fans, it’s been a long and bumpy road. Over the course of Season 15, we’ve seen good singers cut too soon (SandyRedd, Kameron Marlowe, etc.) and mediocre ones cut too late Voice (Tyke James, Reagan Strange, etc.). We’ve discovered just how far into his own mouth Adam Levine can stick his own foot, and watched Kennedy Holmes kick ass. And we’ve sat through so many of Carson Daly’s inane questions for the contestants that we’ve all but given up groaning like Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers when he asks ’em. But Monday night, at last the finish line came into view.
RELATED You already know who I think will win (Team Blake Shelton’s more-than-worthy Kirk Jay) as well as who I hope will (Team Jennifer Hudson’s JV superstar Kennedy). So the question on my mind throughout the episode was, did the latter do anything so spectacular that she could conceivably steal away the victory from the former? And had I underestimated Team Blake’s Chris Kroeze and Team Kelly Clarkson’s Chevel Shepherd? Were they not just stiff on stage but actually stiff competition? Read on, and we’ll discuss.
Cover The Skynyrd classic — “the most iconic rock song of all time,” in Blake’s estimation — is such an obvious choice for Chris that I had to double-check what’s left of my memory to make sure that he hadn’t already done it on the show. (He hadn’t.) And he sounded as natural on it as his coach looks with that happy-making cup in his hand. He still stood as motionless as a statue on stage, which didn’t exactly make for an electrifying performance, and his idea of working the crowd reminded me of the sort of “enthusiastic” greeting you’d get from a bored flight attendant. But speaking strictly vocally, he was fine. Not thrilling but fine. Chris Kroeze (Team Blake), “Sweet Home Alabama” — Grade: B- |
Cover Chevel Shepherd (Team Kelly), “It’s a Little Too Late” — Grade: B | From the start, Chevel had her Tanya Tucker cover well and truly in hand: She sounded as at-home as a cowgirl feels on horseback, and didn’t even seem as troubled as I’d have expected her to be by the notes that called for her to go low. By the time she was done, she’d worked in a little yodeling and pretty much sung the whole dang farmhouse down. I do wish she didn’t so much of the time have the deer-in-headlights quality of somebody’s kid who’s been pushed on stage to show off her purty voice at the county fair — that doesn’t exactly scream “star quality” to me. However, her vocals deserved a yeehaw, if not a full-on yippie-ki-yay.
Original Single Kirk Jay (Team Blake), “Defenseless” — Grade: B- | Ballad? Check. Heartfelt? Check. (“Let’s cry this time,” Kirk even joked during recording.) Lyrics befitting someone who’ll be country till the day he dies? Since the contestant likens himself to “a hollowed-out sycamore” on his single, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that’s a big ol’ check. So basically, “Defenseless” has everything that we Kirk fans could want from a Kirk song. And he sang it well. Yet my reaction was still “meh.” Maybe it was just kinda a dull song. Or maybe I was distracted by the way sometimes Kirk’s vibrato took on a goat-like quality. This wasn’t his most emotional performance ever, either. But it wasn’t bad at all and probably was still plenty good enough to get him the win. It would have been cool, had he found a way to surprise us, but I guess in his shoes, we all would’ve played it safe, right?
Original Single Kennedy Holmes (Team Jennifer), “Love Is Free” — Grade: A | Something about Kennedy’s sunny single brought to mind Beyonce’s “Love On Top.” Or maybe I just wished that this was as catchy as “Love On Top.” Either way, this was pleasant enough — bright and cheerful, and the youngster sang it for all it was worth. But it didn’t seem to be any kind of challenge for her; therefore, it didn’t really allow her to show off anything but what we’d already heard (in short, that she can polish any number to the point that she can see her reflection in it). If Kennedy wasn’t the frontrunner to win before — and as far as I could tell, she wasn’t — this seemed unlikely to change her standing. Great singer, so-so single.
Duet With Coach Kirk Jay (Team Blake), “You Look So Good in Love” — Kirk’s Grade: B+ | Apparently, Blake learned from “Body Like a Back Road” that uptempo isn’t a great look on Kirk. So his coach joined him on a George Strait ballad that invited him to do what he does best: sing as if he’s always one note away from letting fall the tears that we can hear in his voice. And oddly, I liked his vocal a lot better on this cover than I had on his single. Yes, there was a froggy note here and there, but overall, he sounded stronger and more confident than he had on “Defenseless,” if just as heartbroken as I think by now he’s contractually obligated to.
Duet With Coach Kennedy Holmes (Team Jennifer), “Home” — Kennedy’s Grade: A++ | Now, see, Adam Levine? If you’re gonna fight for “your girl” on the show, this is the level of talent that that girl had better have. Had Kennedy, not Reagan, been his contestant and the singer for whom he’d fought so hard, I would’ve totally understood it. Because, as she demonstrated here, JHud’s mini-superstar is an absolute beast of a vocalist. She sang with such breathtaking emotion, such stunning control, such impressive range and such perfect pitch that not even her amazing coach could outdo her. (And actually, I sorta appreciated Kennedy’s relative restraint.) This was so astonishingly good that if Kennedy isn’t named the winner Tuesday… gads! I’m gonna be grumbling about it forevermore! (Consider yourselves forewarned.)
Original Single Chris Kroeze (Team Blake), “Human” — Grade: C | Chris’ single gives off less of a retro vibe than I was expecting. That said, I loved it — it was hooky as hell and had an appealing cut-yourself-some-slack message. Unfortunately, his performance was no higher energy than any of his past ones, and there just aren’t enough dancers you can trot out on stage to cover for the fact that he has the presence of wallpaper. What’s more, this wasn’t his strongest vocal performance. It wasn’t bad, but it was kind of… limp. Which is a real shame, because he seemed to be connecting with this song more than he had some of the classics that he could do by rote. At any rate, I’ll still download it off iTunes (the studio-sweetened version is, as you’d expect, much more polished).
Duet With Coach Chevel Shepherd (Team Kelly), “Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain” — Chevel’s Grade: B | Kelly and Chevel’s Judds cover was such a toe-tapper that it made me wish I was wearing spurs, just so that I could jangle along as I two-stepped from the comfort of the couch. Even performing with her coach couldn’t loosen up Chevel any, but she kept pace admirably with force of nature Kelly. Which only reinforced my general impression of the youngster: She sounds like a star, she just doesn’t come off like one on stage. (BTW, I know I’m giving out a lot of good grades tonight, but it is the Finals — I mean, they’re supposed to not suck, right?)