Who Will Win? We Size Up Chris, Jermaine, Juliet and Tony Before Tonight's Finale
The final night of competition in "The Voice" boiled down to three performances each of the final four contestants. They had a solo song, a duet with their coach and a song originated by their mentors to be used as a "Thank you" for guiding them through the competition series that began nine months ago.
And, of course, one song caused sniping between Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine. The song was Jay-Z's "99 Problems" that Tony Lucca sang without using the word "bitch." Aguilera, who has rarely had anything nice to say about the former Mouseketeer, took offense at the song by saying it's anti-women; Levine defended it, saying the rap hit was a metaphor.
Like all of the songs, it involved a considerable amount of set work and staging and a solid effort from the band. The week's big difference is that the contestants needed to learn five songs, two of which will be performed Tuesday.
"This was the most insane week of my entire life," Chris Mann declared within 15 minutes of the Monday telecast ending. "We learned three songs for tonight and we're doing two more tomorrow. Staging them, then the pressure just of being a finalist. Early mornings, late nights. Doctors, rehearsals, being scared, being excited, then today, it's real life. I was so overwhelmed."
Tony Lucca & Adam Levine: "Yesterday"
Jermaine Paul & Blake Shelton: "Soul Man"
Chris Mann & Christina Aguilera: "The Prayer"
Juliet Simms & CeeLo Green: "Born to Be Wild"
The tributes on Monday's program played extremely well, with Juliet Simms conquering the Gnarls Barkley classic "Crazy," Tony Lucca further cementing his rock credentials with Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe," Chris Mann enhancing his versatility with Christina Aguilera's "The Voice Within" and Jermaine Paul providing proof he can sing anything by tackling Blake Shelton's hit "God Gave Me You." If someone had to judge these singers on this segment alone, they'd be hard-pressed to pick a winner. They all not only proved themselves professionally, they also revealed that they are not held back by the boundaries of genres.
"What's so important for the world to know is you can't put music into a box, you can't put lyrics into a box because of a melody or a guitar or an organ -- if its acoustic, it's folk, if it's electric, it's rock," Paul said after the show, explaining his ability to pull from multiple genres during his journey on the show. "It's the same lyric, it's the same meaning. If you sing from your heart it will transcend race, language, space and time."
The finals are tonight (Tuesday) and each singer has another two songs to perform. Obviously they are outside the voting window, which bizarrely is open longer for East Coast fans than West Coast, but they were part of the package of tasks assigned the four singers a week ago after securing their spot in the finals.
Three of the performers suffered illnesses during the final week -- Tony Lucca avoided any infections -- and no one was struck worse than Juliet Simms. Hit with a 103 temperature, Simms did not sing any of her three songs during rehearsals; even her duet with Green on Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" was a first time experience for her.
"I couldn't sing so I was running it in my head while the band played," Simms said of the week's rehearsals.
The contestants learned about their tribute songs on Thursday, their duets and final numbers on Friday. Over the weekend, they found out about the songs they would sing on Tuesday with guest performers, most likely singers who departed earlier from the competition.
More than the other performers, Simms is big on making statements with the lyrical content of her song selections and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" was no exception. "The band was bred in me since I was born -- dirty Southern rock, I grew up on it," she said. "The message of being someone you cannot change was the message I wanted to leave the show with."
Having spent the last six weeks with the contestants, it's easy to get swayed by their demeanor. Simms has shown she has potential as a rock performer in the way she moves about the stage and the conviction with which she sings warhorses such as the Police's "Roxanne" and Skynyrd's "Freebird." For weeks Simms has appeared to be a front-runner and there's a good possibility that being the only woman in the competition will help her as much as the grit in her voice that is consistently compelling.
Paul has an exceptional voice and by covering songs from outside the R&B canon he demonstrates an affinity for interpretation that is soul-soothing and convincing. Is the only thing separating him from the top of the charts a good mid-tempo song… or will he always be one of the best back-up singers in the business?
Chris Mann, more than any other singer, has his target audience locked in and the ambition of any record he may make already set. He held his own with Aguilera on Monday and it's hard to root against him as he truly does embody the concept of "the voice": he has talent, phrasing, breath control, charm and stage presence, all of the things "The Voice" is seeking. But he works in a genre that appeals to the PBS crowd and buyers of Christmas albums -- he is not the prototypical pop star when it comes to material he will likely record.
Tony Lucca, the former Mouseketeer who cannot catch a break from Aguilera, sang "Yesterday" with Adam Levine, the closest he has come in weeks to the sincere singer-songwriter he was when the show began. In mid-season, responding to a crack from Aguilera who seems to not want him to advance, Lucca reverted to his rock 'n' roll self. He did that again Monday, putting Jay-'s "99 Problems" through the rock mill and partnering it with Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe." His backstory -- struggling musicians with a family -- has emphasized his age -- 36 -- and his pedigree -- former Mouseketeer with Aguilera, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.
"I think the show prides themselves that there's no age limit," Lucca says. "They celebrate the diversity -- people may be older but this guy still [gets] a shot. After awhile though I thought 'could we just not say how old I am.'"
For Lucca to win, he will need the support of voters impressed with his rock 'n roll sound and not the sensitive singer-songwriter he was at the beginning.
"If we did not shift gears I might be not be here," he says. "I might have proved to be less dynamic and less interesting to the voters. I was able to tap into skill set that was dormant for many years and any chance I got to play guitar or get close to the band, I was into it."