Going into Monday’s showdown on The Voice Season 13, it seemed like this was either Chloe Kohanski or Addison Agen’s finale to lose. But now, after watching the top four — Chloe, Addison, Red Marlow, and Brooke Simpson — perform three times each (one cover, one original single, one coach duet), I feel like any of the four could take home that fist-shaped trophy.
Brooke, this season’s underdog but the best technical singer of the four, had a particularly strong night Monday, maintaining her momentum from the past two weeks. And the always consistent Red, the lone male (and lone country) finalist remaining, stayed in the game. Meanwhile, poor Chloe suffered from serious vocal fatigue, and an over-emotional Addison faltered at the end of her first performance. And thus, the Voice playing was effectively, and unexpectedly, leveled.
So Tuesday’s finale could be very suspenseful indeed. But before then, we have to recap Monday’s dozen performances. Let’s get to it.
Addison Agen (Team Adam)
Lori McKenna’s “Humble and Kind,” as famously covered by Tim McGraw, was a wonderful song choice for this sweet 16-year-old, who always seems so, well, humble and kind. And while the lyrics, which basically read like a list of pro tips from Emily Post, could have sounded treacly and Hallmark-y coming out of the mouth of a less sincere, less mature, less connected singer, with Addison every word took on such gravitas. Unfortunately, at the end she lost some of her usual poise and professionalism, becoming overwhelmed (the song was a tribute to her grandpa) and missing her last few words. But somehow, she made even that flub work for her and she salvaged the situation, creating a special moment that reminded me of a choked-up Kelly Clarkson singing “Piece by Piece” on American Idol. And that is the sign of a true star.
“When you break down and have a moment like that, that’s what makes it that much more real to us. If you don’t feel it, how do you expect us to feel it? Because you did, it allowed us in that moment that much more,” said Jennifer Hudson. “In a way, the fact that you did lose it at the end there was beautiful. Don’t apologize for that. Your connection to life is more important than your connection to music,” assured Adam Levine.
Red Marlow (Team Blake)
Crooning the Garth Brooks version of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” Red was very much in his element, doing a straight-up, VH1 Storytellers/CMT Crossroads-style acoustic performance. This was classic Red, just a man and his guitar, and it worked. Red and his coach Blake Shelton have always known what works, and that is why Red had slowly and steadily, tortoise-like, inched his way towards the winner’s circle while more flamboyant singers have gone home. Red has made America feel his love, but could he actually overtake Chloe, Addison, and Brooke? It is possible. Stranger things (like Jermaine Paul winning Season 2, or Christina Grimmie placing third) have happened on this show.
“Red has the ability to sit up there on that stool with just his guitar and his voice, and I gotta say, dude, you blow me away. Not with just your talent, but with your composure and the fact that you have spent your entire life — and it’s evident in that moment — preparing for this. Congratulations,” said Blake.
Brooke Simpson (Team Miley)
It is understandable, if a little cheesy and pandering, that Brooke and her coach, Miley Cyrus, might’ve wanted to take advantage of the feel-good Christmas vibes going around right now — or that they just wanted to duplicate the success of Brooke’s highest-charting performance, the religious song “Amazing Grace” — with “O Holy Night” this week. Well, who cares if it was cheesy and pandering? It worked! Brooke’s performance, complete with gospel choir, was old-fashioned and conservative, but if you’ll excuse the heathen phrase, she sang the hell out of the holiday hymn, unleashing her massive, mighty lung power like never before. This was like something right out of a PBS holiday special or a Rockefeller Center tree-lighting ceremony. Brooke might end up having a really great Christmas, if you catch my drift.
“This is your night, Brooke. You’ve never shined brighter. You are such a star, and the best part about tonight is it hasn’t been just about how beautiful you look; it’s been about how beautiful you sound. This is The Voice,” said Miley.
