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The Voice: Final Four of Season 8, 5/18/15

May 19th, 2015 · No Comments

by Lyn Jensen

They’ve sung, we’ve voted, and now we wait to see who wins season 8 of The Voice. Internet consensus is hyping teen WGWG Sawyer Fredericks as the front-runner, but Meghan Linsey has the country vote–always a major factor in these contests.  Voters could also decide veteran WGWG Joshua Davis, a family man, is who needs the top prize, a Republic Records contract. Then there’s Koryn Hawthorne, an unknown factor.  She wasn’t voted into the final field of twelve, but she’s never been below the cut, despite a series of shaky performances.

In this format that’s like a sporting event for music, judges win, too. They’re not just judges, they’re the contestants’ coaches and team leaders.  Blake Shelton could win his fifth Voice trophy, Adam Levine his third, or Pharrell Williams could confound them both and win his first. (Wouldn’t that make for a super-competitive season 9?)

Last night–Monday–contestants had three more chances to pull votes their way. They interpreted one last cover selected by their team judge, sang one duet with their judge, and debuted a song specifically selected to be their first single release should they win. (Their “first” single, of course, is somewhat relative, as all finalists have been charting regularly on iTunes over the season.)  We were treated to some amazing moments–and some missteps, too.

First Round:

1-1.  Koryn Hawthorne (Team Pharell) covers “It’s a Man’s World,” a popular choice for these singing contests because it allows for many different interpretations. After several shaky previous outings, she finally sings like she deserves to be in the final four. If she’d sung this well every time, her chances would be taken more seriously. Pharrell heartily encourages her (as he does his other teenage team member, Sawyer) and it’s paid off for him, with his two awkward teens proving to be the top discoveries of this season. After the performance, Blake says plainly, “Your best performance yet.” Pharrell comments how his teen pop princess controlled the band–and the room.

1-2.  Meghan Linsey (Team Blake) debuts a song she co-wrote, “Change My Mind.” She says it’s about empowering women, how they don’t have to change for a guy. Blake tells his fellow Nashville veteran how she’s made her first step as a solo artist, regardless of whether she wins or not.  He coaches her, “we’ve got to understand every word … all the frustration you felt with this guy … dump it all in.” He calls her a soul singer–but she’s country soul (and that helps explain her other songs tonight). Blake especially likes her performance. “That hook is so strong, so powerful,” he says. “You want me to change so I’ll change–my mind.” It’ll be interesting to see how well the country-music industry responds to her now.

1-3.  Sawyer Fredericks and Pharrell flashback to the seventies for a folksy half-forgotten Seals & Croft ballad, “Summer Breeze.” It’s staged in a funky seventies style, too, with people sitting on rugs while playing instruments. It’s like a jam on somebody’s porch on a summer day, and even the audience joins in.

1-4.  Joshua Davis (Team Adam) debuts a song he wrote, “Working Man’s Hymn,” where his similarity to Springsteen–a very reserved Springsteen–shows. Adam likes the way the song isn’t just another love song but rather takes on something bigger. Unfortunately whenever Davis rocks, the music tends to overwhelm the subtleness of his voice–but Adam sure likes what he’s hearing! Adam says the song’s fantastic, and Blake complains it’s already stuck in his head. It should do well on iTunes, where the recording shows a better balance between vocals and music than this live performance did.

Second Round:  

2-1. Sawyer Fredericks (Team Pharrell) talks with Pharrell about how he’s picked up “a lot” of Ray LaMontagne’s guitar and style. Now LaMontagne’s provided him a love song, “Please,” for his debut single. As Adam observes, that would be like Eddie Vedder giving him a song when he was 16. The bluesy song allows Sawyer to show his emotional as well as his vocal range. “I got to watch someone’s dream come true,” says Pharrell.  We all did.

2-2.  Koryn Hawthorne and Pharrell go back to the seventies (again, as with Sawyer) to reinterpret Stevie Wonder’s version of “We Can Work it Out.” We see a sign of Koryn faltering at the end, though–she’s had her peak moment already tonight.

2-3.  Joshua Davis offers his interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It’s a favorite choice for these TV singing contests because it allows for interpretations on multiple levels.  It can be inspirational, cynical, or–in Davis’ style–a love song. This time we get to hear his vocals up front. During judges’ comments, Christina praises his versatility. Adam talks about timing and an “uncontrollable bubbling over of passion.”

2-4.  Meghan Linsey and Blake take on Shelton’s love of eighties’ music–trying to turn Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love” into country soul. This song is so unchallenging, though–does anybody really know what it’s saying?  You’re writing love songs about a freeway or–just what kind of freeway are you writing songs about?

Third Round:

3-1. Joshua Davis and Adam dig deep in the Paul Simon catalog and channel their inner Simon & Garfunkel for “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” It demonstrates how their voices are oddly similar.

3-2.  Koryn Hawthorne has the honor of having Pharrell Williams write a song for her, titled, “Bright Fire.” Even though the judges stay positive, she’s obviously falling short here.  Her first performance of the night was by far her best. Chance of her finishing any better than fourth looks very dim now.

3-3.  Meghan Linsey gets a disastrous song choice, “When a Man Loves a Woman.”  This performance only serves to demonstrate she’s no Kimberly Nichole or India Carney or even Koryn Hawthorne. She comes off as loud and shrill, not big and bluesy. If she wins, it’ll be despite this performance, not because of it. (Blake thinks she had the performance of the night but he’s biased.)

3-4.  Sawyer Fredericks is the only Voice contestant this season who’s made the top ten of iTunes every week, so he’s fairly obviously the front-runner. Pharrell’s song choice is brilliant–allowing Fredericks to give Neil Young’s “Old Man” a teen perspective. Sawyer says the song shows many different feelings–wanting to connect with one’s father but being angry, too. (He’s careful to say he’s never felt that way about his own father. ) In Fredericks we could be witnessing the birth of a new type–a teen idol pin-up who dwells in the stripped-down acoustic scene. Afterwards, Christina praises how well Pharrell worked with Sawyer, especially considering how the boy could have paired with Adam or Blake. Adam offers major advice, “the purity and sanctity of what you are–don’t ever lose that.”

So whoever wins, The Voice has introduced us to some major new talents this season. People sometimes complain about how they don’t hear much about the talent afterward–but that depends to an extent how closely fans follow their faves long after the season’s over.


Tags: The Voice