“The Voice” performance finale did not disappoint.
There were great performances. There was controversy. And there was, and still is, plenty of suspense. Who won? I have no idea. (Voting continues until 10 a.m. if you still want to weigh in.)
Let's start with the controversy. Team Adam Levine finalist Tony Lucca reworked Jay-Z's “99 Problems” into a folk-blues number, changing the verses into something about “the crossroads,” and turning the chorus into, “If you're having girl problems, I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems, but a [pause] ain't one.”
As stunts go, it was a pretty good one. A Mumford & Sons-y version of a hip-hop classic? What could go wrong?
Cue Christina Aguilera. She called Lucca out for picking the song. “Your beautiful wife and daughter and family are here and I just thought, you know, the lyrical connotation was a little derogatory towards women,” she said, coolly. “But, all in all, I thought it was fun.”
Levine defended Lucca later, saying, “It's called a metaphor.”
But Aguilera wouldn't back off and the nudge-nudge, wink-wink way Lucca treated it didn't help. If it's a metaphor and you have nothing to be ashamed of, say the word. If you know the word is too much for prime-time TV and not what you want to put out there, then, um, don't do the song and do something else. Later, when Aguilera congratulated her team's finalist, Chris Mann, she said, “This is a real man, a man who respects women.”
Cee Lo Green may also have referenced it later, when he changed into a T-shirt that read “NO PROBLEMS” and pointed to it, after his team's finalist, Juliet Simms, performed.
It's clear that Lucca thought that because he could not out-sing his three competitors, he needed a craftier route. The ploy gained him fans, landing his version of “99 Problems” at No. 4 on the iTunes chart, the highest of any of the finalists' tracks. But the move probably lost him some as well, and it also probably intensified the fervor of the others' fans to vote for their favorites.
It's too bad, really, because his other two performances – a gorgeous version of “Yesterday” with Levine, and a well-crafted take on Maroon 5's “Harder to Breathe” – showed his remarkable improvement over last week and could have made him a contender on his talent alone.
Lucca had an opening because one of the favorites, Juliet Simms, was clearly struggling with illness throughout the show. Usually a fiery performer, her tribute to Green on Gnarls Barkley's “Crazy” was uncharacteristically lackluster and her teaming with Green on “Born To Be Wild” was only OK. Simms needed a grand performance for her finale and she delivered one with a stunning take on Lynyrd Skynyrd's “Free Bird,” which showed off her wide vocal range and intense artistry. Was it enough? (“Free Bird” currently sits at No. 10 on iTunes, second-highest among the finalists.)
It might have been, if Chris Mann wasn't around. His opera-infused pop was powerful throughout the night. First, his duet with Aguilera on “The Prayer” was glorious, showing off both incredible power and incredible restraint in his voice. After that performance, there really was no doubt about who has the best voice in the competition, though the question about who has the most popular one still remains.
On Josh Groban's “You Raise Me Up,” he showed exactly the kind of artist he wants to be, using his big voice to build big, emotional connections in these ballads. (“You Raise Me Up” is currently No. 13 on iTunes.) Unfortunately, the connection was something he couldn't quite sell in his take on Aguilera's “The Voice Within.” Since the finalists' versions of the mentors' work was a surprise, Aguilera didn't coach him on the choice, but someone should have told Mann that a knockout version of “Beautiful” or “Reflection” would have won him the competition outright. (Actually, if he let loose on “Dirrty,” the lightheartedness would have helped him too.)
That brings us to Jermaine Paul, who, as he has been all season, was good and dependably on-target in his songs, especially the roof-raising “I Believe I Can Fly.” He let loose a bit on his duet with Blake Shelton “Soul Man” and actually seemed to make Shelton's “God Gave Me You” a better song. Unfortunately, his connection isn't as deep as Mann's or as wide as Simms' or Lucca's, which will likely leave him out of the winner's circle and the contract with Universal Republic tonight.
Of course, Paul and all the finalists are pretty much guaranteed contracts somewhere after tonight's results are announced.
Chris Mann and Christina Aguilera, “The Prayer”
Juliet Simms, “Free Bird”
Tony Lucca and Adam Levine, “Yesterday”
Chris Mann, “You Raise Me Up”
Tony Lucca, “99 Problems”
Jermaine Paul, “I Believe I Can Fly”
Tony Lucca, “Harder to Breathe”
Jermaine Paul and Blake Shelton, “Soul Man”
Jermaine Paul, “God Gave Me You”
Chris Mann, “The Voice Within”
Juliet Simms and Cee Lo Green, “Born to Be Wild”
Juliet Simms, “Crazy”
PREDICTIONS FOR FINAL RESULTS: 1. Chris, 2. Tony, 3. Juliet, 4. Jermaine
ACTUAL RESULTS: 1. Jermaine, 2. Juliet, 3. Tony, 4. Chris
UPDATE: I'm happy for Jermaine Paul. He was certainly the most consistently good of the four. But his win does call into question how "The Voice" weighs the various voting methods to pick a winner. On the iTunes chart, the most expensive way to vote for a finalist and presumably an accurate gauge of popularity since it costs $1.29 per vote, Jermaine finished fourth -- the standings there were Tony, Juliet, Chris, Jermaine. His lead among phone calls and the other choices would have to have been enormous to make up that gap.
Pictured: The final four contestants on season two of "The Voice": from left: Chris Mann, Juliet Simms, Jermaine Paul and Tony Lucca.