Remember that Thanksgiving dinner where all was going well, and everyone seemed to be having a good time, right up until Uncle Al said something about the turkey being a little dry? Which then prompted Aunt Helen to complain about how he hasn’t complimented her cooking in 30 years. And somehow, before anyone realized it, their argument became the main course for the rest of the meal, to the point where nobody noticed how great Grandma’s sweet potato stuffing and your mom’s apple pie turned out this year.
Well, that’s pretty much tonight’s final round of “The Voice” in a nutshell. The stage was set for a triumphant night, with the top four – Jermaine Paul, Chris Mann, Juliet Simms and Tony Lucca – set for one last showdown. And then, Aunt Christina Aguilera and Uncle Adam Levine let some past slights surface and their battle became the story rather than the final four’s performances.
The trouble has, of course, been brewing for awhile. Once the live rounds began, Aguilera seemed to treat ex-Mickey Mouse Club mate Lucca like he was the Screech of that group – the schmoe who deserved to be put down on a regular basis. Which inspired Lucca and Levine to strike back, with songs like “Baby One More Time” and “How You Like Me Now.” Then, tonight, the duo settled on Lucca performing a hootenanny-esque version of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” which includes frequent use of the “B” word (rhymes with “hitch,” which this night clearly didn’t go off without). And the feud escalated to epic proportions, with Aguilera chastising Lucca for performing a song that was “derogatory to women” in front of his wife and daughter and Levine tearing open his flannel shirt to reveal a glittery “Team Xtina” t-shirt.
That might have seemed like the end of the fireworks, but Aguilera got in another dig, referring to Mann as someone “who respects women.” Later, when Lucca thanked all the coaches for their hard work and dedication, it appeared that Aguilera was too busy texting to notice. And then there’s the case of the mystery disappearing pre-tape: there was to have been a performance shot before tonight’s live show, but it never happened. Would that have involved the coaches, and did its’ vanishing have something to do with the Christina-Adam saga? Nobody at the show will comment one way or the other. However, one thing is certain. This storyline has come close to overshadowing the performances these past few weeks.
“Overall, the whole season has been a bit disappointing because this dark cloud has hovered over everything,” Lucca said after tonight’s show, looking rather beaten down by it all. “There’s been so much great work done on the show and so many great stories all these other people have had. But this thing with Christina has been the runaway train wreck. It’s a shame. But that being said, it’s clearly paved the way for me to redefine myself and push myself. I continue to thank her, whether she wants to hear that or not.”
What are the odds they’ll sit down to a lovely brunch and settle all this someday? Lucca doesn’t even take two seconds to decide his answer. “None.”
The evening’s musical numbers didn’t entirely go unnoticed, though. Largely because there were so many of them, they were kind of hard to miss even if they didn’t have the tabloid impact of feuding coaches. Each finalist had to get up and sing three different times – once on his or her own, once with his or her coach and once as a tribute to his or her coach. Here’s a look at how each singer did, and what their chances are of winning tomorrow night:
The ex-backup singer certainly did nothing to diminish his standing as one of the odds-on favorites. His solo song, “I Believe I Can Fly,” came complete with orchestral accompaniment and a choir. This was his first non-‘80s suburban rock tune in the live rounds, and he carried it off just fine. There was always the danger of veering into lite FM schmaltziness but the genuine emotion that came in the way he would hold some of his notes made it clear how much of himself he was pouring into this performance.
Meanwhile, his tribute to Blake Shelton – doing Shelton’s “God Game Me You” – was all well and good but his duet with his coach — “Soul Man” – was one of the evening’s highlights. Paul seemed to take over, while Shelton came across more as the eager student asking his supervisor to show him how to have some soul.
“Getting up there with Blake was a lot of fun,” Paul explained later. “It felt cool, felt normal and natural. I just wanted to have a good time in the song. He said he wanted me to teach him soul, but honestly, I think he has it. We all have it.”
Well, other than that whole ticking off one of the coaches thing, Lucca’s evening was a pretty decent one that may have moved him to the top of the winners list. His country-rock twist on “99 Problems,” complete with stand-up bass and a guy playing the washboard, was the evening’s most inventive performance. He worked the stage with such confidence, I thought for a moment he’d been possessed by the spirit of Tony Robbins, and if you leave the whole “B” word thing aside, this was an even more impressive and eclectic attempt to shake things up than his “Baby One More Time.”
