While only one of The Voice’s Final Four would emerge victorious in Season 17’s last results show Tuesday, the episode was a win/win proposition for viewers. Maybe even win/win/win/win. Because — correct me if I’m wrong (and I know you will!) — I think we at least kinda like all of the remaining contestants.
Yes, Team John Legend’s Katie Kadan has some detractors, owing to her flamboyant belting. But even they couldn’t argue that she doesn’t have star quality. And though we’d all like a little more stage presence from Team Kelly Clarkson’s Jake Hoot — he could take tips from Team Blake Shelton’s showman, Ricky Duran — he’s a good, at times great, story-singer, right?
And then there’s Team Gwen Stefani’s Rose Short, the Miss Congeniality whose vocals are as big as her heart. Is anyone — anyone — not a fan of Rose’s? She’s a consistently compelling performer who, if I’m not mistaken, has the greatest range of all of Season 17’s contenders. Of course, before any of the foursome could be named Maelyn Jarmon’s successor, there were Monday’s performances to enjoy and analyze. So settle in, and let’s review, shall we?
Ricky Duran (Team Blake), “Runnin’ Down a Dream” — Grade: B+ | In rehearsal, Blake told Ricky that he sounded like he was giving his Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers cover more than he’d ever given a song. (Then again, Blake says that kinda thing a lot; all the coaches do.) Whether Ricky was giving 110 or 210 percent, it certainly sounded like the number would suit him. On stage, he spat smoke on the verse, but his first chorus was so understated as to almost not have been stated at all. Thankfully, things picked up considerably by the second chorus, and when Ricky wailed, he nearly managed to overpower the band (whose loudness seemed from the start like it would be a recurring issue Monday). He later took a big guitar break, which always seems like a mistake to me in a singing competition, then finished strong. Still, I got more of a flicker from his performance than an inferno. (But I’m willing to concede that that might just be a matter of taste.)
Jake Hoot (Team Kelly), “Better Off Without You” — Grade: B- | Impressively, Jake co-wrote his debut single, which was inspired by his divorce. Kelly told him in the studio that it sounded contemporary even as it paid homage to what country is all about. (Er, whatever that means.) I loved the midtempo groove of the song, but when Jake stepped behind the mic, he sounded strangely tentative for a guy performing a number that he himself helped write; shouldn’t he have been surer of himself? And his stage presence still rivaled that of a statue. (Not that awkwardness in the spotlight hurt Season 15 winner Chevel Shepherd any.) By the time Jake was done, he’d unleashed some appealing growls, but I had a feeling I was gonna prefer the mixed and mastered iTunes download to this live version. Afterwards, Kelly suggested that Jake came off timid because he was just. That. Humble. Which made him a lovely person but not necessarily an electric performer.
Duet With Coach
Katie Kadan and John Legend, “Merry Christmas, Baby” — Katie’s Grade: A | From the first line, it was clear that this Otis Redding classic was the perfect, perfect, perfect number for Katie. What’s more, watching her interact with John during their duet, it felt less like a contestant singing with her coach and more like a coupla amazing peers just having a blast. Moreover, this was the rare instance in which the seasoned pro didn’t totally eclipse the up-and-comer. Would that every holiday was as much fun as this performance was.
Rose Short (Team Gwen), “Steamroller” — Grade: A | As Rose recorded her single with Gwen, my first impression of it was cool, maybe even supercool. When Rose subsequently performed it live, I only dug it more. Not only was she vocally spot on (as usual), but the song let her bring to the stage some of the can-do spirit that had gotten her to the finale. I also really liked that it gave her a chance to give us a taste of her lower register as well as her bigger, belt-ier ad libs. If I have a quibble, it’s that I wanted Rose to have at least one really massive long note — that always seems to get people’s attention — and she didn’t. Afterwards, Gwen remarked that Rose was sparkly and that it had been fun to see her do an original. Which I guess I couldn’t really argue with, even as I longed for some more substantive commentary.
Duet With Coach
Ricky Duran and Blake Shelton, “Run Run Rudolph” — Ricky’s Grade: A | Chuck Berry’s Christmas classic struck me as tailor-made for Ricky; I only hoped that he’d turn up the heat high enough to melt Frosty. On stage, he and his coach began their performance with a guitar riff-off. When they got to the singing, Ricky sounded, frankly, terrific — rowdy and raspy and like he was speeding around a curve on every line. Again, though, I wanted his mic turned up. (Was it just me, or did Blake generally sound significantly louder?) Nonetheless, this was still a blast and a half. Run, run, Rudolph, to download this from iTunes!
