That being said, this was a throwaway performance. I can't imagine this will affect their votes in any significant way.
Michelle Chamuel & Usher, "One" by U2 – All season long, the surprising bond between R&B superstar Usher and nerdy girl Michelle has been downright heart-warming to behold. It seems real, not just for show. Usher actually seems to care about Michelle, and regardless of whether or not she wins, I hope he continues to work with her after this season. Anyway, this odd couple kept on surprising and delighting me with their intense U2 duet. I would not have expect their voices to blend so well, but both of them really dug in deep and delivered a truly special, connected performance. Of all three coach/contestant duets, this was the only one that moved me. I have a feeling it may have moved a lot of voters, too.
But which of these three contestants will really move viewers to pick up their votes or hop over to iTunes? My vote is for Michelle, but I'm still tentatively predicting that Danielle will emerge the victor on Tuesday, with Michelle coming in second and the Swons taking the bronze. That being said, I think all three contestants have a shot at landing their own record deals and enjoying post-"Voice" success, no matter where they place — so good luck to them.
Tune in Tuesday to see if my prediction is right, and to see the big finale featuring performances by returning coach Christina Aguilera with Pitbull, Florida Georgia Line with Nelly, Bruno Mars, Hunter Hayes, Bob Seger, OneRepublic…and CHER! See you then.
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