by Lyn Jensen
For the first time in several seasons of The Voice, there is no clear front-runner. Former child star Billy Gilman doesn’t have the same level of consistent fan support last season’s Alisan Porter enjoyed, there are two hardcore country singers (one on Team Adam, one on Team Blake) splitting that vote, and the most surprising finalist, We McDonald, reps a young urban demographic that would otherwise be absent. So let’s see if the final four’s performances on Monday night give any hint of who will win Season 11.
1. Billy Gilman, Team Adam: Tonight the contestants are singing three songs. One is the cover of a popular song (which is what they’ve been doing all season). One is a duet with their team coach, and one is the debut of their new iTunes single. Gilman opens with his cover of the Sinatra signature song “My Way.” His voice is higher than Sinatra’s and not as full or smooth, so he does it his way, with a spare minimalist arrangement, and climaxes with some of those notes he can hold forever. He’s setting the bar very, very high. “I thought you were gonna lose it and you did, kind of,” says Adam. “How do you not feel like you’ve just won The Voice ?”
2. Josh Gallagher, Team Adam: Gallagher says he thinks Adam turned out to be the right coach for him because he’s been able to show an experimental side. For his debut single, he sings one of his own songs, “Pick Any Small Town,” co-written with fellow season 11 contestant Nolan Neal. The song about small town life fits in well with today’s country–Blake says he can relate to it, and Adam says Gallagher sounds ready for late-night guest appearances.
3. We McDonald and Alicia Keys duet “Ave Maria.” They copy the soulful Stevie Wonder version, and, reversing what we may expect from their voices, we hear some alto (mostly from Alicia) and some stupendous high range (mostly from We). Host Carson Daly says the room was mesmerized.
4. Sundance Head, Team Blake: Head’s debut single, “Darlin’ Don’t Go” is a make-up song for his wife. It’s more emotional and romantic than what we hear from the other singers tonight, and it’s more of a retro style, more blues-based than the contemporary country of Gallagher’s “Small Town” song. Blake asks, “How the Hell has this guy not been discovered before?”
5. Billy Gilman and Adam Levine duet the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love.” Genres, moods, and generations intersect. Adam is a soulful rocker, and Billy’s moving from country to George Michael territory, but in this old fifties’ brother-act rocker they find common ground.
6. We McDonald, Team Alicia: McDonald’s new single is “Wishes,” which Harold Lilly, a songwriter for Alicia Keys, wrote especially for McDonald. She stays in the upper level of her range–she still doesn’t show off much of her alto’s lower parts–but she also gives a performance that belies her seventeen years. Alicia praises her “individuality, diversity, and unlimited potential.”
7. Josh Gallagher and Adam Levine duet “Smooth.” Adam continues to do some musical experimenting with his hardcore country singer, as they perform a very popular nineties’ power ballad that’s neither country nor what’s commonly thought of as Maroon 5 territory.
8. Sundance Head and Blake Shelton duet “Treat Her Right.” Sundance’s father is Roy Head, who in 1965 had a big hit with the rockabilly-flavored “Treat Her Right.” So Sundance and Blake pay tribute to Roy (who’s in the audience) by reviving the song, and they sound like two country boys who know how to have fun.
9. Josh Gallagher again: Having performed his new iTunes single, Gallagher now finds the country side of John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane.” Adam believes it’s a way to bridge the gap between pop and country. Gallagher is on Team Adam because back in the knockout rounds, Blake cut Gallagher and kept Sundance Head. Adam jumped at his chance to compete with Team Blake on country-music turf, and it’s time for a showdown. Will either coach’s hardcore country guy win?
10. Sundance Head again: Head considers himself more a soul singer–his vocal style owes more to singers like Alicia Keys and Etta James than to country. He may provide the most heartfelt performance of the evening with “At Last,” an Etta James song. All the judges stand and clap at the end, and Daly notes the crowd’s excited, too. Blake raves, “Somebody reached back in time and found this classic vocalist!”
11. Billy Gilman sings Adam Levine: During rehearsal Billy says to Adam, “You’re making me hip.” Adam says what they’ve done is “found a lane,” a place in today’s music for the singer to inhabit. Billy’s new iTunes single is “Because of me,” a song originally intended for Adam and Maroon 5. However, as well as Gilman performs the song during this episode, I could tell the studio single was the better take. How this will affect the results, we’ll have to see. Adam still thinks this evening’s performance is “one of the most definitive moments” of Gilman’s career.
12. We McDonald again: The evening closes with young We showing she can sing like Streisand on “Don’t Rain on my Parade.” (I thought I remembered it from Hello, Dolly but fact-checking tells me it’s from Funny Girl instead.)
I voted for Gilman and Gallagher. Go to www.nbc.com to see the videos of the final four contestants’ singles, and to the iTunes site for downloads. Head had the top two slots on iTunes at close of voting, and Gilman got the next two. Gallagher and McDonald’s chart positions (songs hovering around top ten) show mixed results. However, iTunes downloads are only a part of the vote tally, so that doesn’t mean Head’s the winner.
All three hours of NBC prime time are taken up tonight with The Voice finale. The first hour’s a recap, then there’ll be guest stars, then probably around 10:45 they’ll actually start announcing the results.