Katie Kadan (Team Legend), “All Better” — Grade: A+ | In the studio, John explained that he was into this song for Katie because it combined the “older-school” style toward which she leans with a slightly more modern production. From what we heard then, it was, in a word, fire. When Katie took her place on stage, she was a woman possessed. She wasn’t just singing the song, she was freaking living it — and I was living for it. At times, she all but snarled it, and I didn’t even need a spoon; I ate. It. Up. Argue at will, but for my money, she just won the season. I love Rose to bits, but c’mon, could she or anyone top this?
Duet With Coach
Jake Hoot and Kelly Clarkson, “Wintersong” — Jake’s Grade: A- | After debating whether they’d be called Team Kake or Team Jelly, Jake and his coach took on Sarah McLachlan on stage. And ironically, Jake sounded surer of himself on this Christmas cover than he had on his own single. Not just surer, but really terrific — this was one of those times when his performance lived up to the potential of his rich, resonant voice. Maybe he’s actually more comfortable with his coach right there? Something went awry on a long note toward the end, but overall, this was just stunning.
Duet With Coach
Rose Short and Gwen Stefani, “My Gift Is You” — Rose’s Grade: B | At the start of Rose’s team-up with Gwen on her coach’s song, it seemed like the key was gonna be a challenge — Rose, ahem, rose to that challenge, but this wasn’t quite as sweet as it might’ve been, had it been in her (vast) comfort zone. It was perfectly pleasant, mind you, and it was admirable that Rose succeeded in sticking with Gwen on a number that suited her about as well as a How to Cut Down On Your Wine Consumption book would me. But Gwen would’ve better served her contestant by choosing a song that showed her off in the best possible light rather than choosing a song that would sell a few extra downloads.
Jake Hoot (Team Kelly), “Amazed” — Grade: B+ | “If you could make the perfect singer, it’d be like, Jake,” Kelly told us before his last performance of the evening. He was a little bit Willie Nelson, a little bit Clint Black, a little bit… a little bit of a whole lotta guys. On stage, Jake made another strong case for why contestants down the line would be lucky to be compared to him. His Lonestar cover was right in his sweet spot, allowing him to put front and center the sincerity that’s the hallmark of his best performances. A couple of the one-chair-turn’s long notes were kinda dicey, but overall, this was extremely lovely.
Katie Kadan (Team Legend), “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” — Grade: A- | Ooo… I was stunned that Katie didn’t get the closing number. When she stepped behind the mic, she started off singing more softly than she usually has (a nice change of pace) before building up to raise the roof with a humongous chorus. From there, she went back and forth between singing with the tenderness of an embrace and belting with the ferocity that has made her a frontrunner to win. And I had to think it was a good sign for her that I actually preferred her original single to her Aerosmith cover. Methinks, as I did way back at the conclusion of the Blinds, she has this in the bag.
Ricky Duran (Team Blake), “A Woman Like Her” — Grade: A | In the studio with Blake, Ricky said that his single was a great encapsulation of the artist that he wants to be. It would also be a great number for him to sing to his girlfriend, who was in the audience Monday. On stage, it was easy to hear why Ricky liked his single: It wasn’t big or bombastic, it was intimate and thoughtful and let him show off just how beautiful a voice he has (without having to fight to be heard over the band). That said, I didn’t think this was exactly what Ricky fans wanted from him — my impression was that we were after more fireworks, more growling, more, you know — grr. I could be wrong, though; it happens (a lot!). And this was super pretty, so much so that it made Kelly think of a young Springsteen and made John predict that Ricky’s number would be the most-streamed original single of the night.
Rose Short (Team Gwen), “Border Song” — Grade: A | Before Rose closed out the night, she told us that she’d be doing the Aretha Franklin version of Elton John’s oldie. She also broke down in tears thanking her coach for helping her to get to a place where she could be her best self. On stage, Rose, wearing a spectacular top that looked like it could’ve been made from purple tinsel, dipped deep into her lower register before rising up and taking us to church. And she made it seem as easy as, say, me casually noting that my wine glass has somehow run dry. I still think Katie probably has the victory all sewn up, but I would be just as happy, maybe even happier, if Rose emerged victorious. (Side note: I know I’ve given a lot of really good grades here; what can I say? They were really good!)
So, having heard their last performances, which of the Final Four do you think should win? And who do you think will win? Vote in the polls below, then hit the comments.