The finale featured bonus performances from OneRepublic, Maluma, Adam Lambert, Kelly Clarkson, Breland, Kane Brown, and Girl Named Tom -- it takes a lot of padding to fill two hours!
A star-studded finale for "The Voice" Season 22 couldn't overshadow the unexpected winner chosen by America.
The Top 5 all got chances to perform duets with their Coaches, which is why we were a little surprised that Blake Shelton also got one of the additional guest performance slots for his duet with Kane Brown.
That left poor Gwen Stefani -- his own wife, who has no artists left -- with no opportunity to sing while Blake had four of them! In fact, from skits to banter, Gwen was practically invisible throughout the night!
The night also featured the return of Coach Kelly Clarkson, singing her own holiday song ahead of her return next season. Also gracing the stage with their artistry were OneRepublic, Maluma, Breland, Adam Lambert and last season's winner Girl Named Tom.
The family trio performed a touching holiday tribute to their late father in a slot you just know the final five were looking at with hope and envy, knowing that could be them next season.
Team Blake was over-represented in this finale after a controversial semi-finals that saw all four people of color having to fight for the last slot in this Top 5 while all the white artists advanced.
Blake's team represented three of those, with bodie, Brayden Lape, and Bryce Leatherwood. Team Camila's Morgan Myles took the fourth spot, while it was Team Legend's Omar Josa Cardona who had to fight his way into these finals.
Monday night's show was a bit of a mixed bag, leaving us scratching our heads and not sure who was going to win. The only thing we felt pretty confident about was that Brayden wasn't going to win it all. Of course, we were confident he wouldn't make it this far, so that shows how much we know. So what did you do?
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Blake Shelton, Camila Cabello, Gwen Stefani, and John Legend. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
And just for fun, I'm going to rank the contestant's performances from worst to first to see who my favorites are, and then see how close you were to getting it right with your votes (i.e., agreeing with me).
("I Ain't Worried," OneRepublic) Ryan Tedder perfectly spotlighted how you can show off a falsetto, an impressive range, some power and grit without doing it with desperation. Too many of these singing show competitors are so obviously trying so hard to look how much bigger, louder, stronger their voice is than everyone else. In the early days of "American Idol," that seemed to be the thing to do, but as we've matured in our reality consumption, we tend to appreciate nuance and maturity in approach, which is what pros like Ryan are already doing (perhaps the secret to their success).
("Ordinary World," Duran Duran) Other than waiting for those mannequins to move distracting us (and that's more an us thing than an Adam thing), there was nothing at all wrong with any part of this stunning performance. Adam has always been one of the best singers to ever come out of a singing competition, and a testament that the biggest and best voice doesn't always win. We love how tasteful he was in the choices he made, because he could easily have belted this entire song. Instead, he went for a gentle restraint to emphasize a sense of pain that was beautiful. What a gift he has and is.
("Junio"/"Tukoh Taka," Maluma/Nicki Minaj f. Maluma & Myriam Fares) The continuing growth of Hispanic music in America (and K-Pop, for that matter) is a testament both to the growing diversity of the population, but also the universal appeal of music. Even if there's a language barrier, music and performance is about so much more than the words, as proven by Maluma's varied and energetic performance here. From singing to rapping and dancing, this was an entertaining piece with a great sound across all genres -- even if you don't understand exactly what he's saying.
("One More Christmas," Girl Named Tom) One year after winning it all, Girl Named Tom returned to the stage that made them with their best performance yet. The song was written in tribute to their late father and their emotions poured through in every moment. Bekah's voice has gotten so much stronger as a soloist, and there was a haunting quality to their three-part harmonies. Not only were they tighter than ever, but it was as if they'd leveled up even in their strongest area. A beautiful song performed with such heartfelt passion, we found ourselves moved right along with them.
("For What It's Worth," Breland) We were a little surprised that Breland looked nervous up on that block for this performance, and his bounce "dance" move wasn't really doing much for us. He came through with the voice, though, delivering a very cool country vibe that had multi-genre injections in it. We can see why he's talked about in those crossover conversations ever since dropping "My Truck." This reminds us of the early days of Shania Twain when they'd just swap out the musical track behind her and she'd be in a whole new genre. There's a tenderness to his voice, too, that drew us in. We just wanted a little more engagement.
Kane Brown f. Blake Shelton
("Different Man," Kane Brown f. Blake Shelton) An anthem with both a personal message for Kane and other artists like him, as well as an anthem for anyone and everyone who's ever felt different in their lives. There's the obvious path that others might see before you and society might say you should follow, but sometimes your heart knows better. Kane came out with a very cool, somber attitude in his voice that carried a lot of gravitas to his message, complemented well by Blake's signature sound. This is a brilliantly written song that definitely stood out on a night of other great performances.
("Santa, Can't You Hear Me," Kelly Clarkson & Ariana Grande) One of the greatest voices of her generation and it's just so effortless. The hardest working woman in entertainment returns to the stage of one of her many gigs ahead of her "Voice" return next season for a Christmas bop she first performed alongside Ariana Grande. Luckily, Kelly has the pipes to handle the whole thing herself, soaring beautifully and bringing the house down as only Kelly Clarkson can!
Brayden Lape (w/ Blake Shelton)
("Chasin' That Neon Rainbow," Alan Jackson) Oh, Brayden. You're a sweet kid and you're adorable, but you're just not ready for this yet. His voice was so timid and lackluster, it was almost drowned out by the band in the opening bars. Then, when Blake came in with his first verse, he sounded like he was phoning it in, creating yet another disappointing moment featuring Brayden. Hopefully, he continues to work on his craft because he does have that "it" thing Gwen talks about, but he doesn't yet have the vocal prowess (or strength) to back it up.
