Girl Named Tom, Hailey Mia, Jershika Maple, Paris Winningham and Wendy Moten give it their all with two performances each -- plus, Kelly Clarkson performs her latest, "Christmas Isn't Canceled (Just You)."
We had our clear favorites coming into tonight’s performance finale of “The Voice,” and who we thought was going to win -- but now we’re not sure at all.
We knew that all five finalists were world-class talents. This is probably the most evenly talented finale the show has ever produced. Having them perform across two rounds made all the difference, though, as different acts stepped up in different rounds, creating a shockingly balanced night of greatness.
Girl Named Tom, Hailey Mia, Jershika Maple, Paris Winningham and Wendy Moten are all incredible singers. They all have incredible stories and they’ve all had jaw-dropping moments throughout the course of this season.
But who did enough tonight to inspire America to pick up their devices and vote for them? Will it be based more one what happened here tonight, or will their entire season weigh in? We’d imagine at this point, it’s the whole journey, and that makes it even tighter.
Sometimes you know exactly who’s going to win a singing competition. Other times you’ve no idea. This is one of those latter experiences. To remind us of a time when it was a lot more certain, Kelly Clarkson also took the stage tonight to perform her latest holiday track with an edge, “Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You).”
She’ll be back to duet with her artists, as all of the Coaches will do, on Tuesday’s super-sized finale. Without an artist in the game, Ariana Grande will hit the stage with Kid Cudi, and those are just a few of the huge artists we’ll see.
Just announced, Jennifer Lopez will be joining “The Voice” finale, alongside Alicia Keys, Carrie Underwood, Ed Sheeran, Tori Kelly, Keke Palmer, Coldplay and Walker Hayes. It’s going to be a two-hour extravaganza of music to announce one winner.
But who will it be?
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Ariana Grande and Blake Shelton. And just for fun, I'm going to rank the performances from worst to first in each round so we can see who emerges as my winner -- and then see if you get it right, i.e. agree with me.
As a final note, the show shuffled both rounds together to diversify the viewing experience (we suppose), but for the purposes of comparing ballads to ballads and up-tempo pieces to up-tempo pieces, we're reshuffling them back into their respective rounds. So pay no attention to "Performance #1" or "Performance #2" as that's just their run order for the show.
(“Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You),” Kelly Clarkson) Kelly always manages to make singing look so effortless, and after all these years at the top of her game, we imagine it does come pretty easily to her. It’s easy to see that she’s a huge fan of the holiday season, as she just lights up when she gets to perform a Christmas song. Will this one go down as a modern classic that stands the test of time? Honestly, we think it has a real shot at it. She’s certainly tapping into a common sentiment with the idea of moving on from a bad relationship and finding joy again with the holidays. Since the video was uploaded and then removed by NBC (for some reason), we've attached instead her performance from her NBC special a couple weeks ago.
ROUND 1: UPTEMPO SONGS
Paris Winningham [Team Blake]
(“Ain’t Nobody,” Rufus & Chaka Khan - 33, Jacksonville, FL) As much as we love a little funk on Paris, the reminder of past performances like “Tennessee Whiskey” helped us remember when Paris has excited us the most as an artist. He has that ability to connect through the screen and break your heart with just his voice. But that’s not the vibe he went with here. It’s still a great vocal performance, but in a singing competition it’s important to reach out and grab those voters and make them pick up that phone. We don’t think this was that. It was a study in great vocals, but it didn’t have the urgency we were hoping for.
Hailey Mia [Team Kelly]
(“deja vu,” Olivia Rodrigo - 14, Clifton, NJ) Once again, Olivia Rodrige proves to be the perfect song choice for Hailey Mia. The youthful energy of the piece, the angst and the pathos behind the lyrics always lands with such authenticity in her voice. She was a little stronger on the slower portions of the song, with a wonderful falsetto, but all in all it was a big moment for. Her. We felt the emotional connection, the staging with the beds and backup dancers worked very well for this story and the way Hailey played in and out of it enhanced the experience perfectly.
(“Rolling in the Deep,” Adele - 25, Killeen, TX) On paper, this was a match made in heaven, but it didn’t quite work as well as we would have liked. Yes, Jershika is an incredible powerhouse vocal and there were certainly incredible moments throughout this piece. But at other times, we were a little perplexed at some of her melody changes and she was even off the beat during an early verse. What makes Jershika special is the layers to her talent, but this was almost all throttle. She’s one of the best voices the competition has seen all season long, but it seemed she lost her way artistically on this one a bit, and lost us as well.
Wendy Moten [Team Blake]
(“How Will I Know,” Whitney Houston - 57, Memphis, TN) Despite two bum wings, Wendy still manages to deliver such a rich vocal. This week, we felt a little more drive from her, rather than the past few weeks where it’s felt almost like she’s been phoning it in. It was another great Whitney vocal -- no small task at all! -- and a fun production around her. We were starting to get a little worried that it was sounding a bit safe, but she really started belting in those final notes. She still doesn’t bring the same level of passion as some other artists, but America doesn’t seem to care.
