It’s all come down to this: The Voice‘s top four contestants — Team Blake Shelton’s Kyla Jade and Spensha Baker, Team Kelly Clarkson’s Brynn Cartelli, and Team Alicia Keys’ Britton Buchanan — are performing not to stick around for another week, but to earn the title of season 14 winner. Each put on three separate performances, including another cover, a duet with their coach (poor Adam Levine doesn’t get to play tonight), and an original number of their own.
This season being what it is, this is not a night of musical perfection. Not even close. But there are some standout moments that might help us figure out who’ll emerge victorious tomorrow night. Let’s walk through the night’s performances, for better and for worse, shall we?
“With a Little Help from My Friends” by Joe Cocker
From the Woodstock crowd to The Wonder Years watchers, there are a lot of people who’ll know this song, but they’ve never heard it quite like this. While the instrumentals are the same, Kyla Jade approaches the number with much more snap than brass and throws in a lot of scream riffs in the third act. The first few verses are much better than the last, and it’s not as mic-droppish as her coach Blake Shelton would have us believe, but if she’s out to prove that she’s no longer scared of this stage, this certainly does that much. Technically, though, this isn’t her best.
“Where You Come From” by Britton Buchanan
It’s always a little impressive when the contestants on this show do come locked and loaded with an original song they’ve saved up for just this occasion, especially ones as young as Britton Buchanan, who wrote his in chemistry class (yes, really). But it’d be even more impressive if his delivery showed a similar level of ownership over the number, and his … does not. The song itself checks off all the boxes — steady pacing, lyrics of lament, fitness for his style — but he seems as disconnected with this song as anything else he might’ve been handed throughout the season, stumbling with diction, volume, and emotional resonance. It’s a shame because this might’ve been a good breakout moment for Britton, but instead, it’s off key, off-putting, and off the radar even before it’s done. (Note: I am curious if his studio version is any better, and his fans might be as well, so let’s not discount the download potential of this one just yet.)
Brynn Cartelli and Kelly Clarkson
“Don’t Dream It’s Over” by Crowded House
If you’ve been reading these recaps long enough, you know my sentiments on these duets. (Tl;dr – They’re the worst.) So, it goes without saying that this is not usually my favorite part of the night. This song choice is pretty exciting because, frankly, I just like it. But what Kelly Clarkson and her lady squire here manage to do with it is only about half good. The parts when Brynn Cartelli hangs in her low register and sticks to the original tenor of the familiar song bring out the better parts of her tone — that deep croak thing she manages to sweeten in just the right moments is a signature strength of hers — but the rest of it is messy. Both of them try to liven things up with some of their sudden runs, which are just messy, and they’re completely unable to harmonize, and even the dancing is disappointing, since they promised to “bring the bounce back” with this. Brynn should’ve saved this one for a solo and pared down all of the extras.
“Merry Go ‘Round” by Kacey Musgraves
What is this song, even? The lyrics are so, so bad it’s distracting. It’s like an emo seventh grader wrote this in poetry class the day the assignment was due, and someone set it to music. Why. Disregarding the WTF factor of the words here, Spensha Baker also struggles emoting, or even getting into her full voice in with the delivery. It often sounds like she’s about to gasp for a breath, and while there are some moments where her talent is on display, specifically when she breaks away into belts that blur the genre lines here a bit, this is bizarre choice for a finale performance for sure.
Britton Buchanan and Alicia Keys
“Wake Me Up” by Avicii
As far as duets go, this is about as good as we can expect it to be right. With Alicia Keys on the piano and Britton Buchanan wielding his guitar, the two seem poised to do something special. His whimpering tones are a good match for this piece, and her ability to break away is always pretty strong. They do what they can, but this is still a bit boring, as these things tend to be.
“The Last Tear”
NOW WE’RE TALKING. Okay, okay, so some moments of the melody here sound like a redux of “Next Time I Fall” and “Endless Love,” but there’s still a lot of good structure to this song that Kyla Jade clearly knows how to take advantage of. She smartly draws back on the fire power and nestles into her mid-range for this one, enjoying some very Gladys and the Pips sound styles in the rehearsals even, and the resulting crescendo is undeniably compelling. Everything’s going right for her with this one — even the cheesy lighthouse imagery on stage kinda works. The song is a slow burn, it’s emotional, and her delivery is darn close to flawless. This’ll be the one people want to hear again, guaranteed. (Recap continues on next page)
Spensha Baker and Blake Shelton
“Tell Me About It” by Tanya Tucker
Is Spensha trolling herself? Because these song choices fit her about as well as a pair of clown shoes. Just like last time, she sounds stuck on one note throughout most of this number, and even though Blake Shelton sounds comfortable and controlled with his half, she sounds hollow and stiff. If she really did choose this song, and have it marked as a bucket list item for her Voice tenure, she obviously doesn’t know how her own wheelhouse turns.
