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'The Voice' recap: The final three set fire to the stage

UsherAdam LevineCarson DalyAdele (music artist)
Based on Monday night's "The Voice" performances, any of the finalists could be deemed worthy of the win
Kaufman wowed, but country-music faithful could support Worthington, or Grimmie's fans could give her the win.

Who will win "The Voice" this season? Will it be sweet, self-effacing down-home country guy Jake Worthington, of Team Blake? Or soul-singing family man Josh Kaufman, of Team Usher, whose supple voice seems to combine satin and gravel? Or will Team Adam's creative young YouTube-famous pop vocalist, Christina Grimmie, carry the day?

This week, the voters will have their say. Based on Monday night's performances, any of the final three singers could be deemed worthy of the win.

Each of the singers sang two solos: a reprise, selected by America, of a song the singer had sung previously this season and a new one. Each also performed a duet with his or her coach – and the coaches themselves paired up to perform: Blake Shelton and Shakira (the only coach without a singer still in the competition) sang their song "Medicine," off Shakira's new album. And Adam Levine and Usher tried to out-falsetto each other on "Untitled (How Does It Feel)."

In between, the contestants were shown chatting with their coaches and with host Carson Daly, giving voters a clearer picture of those in contention for the crown.

Christina Grimmie (Team Adam)

For Grimmie, America picked "Wrecking Ball," the song she'd sung during her blind audition. Her performance, this time around, was even more explosive – and not only because of the impressive stage pyrotechnics. Shelton said it gave her the "opportunity to hit all those big notes we love to hear" and suggested it marked a return to form. Usher said it reminded him of Grimmie's start on the show, her progress and the way she always fought "to stay on top." Shakira said it highlighted Grimmie's "insane" upper register and said she'd again knocked the song "out of the park." And Levine marveled at the singer's "transformation" during her time on the show and at the way she'd made the song her own. He was, he said, "bursting with pride" for her.

After cutely dueting with Levine on "Somebody That I Used to Know," Grimmie tackled what she said was her "dream" finale song, Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love," in hopes of having an "epic" finish. One of the coaches once compared her to a mini Celine Dion, and with this performance, she again brought that comparison to mind.

Shelton admired her "willingness to take chances and to do something different," saying that covering Elvis was "the biggest chance you can take on this show" and that it had "sounded great." Usher called Grimmie an "incredible vocalist" and the song choice "really courageous." Shakira labeled the performance "flawless" and declared herself to have been "in complete awe." It was, she said, "neither a conservative choice nor an obvious choice," adding that Grimmie's individuality and willingness to experiment were her "trademark." Levine said she'd shown all the marks of a winner – "artistry," "technical ability," "determination," "fearlessness," the ability to make "great choices." He predicted she would "win this show" and vowed to do everything he could to make that happen.

Jake Worthington (Team Blake)

America also assigned Worthington his blind audition song: "Don't Close Your Eyes" by Keith Whitley, and he used the opportunity to show how far he'd come. Usher called Worthington's success this season, after an unsuccessful previous audition, a testament to the singer's "hard work" and Shelton's "coaching." Shakira said Worthington had always been the "guy that my fellow coaches wanted to grab a beer with" and that she "just wanted to squeeze," but asserted that he'd come to "gain credibility," which was key in country music. Worthington's voice was "just perfect on that song," she said – "tender," "real" and lyrically arresting. Levine noted that Worthington's "subtlety" and "memorable tone" were his hallmark and said he loved him "as a person" and "as an artist."  Shelton thanked Worthington for showing "so much respect" for country music of a certain generation.

Worthington and Shelton together gave a shout-out to that apparently dying breed on Hank Williams Jr.'s "A Country Boy Can Survive," but not before Worthington had sung his second song: Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting," putting his country spin on the 1989 ballad. 

Usher called it a "spotless performance" and told Worthington he'd pulled off the essential emotion of the song, saying "that right there is the trait of a real artist." Shakira said she was "loving these countrified versions of these iconic songs" and thought Worthington had sung "amazingly well." "I can hear power in your voice I never heard before," she told him, noting new "nuances," "subtlety," vocal breaks and "little cries" that were "very charming." Levine said he'd also noticed new nuances – a "sigh" and a "yip." "You've come such a long way, man," he told him. Shelton said that, in all his time on the show, he had never seen "a more honest, sincere narrator or messenger" than Worthington. "When you get on this stage and you sing something, people are engaged," he said, "and that's a trait that only a true country artist has."

 Josh Kaufman (Team Usher)

America stuck it to Adam Levine by choosing the song that prompted him to hand the talented Kaufman to Usher on a silver platter during the battles: Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours." And then Kaufman stuck it to him again by positively killing it. Daly rightly observed that it was if the singer had been "possessed."

Shakira marveled over Kaufman's charismatic, "dynamic," multifaceted vocals. "No one could ever get bored listening to you," she said, noting that it was "unbelievable" that Kaufman had nearly gone home the first time he had sung the song and calling him a "jewel" in the competition. Levine joked that Kaufman had twisted "the knife" by performing the song during which he'd made the crucial mistake of letting him go. Shelton said he'd sung "the crap" out of the song, quipping that he'd not only ad-libbed, he'd put "some Mad Libs in there." Usher said he and Kaufman had "the ability to change what 'The Voice' is," calling Kaufman "the new voice of 'The Voice.'"

While Kaufman and Usher didn't seem to totally click when they took the stage together with "Every Breath You Take," their collaboration seemed to reap better dividends on Kaufman's second solo outing, Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain," a risky choice. The show pulled out all the stops, production-wise -- the white suit, white mic and stand, white-clad onstage string section, and candelabra- and candle-strewn, white-fabric-draped grand piano; the fire -- and Usher advised his team member to pull out all the stops emotionally as well. Kaufman did, at one point dropping to his knees as flames shot up behind him. 

"Throughout this process, you have wanted to represent soul, and that is precisely who and what you are," Usher said after the crowd finally quieted down. "What you represent is something different, something that is courageous, something that changes the standard … It cannot happen that this guy doesn't win 'The Voice.' You are the winner of this competition."

That's for the audience to decide and for us to find out on Tuesday night, but Kaufman may have sealed the deal on Monday night. Then again, the country-music faithful could turn out to support Worthington. Or Grimmie's dedicated fans could vote her/lift her to the top.

Who do you think should be crowned the winner of "The Voice" this season?

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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UsherAdam LevineCarson DalyAdele (music artist)
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