Girl Named Tom [Team Kelly]
(“The Chain,” Fleetwood Mac - 20-26, Pettisville, OH) We love that this was all vocal, with none of the three on an instrument throughout. With such incredible harmonies on the track, that kept the focus on exactly what makes them so remarkable. This is not an easy song to nail, and all three of them really stepped up in a big way, both together in those incredible signature harmonies of theirs and in their many solo moments. Sure, there were a few sharp moments here and there, but with so many exciting moments to pick from, these frontrunners can spare a few. That’s how you make a statement and demand voter attention.
(“Me and Mrs. Jones,” Billy Paul - 33, Jacksonville, FL) Once again, Paris is right at home on these R&B staples. Dedicating this one to his father, who encouraged him to take his first step (in a way), Paris has had a remarkably strong journey on this show for someone who always sticks to his throwback roots. Another masterful vocal performance, we didn’t quite have the emotional connection we’re used to getting from Paris. This is the kind of piece we could have been putty in his hands, but it just felt like everything was happening on the surface. It was beautiful. In the finale, is that enough?
Girl Named Tom [Team Kelly]
(“Baby Now That I’ve Found You,” The Foundations - 20-26, Pettisville, OH) A beautifully sweet and stripped down performance, this final chance at earning votes was all about the tender side of their talent -- and those impeccable harmonies. GNT is in a lane all their own, and they’ve been fan favorites all season. If they win, though, it won’t be off the back of this performance as it was sweet and charming and innocent, but it also lacked any of that punch and kick you want to see at the finale of a big show like this.
Wendy Moten [Team Blake]
(“Over the Rainbow,” Judy Garland [as performed by Patti LaBelle] - 57, Memphis, TN) Wendy blended the words “can’t” and “I” and we can’t get over it. It was a weird choice, but if you’re listening to the lyrics, it also made no sense at all. Once again, though, she soars beautifully through her full range, delivering a fantastic vocal performance. It was sweet and ethereal in places, full-bodied in others. And all of it, once again, made to look effortless by a master of her craft. Wendy isn’t always exciting as a stage performer, but she’s an incredibly gifted vocalist.
(“I’m Goin’ Down,” Rose Royce [as performed by Mary J. Blige] - 25, Killeen, TX) One of the most exciting artists to ever hit the “Voice” stage, Jershika knows exactly who she is as an artist, dedicating this to her church community. Jershika soars so effortlessly and passionately through every song she performers, making these moments look far easier than they are. Once again, we saw the full depth and range of her talent, with that incredibly full vocal texture, the grit, the rises. It’s a full-body experience when Jershika performs, and you can’t help but get drawn in and feel every moment just as she is. Her stage presence is undeniable and masterful on top of her incredible vocal talent.
Hailey Mia [Team Kelly]
(“idontwannabeyouanymore,” Billie Eilish - 14, Clifton, NJ) How on earth is Hailey able to do this? She took on two of the top young female artists and she just nailed both performances. This one had so many different layers to her delivery, and yet with the right amount of feeling from start to finish. It was also a timelessly mature vocal, with hints of Amy Winehouse in the middle, telling us this is just a glimpse of the depth and diversity in her soul that could come out as she matures and finds her way as an artist. Hailey is such an exciting young talent, she had us hanging on every syllable here.
Talk about a tight finish. If we weight our rankings above to come up with an average on the night -- giving 5 points to the 1st place finisher in each round and 1 point to the 5th place finisher, and then combine them -- we actually wound up with a four-way tie for first.
Only Paris, who we don’t think lived up to the potential he’d established earlier in the competition as an emotionally connected singer tonight, fell to the bottom of our rankings. And we say that acknowledging that he sounded great all night. It’s a testament to the talent that everyone was strong both rounds.
What we didn’t expect was for there to be such inconsistency across the two performances for each of the artists. Again, these are all minor differences as they were all great at what they do. So we found ourselves nitpicking little things to differentiate their strengths and weaknesses.
What this also tells us is that the final winner is probably going to have more to do with their entire season journey than just this week’s performances. And doing that puts Paris right back into the conversation, as he’s been incredible.
Beyond Paris, we don’t think anyone has brought more consistent passion and heart to their performances than Jershika, and yet she’s had to battle twice to stay in this competition. Girl Named Tom has incredible harmonies, but they lack big moments and they are occasionally a little shaky in their solo work -- though this has improved tremendously.
Wendy is the consummate professional. If you close your eyes, you could be listening to an incredibly soulful album. But when you watch her, there’s often this strange disconnect, as if she’s almost bored with the process. And Hailey is this powerhouse at such a young age, we’re blown away by her growth throughout the season and all the different layers to what she does.
At the risk of looking foolish -- which may be inevitable considering how genuinely tight this race is looking to us -- we’re going to see if we can read America’s mind on this one. Paris is the only solo male vocalist left. Wendy is the most seasoned veteran. Hailey is the youngest. Jershika is the scrapper. Girl Named Tom is the first trio to make it this far. They all have a story.
If it were up to us, you’d have Wendy in fifth, Paris in fourth, Girl Named Tom in third, Jershika in second and Hailey Mia crowned the winner. But it’s not up to us. So, we’re going to go out on a limb with our predictions (and get upset if Jershika is really done this dirty).
Girl Named Tom
Well see what happens when “The Voice” crowns its winner Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET on NBC.