Bryce Leatherwood (w/ Blake Shelton)
("Hillbilly Bone," Blake Shelton) Bryce's classic sound doesn't quite work as well on these modern yee-haw good-time country songs, but he was clearly having a good time bringing the party with Blake Shelton. Underneath the mismatch of his style and the song, Bryce continued his streak this week of really bringing a rock-solid vocal to each performance. His rich timbre has really started shining through as he grows in confidence and stage presence.
("God's Country," Blake Shelton) Unexpectedly, this was bodie's choice to sing this song. We got a little exciting thinking he might "bodie-ize" it, running it through his indie-rock filter to come out the other side with even more emphasis on its message and the heart behind the piece. Instead, we got a straightforward cover of the song that bodie did well enough on, but lacked that special oomph to really make us remember what it is about him that is so special. Maybe it's just that we're disappointed that our last time seeing him sing on this stage wasn't a showcase of what he does best.
Omar Jose Cardona (w/ John Legend)
("Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)," Stevie Wonder) Where was this Omar who knows how to not go full throttle with every single note? A beautifully tasteful opening from both men as they matched one another's delivery and energy level perfectly. Look, even John is intimidated taking on Stevie Wonder, but he's not the kind of artist that wants stratospheric strength. With Stevie, it's more about cadence and character. Remarkably, for perhaps the first time all season, we saw that from Omar. Hopefully, he takes this moment to grow his artistry and embrace that his power is a treat and special, but doesn't have to be the main course, the side dishes and dessert with every meal.
Morgan Myles (w/ Camila Cabello)
("Never Be the Same," Camila Cabello) This is definitely a challenging song to tackle, but Morgan took this opportunity to prove just how versatile an artist she could be. Her heart may be in country music but she was a natural in this pop vibe. She also managed to show off some of her vocal prowess and power, taking a few moments to shine without taking away from Camila or the track. Honestly, we're ready to go to a Morgan Myles concert right now because she's just so fun to watch in every genre and on every song we've seen yet. Plus, we loved seeing the genuine affection and respect they have for one another shining through this whole performance.
It was a wild night on Monday with one of the tightest finales we've ever seen. Four of the five contenders really did lay it all on the line and any of the four could make a strong argument for victory. It may sound harsh to say Brayden Lape was outclassed and outgunned, but he'd been out of his league for awhile -- and honestly, shouldn't have even been here.
Of the other three, Bryce Leatherwood was the biggest surprise of the night, turning in his strongest performances of the entire season. Everyone else was a little more uneven on the night, though each had one stellar performance -- and great seasons backing them up.
Our final predictions were that if this were truly about the voice, it should go to Morgan Myles.
The fact that all three of Blake's semi-finalists advanced over far superior singers, in several cases, tells us it's more about the Coaches than anything else. If that proves to be the case, then Team Blake will win because of his fan-base, so it becomes a matter of which one.
After an incredible night, we surprised ourselves by seeing Bryce as a contender, but we couldn't overlook bodie's overall run this season, so he was our guess to take it all as it seems like this is more "The Blake" than "The Voice" this season. But is that what you did?
5th Place: We were off to a good start -- or at least the right start -- when Brayden Lape was announced the fifth place finisher. As we said, he should have never made it this far and we suspect had Blake not been his Coach, he wouldn't have. He's got great potential to grow into something special, but he really needs to work on projection and expanding what he can do to really shine. Luckily, at only 16 years old, he has plenty of time to do just that.
4th Place: After how the night played out Monday, this one felt right to us as well. Omar Jose Cardona has the biggest and most impressive instrument of the season, but it's more than just having that power. Adam Lambert showed how to hone a tool this impressive into something that can create true artistic moments at every level. Jose has the capabilities, he just needs to work on reining it in, as well as finding and projecting emotional connections to what he sings.
Surprisingly, Carson Daly didn't announce the third place finisher, instead jumping right to the winner's announcement with the Top 3 standing on stage together. It gave us a tiny shred of hope that Morgan might yet pull it off, but we knew it was a long shot.
3rd Place: It's a little disappointing that our favorite singer of the season landed in third place, but we can't deny that Morgan Myles was a little uneven Monday night. She slayed one performance, but not so much the other. Still, we're hopeful that her real bond with first-time Coach Camila Cabello might mean she gets a real shot at doing something in the industry, because she's one of the more ready contestants we've ever seen on this show We know it's rare for these "Voice" contestants to have actual careers, but we're really rooting for Morgan!
2nd Place: Honestly, based on what happened in this finale alone, we can't fault choosing bodie in second place. Across the season, though, he was definitely a stronger overall artist and contender of these final two men standing. The biggest problem for bodie, though, is that he started off incredibly strong and seemed to fade away a bit as the season progressed. With that trajectory, second place is a lot to be proud of.
Winner: That left perhaps one of this season's unlikeliest contenders as the ultimate winner of Season 22. Bryce Leatherwood came in with the coolest name, but it took him the entire season to really turn out his best vocal performances. He saved the best for last, improving week after week, peaking at just the right moment with Monday night's performance finale. Now, the biggest challenge for him is going to be trying to make a mark in modern Nashville with his classic sound. For that fact alone, it's fresh and interesting -- but will they bite?
"The Voice" returns for Season 23 on March 6 at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.