His performance of Maroon 5’s “Harder To Breathe” seemed decent but pretty basic, yet when he and his brother in bromance – Levine – took a stab at “Yesterday,” the result was something as powerful as any other song all night. They really seemed to connect not just with each other but with the song (maybe it’s that whole troubles “are here to stay” line?), and it was a real highlight. The mellow tune was also a reminder of how far Lucca has come since that blind audition when he seemed like a laidback folk fan when he sang Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble.”
Lucca is well aware of the transition, noting after the show that, “It’s funny how a transformation can occur, from your wardrobe to your mojo and swagger…your confidence in what you’re doing. Especially with the trajectory I’ve had, where you’re taking chances you never thought you would. So yeah, that guy who sang at the blind auditions is practically unrecognizable to me now.”
At least there’s one Mann on Aguilera’s side…. And wearing his usual designer suits, the Kansas opera singer did come across all night as the chivalrous sort who lays his jacket across puddles, holds doors open and avoids referencing his coach’s battles with others. Perhaps more than any of the others in the Final Four, he clearly demonstrated what kind of artist he plans on being from this point forward by covering Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.” Mann wants to be that guy, the one who looks fine and fashionable for a younger crowd while applying his big, classical voice to a pop sensibility in order to pull in an older audience.
He did a slow build with the song, but by the time he was joined onstage by a young choir, he literally had the studio audience swaying along with the music. For a brief moment or two, “The Voice” was all about peace and harmony. He was equally classical and classy singing Aguilera’s “The Voice Within” and then dueting with her on “The Prayer.” With him up there in a tux and her in a dress featuring enough glitter to light up a small Midwestern city, the pair looked like a couple you’d find on top of a wedding cake. And creatively, at least, the relationship Mann had with his coach was like a dream marriage.
“I auditioned for this show last September and came in with ‘You Raise Me Up’ and ‘The Prayer,’” Man explained post-show. “I said, ‘This is who I am and this is what I want to do.’ And it all got to happen for me in the finale. It’s like the perfect ending to a great story that I never thought would happen. This night couldn’t have ended on a higher, bigger note.”
How do you know you’re in first place on “The Voice?” Because you get to go last. This phenomenon has happened two weeks in a row for Simms, making her seem like the show’s headline performer. And for good reason. Last week, she earned the season’s longest, loudest ovation (trust me, I’ve been there and heard them all….) for her painfully sincere “It’s A Man’s World.” And tonight, she managed to do the impossible, turning “Freebird” from a lighter-waving, party rock classic into a gritty, spiritual anthem. Week after week, she just keeps digging deeper and has transformed from Rod Stewart soundalike rock chick to a potential Janis Joplin-like star.
Okay, so her tribute to Cee Lo Green – “Crazy” – was okay but not particularly spectacular and her chopper-riding due with her coach was simply a bit of silly fun (was it just me, or did those background dancers leaping around in cages make kids leaping around in birthday party bounce houses seem less ridiculous?). Still, Simms’ “Freebird” was yet another brilliant, girl power take on a classic boys’ tune and may well have been just the inspiration viewers needed to make her the winner. The performance was all the more amazing when you consider that Simms’ was sick with walking pneumonia over the weekend and has spent the past couple days downing antibiotics and not speaking to anyone (even in rehearsals, where she just mouth lyrics rather than sing them.
For a belter like her, it would seem that suffering through this silent treatment might be tough. However, it was apparently pretty natural.
“It was easy. I’ve spent a lot of time on the road not talking.,” she admitted. “It’s how I preserved my voice, so this was actually good. I got to sit and not say anything and just preserve myself. It’s kind of nice to not talk. And when I needed to communicate, everyone would just read my lips. We’ve been doing this for months now. All of us have gotten really good at reading lips. It’s like our unspoken secret. That’s how we all have learned to preserve our voices.”
Consider how it’s going with Aguilera and Levine, perhaps that’s a secret they should be clued in on. In any event, now it’s on to the last show of the season. America will decide who is The Voice, and if by chance that person is Tony Lucca…..talk about your silent treatments! It might be kind of fun to see Aguilera’s reaction if the singer who has apparently become her surrogate nemesis (it’s Levine she’s really got the gripe with, right?) has to be congratulated by everyone.