It's down to the top 5 on "The Voice," and two will go home this week ahead of next week's finals. All the remaining singers deserve not only to have made it this far in the competition but also to carve out real careers and make names for themselves in the music industry moving forward.
However, on Monday night's show, on which Usher worked up a sweat performing his new single "Good Kisser" and each contestant sang two songs – one dedicated to fans, friends and family and another selected by his or her coach -- a few clear candidates for the finals, and perhaps the win, started to emerge.
It's hard to predict how America will vote, of course, and each singer surely has his or her dedicated bloc of supporters: the country-music lovers, the rock 'n' rollers, the pop fans, the hopeless romantics. But here's how I'd rank the top 5 in order of most to least likely to win -- based on nothing more than my gut:
Josh Kaufman (Team Usher)
Dedication: John Legend's "All of Me"
Coach pick: OneRepublic's "Love Runs Out"
Kaufman poured his velvety vocals, silky-soulful sound and heart into Legend's "All of Me," which he'd dedicated to his wife and children as well as to his hometown supporters, then went from riveting to rollicking, kicking it into high gear on Usher's pick for him, OneRepublic's "Love Runs Out," performing it as if it were his own mega-hit. Blake Shelton called the first performance "beautiful and powerful" and said Kaufman was unquestionably destined for the finale – and deserved to be. What's more, Shelton said, "You bring a lot of credibility to this show." It was a surprisingly strong endorsement from an opposing coach, and Shelton also expressed appreciation for Kaufman's second performance, saying that when the singer rocks out, he grabs the song "by the throat," and complimenting his command and control. "You're a natural-born killer singer, man," Shelton told him.
Christina Grimmie (Team Adam)
Dedication: fun.'s "Some Nights"
Coach pick: Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek"
Adam Levine made a risky move on Grimmie's behalf by having her sing part of his pick for her, Heap's "Hide and Seek," through a voice processor called a vocoder. The other coaches were so-so on how it all turned out, but Levine was unrepentant, saying he and his team were "sick of" seeing everyone do the same old thing and he wanted to "surprise" and "impress" people and to make them "uncomfortable a little bit so that hopefully they can embrace some music they've never heard before." Grimmie rolled back the risk factor and upped the uncomplicated fun factor with fun.'s "Some Nights," which she dedicated to her hometown supporters and friends. The coaches were a bit distracted by the legions of balloons that dropped in as Grimmie finished singing – "Apparently, you won," Shelton quipped – but Shakira noted that, whether or not Grimmie actually did win, she should keep doing her thing because she was "so creative."
Jake Worthington (Team Blake)
Dedication: Waylon Jennings' "Good Ol' Boys"
Coach pick: Bryan Adams' "Heaven"
Before Worthington stepped out and sang Jennings' "Good Ol' Boys," which he dedicated to his pals back home in Texas, he told us he'd been a member of the Future Farmers of America. Of course he was! And though he'd clearly been struggling with his voice in the days leading up to Monday's live show, Worthington gave what may have been his vocally strongest performance yet with Jennings' country classic. Usher suggested Worthington's country appeal could win the whole thing. Levine said he was "as real and genuine as it gets," saying he should "have a 'made in America' stamp" across him at all times. Shelton hailed his team member for proudly representing "traditional country music." Shelton's pick for Worthington, Bryan Adams' "Heaven," was less impressive, falling a little flat at times, but the coach was no less proud, telling the 18-year-old country singer he "would be proud to share this stage" – any stage – with him "for the rest of my life."
Kristen Merlin (Team Shakira)
Dedication: Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead"
Coach pick: Jewel's "Foolish Games"
Merlin dedicated Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead" to her fans back home in Massachusetts, just because it was boot-stomping fun. Shelton, who is, of course, married to Lambert, noted that Merlin had sung the song with a smile on her face, which differed from Lambert's angry delivery, but generously said he'd thought both approaches worked. Merlin's coach, Shakira, pulled out all the complimentary stops, calling Merlin a "rock star" and a representative of "all the minorities out there" and underdogs everywhere, as well as a "hard worker," a "great person" and an "excellent performer." Shakira's pick for Merlin, Jewel's "Foolish Games," was actually the better selection for her. "That's the most connected that I've ever seen you be with a lyric," Shelton told her, adding that Merlin had "dumped her heart and soul into" it and moved him.
Kat Perkins (Team Adam)
Dedication: "Let It Go" from "Frozen"
Coach pick: Sia's "Chandelier"
Hoping for a "breakout moment," Levine assigned Perkins Sia's vocally challenging "Chandelier." Shelton complimented her on capitalizing on every opportunity she had to move forward – even through two near eliminations. Levine made a plea for voters to keep Perkins around for the finale, saying, "She is, hands down, one of the best singers we've … ever had" on "The Voice" and then defiantly saying that "whether or not that happens is irrelevant to me and Kat because we know we went out there and we did something different and refreshing and we love it." Perkins went more mainstream -- about as mainstream as she could get, in fact -- with her own choice, tackling "Let It Go" from the Disney film "Frozen," dedicated to the kids back in Minnesota for whom she is nanny. Usher said she had "killed" the "complicated" song. Levine hailed her for her consistency, saying she never made a mistake, was "always just right on the money" and deserved to be where she was.
All the singers deserve to have made it this far, but I'm predicting Kaufman, Grimmie and Worthington for the finale, with Kaufman, perhaps, capturing the win. But who knows? What do you think?Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times