Of course we learned on Tuesday night's season finale of "The Voice" which singer had taken this year's top honors: That would be 16-year-old budding country star Danielle Bradbery, who bested her fellow Team Blake members the Swon Brothers (third place) and Team Usher's Michelle Chamuel (runner-up) for the win, earning proud coach and birthday boy Blake Shelton his third straight victory.
But that revelation wasn't handed to us straight off the bat. Nope. We got the results only in the last five minutes of the show. Before that we sat through nearly two hours of performances by a disparate batch of musicians -- new and old and very old.
Christina Aguilera made her return to "The Voice" stage, if not to her red leather chair (to which she'll return next season), dueting with Pitbull on "Feel This Moment." Her entrance was splashy and dramatic: a huge drape dropped (and flew) to reveal her perched high on a pedestal, looking ready to dive in like the late great swimming screen star Esther Williams. Mercifully, she did not and made a gradual descent instead.
Bruno Mars brought back '70s style with leisure suits, disco balls and line dances on "Treasure." Florida Georgia Line and Nelly teamed up with their infectious summer confection "Cruise." Nashville sweetheart Hunter Hayes teamed up with the equally adorable Bradbery on his hit "I Want Crazy." She looked a bit star-struck -- or was it love-struck? -- but still sang spot-on. Could Shelton have been up to more than musical matchmaking?
Chamuel joined OneRepublic on the band's "Counting Stars," and could definitely be counted among the stars onstage. Doing her bendy-kneed stomp in shiny red pants, she was impossible to look away from -- and she even inspired OneRepublic's lead singer to do a few of her signature moves.
The Swon Brothers, meanwhile, had a dream-come-true moment forming a trio with Bob Seger in a performance of his "Night Moves." "That might have been the coolest thing we've done, period," Carson Daly said afterward.
Previously eliminated contestants were brought back to sing with the top three finalists and in groupings on their own. We got funny glimpses into Shelton's bromance with Adam Levine, and the new rival for the country coach's affections, Usher. "Usher has awakened new feelings in the depths of Blake's heart," Shakira said. We got the coaches riffing on Shakira's big words (don't ask any of the other coaches to spell "diaphanous" or "juxtaposition") and Shelton lightheartedly tweaking Usher for his unorthodox coaching methods -- and proving that he's not only the winningest coach but also by far the funniest.
And then, just before the end, we got the other thing we'd been waiting for: a live performance by Cher.
Cher! Old enough to be Danielle Bradbery's grandma but looking, if not quite like her sister, at least like her youthful aunt, the iconic performer appeared in one of her trademark out-there getups (blingified leather; fishnet; wacky, chickenish hair), flanked by gyrating dancers, to debut her new single "Woman's World," in what was billed as her first live TV performance in more than a decade.
Was she singing live? Who knows? Maybe, I guess, over a backing track. But honestly, it hardly mattered. Watching her out there doing her thing, albeit slowly, at age 67 -- a year younger than Seger, I should point out, but then he'd remained seated during his performance -- was riveting regardless.
Equally fascinating were the inscrutable looks on the judges' faces as they watched her perform. What was that we saw on them? Curiosity? Concern for Cher -- or for their own future?
Still, it was rewarding to be reminded, on a show in which new musical careers are launched each season, that those careers don't have to be a flash in the pan. A handful of performers can make their time in the spotlight last a lifetime. Cher is living proof.
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