'The Voice' recap: Final four sing for the win
It's finale week on "The Voice," and Monday night the four finalists — Team Blake's Jermaine Paul, Team Christina's Chris Mann, Team Cee Lo Green's Juliet Simms, and Team Adam's Tony Lucca — took the stage with three (count 'em!) songs apiece to vie for the win.
They had a lot to prove and a lot on the line, but for the most part they stepped up and showed themselves worthy of occupying their slots in the final lineup. It's probably safe to say none of the four contestants dramatically changed the game with their final official competition performances. (Each also sang a duet with his or her coach and soloed on one of the coach's songs, as a tribute.) Fans will remain fans, detractors will remain detractors.
Who deserves the win is another question entirely and one that America's votes, and America's votes alone, will decide. Mercifully, the suspense will be short-lived. We'll have to wait only a few more hours to learn the results. Tuesday night, the Season 2 winner of "The Voice" will be crowned.
My top thoughts heading into the moment of truth:
1. What does Christina Aguilera have against Tony Lucca, anyway? On Monday night she seemed to be gunning for him particularly hard, taking issue with his song choice, Jay-Z’s "99 Problems." The chorus of the song is "I’ve got 99 problems but a ... ain’t one,” though Lucca omitted the expletive from his version. Blake Shelton took a gentle poke at Lucca, saying he was "confused" by the lyrical omission, but then adding that the performance was "all fun" and "a really cool version of that song."
But then Aguilera said the "lyrical connotation was a little derogatory toward women." Normally, I'm sure I'd agree with her, but after seeing her pick-pick-pick at poor Tony, who comes across as a perfectly nice family man, week after week, well, I felt for the guy. Levine said the song's omitted word referred to "life" and not to women, which, OK was a little specious, but he'd clearly anticipated Aguilera's response: He tried to shut her down by flashing a "Team Xtina" T-shirt.
But Aguilera didn't stop. After her team's finalist, opera singer Chris Mann, sang her hit "The Voice Within," she clambered onto the stage and declared, "This is a real man, who respects women." The implied contrast was clear. And it seemed like an unnecessary kick.
I hope Lucca's young son wasn't paying attention.
2. On the other hand, Mann — whose final performance song, Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up," moved Aguilera to tears — certainly did prove himself to be a gentleman when backstage interviewer (a.k.a. "social media correspondent") Christina Milian asked him what he thought of the ridiculously low-cut dress Aguilera had been wearing (and almost, it seemed at moments, not wearing) during their duet of Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion's "The Prayer."
"Christina's dress, I saw that," Mann said. "I saw the dress."
Very delicately and diplomatically ducked, I thought.
3. How cute are Juliet Simms and Cee Lo together? Even if Simms and Green hadn't told us how much they've enjoyed working together and what close pals they've become, we'd have been able to tell from their onstage rapport during their rip-roaring duet on Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild." Simms had said it was like their "anthem." (Earlier in the night, she'd honored Green by singing Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy.") It also seemed to be a wonderful release after all those weeks of work: The spikey leather costumes, the start astride motorcycles, the caged dancers. Such fun. They really should continue to work together, as Green said they would.
4. Also great: Simms' dress for her final performance. Fiery and red, flowing and form-fitting, the gown looked as if it had been designed by Erte. And Simms seemed to wear it as comfortably as she did her final song, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird." It's possible that the dress, the cape of which at one point shot straight up in a surprise blast of air, stole focus from Simms' singing. Though good, the performance wasn't one of her most vocally intense. (She was apparently a bit ill.) But the moment when the camera caught Green, arm raised and swaying as if he was holding a lighter at a concert, was a season highlight.
5. The coach/contestant pairings were all pretty interesting to watch, revealing much about the relationships these musicians have formed during the course of the season. Jermaine Paul seemed to teach his coach, Blake Shelton, almost as much as Shelton had taught him, guiding the country star through a duet of the R&B classic, "Soul Man." Paul also paid moving tribute to Shelton with "God Gave Me You." "Thank you, man, for the opportunity and the chance," Paul said, adding that Shelton had boosted his confidence and meant more to him than he'd ever know. "God gave me you, bro. He gave me you."
6. Speaking of male bonding, the Levine/Lucca "bromance" was on full display during their duet of the Beatles' "Yesterday." It was sweet. But Lucca's performance of Maroon 5's "Harder to Breathe," apart from the part where he muffed the lyrics, was almost eerily similar to his mentor's original version. It was like seeing those "twinning" married couples who dress alike.
7. And back to costuming for a moment, Paul's look during his solo turn on R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" — perhaps his best performance to date, with some incredible vocal runs — also deserves serious kudos. Clad in a casually undone tux, he looked snazzy and sexy. Levine used words like "powerful," "casual," "matter-of-fact" and "elegant" to describe Paul's look and delivery. Green said he "looked strong, like a handsome man with a beautiful voice." Aguilera saluted his "heart" and "emotion," before adding that he was "classy" and "positive" and "shined like a superstar."
Come to think of it, do you suppose that Aguilera's comment was a shot across the bow at Lucca too?
As for a winner, I can imagine almost any of these contestants — with the possible exception of Lucca, though Aguilera may have helped him get the sympathy vote — taking the competition. Will this year's winner be the former background singer with the pop R&B chops? The gritty, quivery-strong female rocker? The classically trained opera singer? Or the former child star looking for a second chance at fame?
I'm rooting for Simms, if only because it's a man's, man's, man's world. Paul would be my second choice, though you can't fault Mann's vocals.
Who's got your vote?
Each week our experts and readers rank the best of the best between the two blockbuster singing competitions. As of Monday, readers put "The Voice's" Juliet Simms on top. Who will be the favorite this week? Vote below. And check out last week's performances and see what our judges had to say at latimes.com/idol-voice.
-- Amy Reiter