“Walk My Way” by Julia Michaels
It’s easy to see why Julia Michaels might be willing to part with this song. There’s a lot of repetition that renders it a little lifeless, despite a peppy concept in the opening notes. Brynn Cartelli’s performance is just okay. She leans in on some of her snares and guttural notes for effect, but she’s also got about as much energy as a dandelion in a rainstorm. At best, this is a song that backdrops some senior citizen dating site commercial.
Kyla Jade and Blake Shelton
“Only Love” by Wynonna Judd
Kyla Jade started out the night being a little overboard and then settled into her full voice, while resisting the temptation to engage in any unwise belts. And with song number three, she scales down even further into a volume level that’s so soft she might as well be Blake Shelton’s background singer here. Maybe this was a song she’d grown used to letting someone else lead on, since she got her first backup job with Wynonna Judd back in the day, but whatever the reason, she’s almost completely absent from noticeability here, thanks to a lack of lines and her staying strictly in her head voice the whole time. Admittedly, in those few lines we do get to hear her singing solo, her voice is lovely and a nice contrast to everything else we’ve heard of her tonight, but it’s not enough. This duet is not exactly hurting her, per se, but it’s not doing her any favors either.
“Good Lovin'” by The Young Rascals
This song choice is actually a good personality match for Britton Buchanan, as he seems to be having a blast working that entertainer side of himself throughout the showcase instead of the broody serious boy element he’s had on display elsewhere. Is it cartoonish and overkill? You betcha. But if he’s self-aware enough to know he’s probably not going to win this thing and is just here to have one more moment of fun just for the hell of it, this is good. (On the other hand, if this is an honest effort to earn votes, it’s a disaster.)
The lyrics here pretty much say it all: “We’re going to take it slow. Just take your time […] I want that old soul, give me that old soul tonight.” This set is as close as Spensha Baker gets to authenticity all evening, and it’s simply because she’s not stumbling over the rushed tempo and so many word salad lyrics of the previous songs and instead concentrating on matching the schmoozy style of the song here. This is still country-ish, but it’s also more reminiscent of an old school love song — something you might hear from Faith Hill or Sara Evans, as they bridge the gap between the southern sound and the pop sphere. This isn’t going to earn her the win, but it’s a drastic improvement over everything else she’s done tonight.
“Skyfall” by Adele
I have mixed feelings about Brynn Cartelli singing a song that’s so remarkably sexy, considering she is a child, but her tone is a match for this, so it’s also pretty intriguing. Indeed, she comes through with the requisite low notes and cascades into her head voice on a dime, just like Adele, which is no small feat. But this is one of the better singles of this century, and hearing her tack on some baby belts and random staccato asides just for kicks is distracting. The old guard of shows like this would say something to the effect of: you either try your best to match wits with the original or you arrange your own version, but never both. Brynn’s still got a lot of poise and some originality of sound, but I’m not sure even the “pimp spot” here will carry her through to the winner’s circle.
- Britton Buchanan’s going to be in fourth place. He already had to sing for his supper, so to speak, in getting here tonight, and he’s done nothing tonight to swing momentum into his favor, despite the high energy of his final showing. He’s still done very well to get this far on the show, but I think this is where he lands tomorrow night, despite Adam Levine’s odd endorsement.
- Spensha Baker will earn third place. She’s had some good moments on this show, but more often than not, she’s been listing through the songs that she seems to have zero attachment to (apart from that “Rise Up” anthem that I can still hear her slaying). Blake Shelton might be right that she has a future in country, if they can ever figure out the right kind of songs to draw that out of her, but for now, I think she’s the second runner-up.
- Brynn Cartelli comes in second, thanks to her obvious potential and unique vocals. Given the right training and time, she could do something, but she’s still just a touch too unrehearsed to be completely convincing at this stage. Compared to her competition, though, she’s right up there with the exception of …
- Kyla Jade will win. There’s just no two ways about it; she’s earned it. She had a moment of growth early on and has been mostly consistent ever since. There’s hardly been a week that hasn’t included her shutting it all down since the halfway point, and the original song she introduces us to tonight is such a sublime match for her sound that it’s easily the best three minutes of the evening. This season has been weird, but there’s no way she goes home empty-handed tomorrow.
Team Adam: N/A
Team Alicia: Britton Buchanan
Team Kelly: Brynn Cartelli
Team Blake: Spensha Baker, Kyla Jade