Chloe Kohanski (Team Blake)
Chloe’s strategy all season has been honoring and emulating badass rock ladies of the ’70s and ’80s (Cyndi Lauper, Stevie Nicks, Debbie Harry, and Bonnie Tyler), so she stuck to that plan with the 1981 Kim Carnes version of Jackie DeShannon’s “Bette Davis Eyes.” However, the song choice was a little too on the nose, almost cover-band or karaoke, because Chloe’s pack-a-day rasp sounded so similar to Kim’s. But since Chloe was noticeably struggling vocally, it was probably wise for her to go with such a husky tune. And while the sexy, lightweight soft-rock hit didn’t provide Chloe with a “Landslide”-style moment (and, relatedly, didn’t guarantee that she’ll win Season 13 by a landslide), she was able to elevate the performance beyond cover-band shtick with her her undeniable star quality and stage presence. (Like, how cool did she look serenading herself in that retro Flashdance dressing room mirror? And can we talk about those leather tuxedo pants?) She’s precocious, and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush. And she’s a pro herself.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a superstar standing on the stage right here. Please, America, let’s put this powerful female rock ‘n’ roll human being in the winner circle tomorrow. Vote for Chloe! Do it!” howled Blake.
I wish Chloe had gotten a better single than the dreary “Wish I Didn’t Love You.” Sure, she’s usually spectacular belting out a power ballad, but this largely melody-free, sad-sack song was just a ballad — no power. It didn’t have the edge, that “cool-girl” factor that a unique artist like Chloe deserves, and it didn’t allow her to have big moment — and even it had, Chloe’s voice sounded too tired to pull it off. She was especially rough as she strained for the chorus. Still, she gave the performance all she had, and by the end she was making the cracks and creaks in her voice work with the song, using her voice-break to convey heartbreak.
“America, I want you to think of every superstar that you can remember in music — every pop star, rock star, country star. Remember that those people are never like anybody else. They don’t look like anybody else. They don’t sound like anybody else. I want you to think about that performance. How your voice cracks and pops and falls apart as you’re singing so perfectly. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a superstar right here,” raved Blake, though sounded like he was trying too hard to defend Chloe’s ragged, uneven performance.
The empowerment anthem “What Is Beautiful” was written just for Brooke, and damn if she didn’t sing it like she’d written it herself. A timely rumination about ridiculous female beauty standards, a la Alessia Cara’s “Scars to Your Beautiful” or Jessie J’s “Who You Are,” this song was perfect for feisty, proud Native American Brooke. She dug deep into lines like “Shape me like an hourglass and slim me down, cut me in half/But will the color of my skin help me out or box me in?… You can say what you want, but I’m proud of where I’m from/ I’m a rock, I’m a gem/ I’m a lover, I’m a friend/ And I’m beautiful in my skin.” The crowd cheered as Brooke roared (and Brooke was definitely not suffering from vocal fatigue; she sounded flawless). If Brooke wins The Voice Season 13, it will be because of this tour de force.
“I have loved you from day one. … I was wondering what kind of artist you were going to be and how you were going to develop over the course of the show. I’m so happy for this moment. This is who you are. The song is perfect for representing who you are and what you want to say and the artist you want to be,” said Adam. “This moment right here is what I meant at the end of our studio session when I said you are a ‘necessary artist.’ Did you hear these lyrics? A girl up there saying, ‘I’m perfect the way I am. Don’t change me. I don’t need you!’ She’s a superstar,” said Miley.
Red also went for the emotional jugular with a weeper that he co-wrote with his friend Larry McCoy in honor of Larry’s late father. (Red even performed the song at the elder McCoy’s funeral. Incidentally, Red was the only finalist with an original songwriting credit this Monday.) Red also, like Brooke, played the “God card,” as his song was titled “I Pray.” It was a generic tune, instantly forgettable, but it played to Red’s fanbase with its sentimental backstory and churchy lines like “I lift my eyes toward heaven and I see it loud and clear/ Everything I’m looking for’s right here.” And hey, it sounded commercial enough. It was a safe, hardly game-changing performance.
“What I love about you is you are it. You don’t have to try to be country. I’ve always been a fan. I feel like you represent country, and represent it well,” said Jennifer. “I think the thing that happened for you this entire season, and the reason you’re in the finale, is the simple relatability to what you do on that stage. And now you’ve taken it to the next level. … You’re a country star,” said Blake.
Addison got the best of the originals, “Tennessee Rain”: a haunting, heart-in-throat story song that Addison accurately described as Bonnie Raitt-esque. Despite being only 16, Addison sang punch-to-the-gut lyrics such as “The one I always thought would come along/ He had his own ideas of where this love was going. … When he said, ‘I don’t love you,’ the first tear broke through/ Now it’s comin’ down like a Tennessee rain” like a true woman scorned. And while she kept her composure — no onstage breakdowns this time — she looked fragile, shaken, and like she was living out every miserable word of the breakup ballad. How can a small-town high school junior be this mature?
“Addison, baby, you are music. To know when to quiet the note, to be passionate about the song, to know when to move — like, you can’t just learn that. You were born with it. You were truly born to be a star,” said Jennifer. “When I think about every single 16-year-old girl at home that wants to do this with their life. … I have a daughter, and I have another daughter on the way, and I can’t imagine a better example or inspirational human being than Addison,” declared Adam. But then Adam also said, “We said we could win this thing or not, but at the end of the day, we’ll do it on our terms and do the songs that are best for you, to set you up for the future. … What happens tomorrow does not reflect what you deserve, the person you are, and what beautiful things are coming to you tomorrow in the future.” Why was Adam being such a downer, acting as if Addison had already lost? The competition was far from over!
Red Marlow and Blake Shelton
While Red usually excels when he goes for heartfelt balladry, I think for a Red/Blake buddy act, something upbeat and rambunctious; something with an outlaw vibe, would have made the most sense. Instead, they did Brad Paisley’s midtempo “I’m Gonna Miss Her,” which dragged. Their limp performance seemed like it was 10 minutes long, and it didn’t bring out these fun fellows’ personality. Also, the band was so darn loud, Red could have given the vocal performance of his career and it wouldn’t have mattered. I couldn’t even hear the guy.
Addison Agen and Adam Levine
“Falling Slowly,” the Oscar-winning indie-folk classic from Once, was a perfect (and perfectly appropriate) choice for a duet between Addison and a man literally more than twice her age. This soaring, strings-laden number was my favorite musical pairing of the night — and dare I say it, Addison totally outsang Adam. I think Adam would dare to say that too.
Brooke Simpson and Miley Cyrus
Brooke was a star during her solo numbers Tuesday, but when she had to share the stage with Miley, oddly, her coach did not let her shine. Miley came in like a wrecking ball and knocked Brooke right out of the spotlight during “Wrecking Ball”; while Brooke did match Miley note for huge note, Miley’s preening and posturing pulled focus, practically relegating Brooke to the role of backup singer. Blake and Adam were much more generous duet partners.
Chloe Kohanski and Blake Shelton
It was a tall order trying to figure out a song that would work for Blake and Chloe extremely different singing styles, and on paper, Roy Orbison’s ‘80s Americana hit “You Got It” probably seemed like a good idea. I bet it even seemed like a good idea in rehearsal. But Chloe’s voice was so shot, especially in her lower range, that this performance failed to capture the peppy spirit of the cheerful original. Luckily, Chloe had her superior “Bette Davis Eyes” performance, and her awesome overall body of work this season, to fall back on.
So now it is prediction time. And like I said, this one is harder to forecast than I would’ve assumed. Who’s going to win this thing? I still think Chloe has a strong chance, with her diehard following and all of those iTunes multipliers to her credit — and I’d love to see a real, red-blooded rock chick finally win one of these shows. So, dear readers, while I wouldn’t make any bets in your office pool based on my admittedly shaky predictions, I am still going to call it narrowly for Chloe, followed by Brooke, Addison, and Red.
But it could go any which way, so Tuesday’s finale will be exciting. It’ll also be exciting because Chloe is reportedly going to sing “White Wedding” with fellow peroxide-platinum rocker Billy Idol — so in a way, she’s already won, right? See you then.