If anyone doubted the talent of the four vocalists who made it to the finals this season on "The Voice," rising above all the other worthy contenders, the singers put those doubts to rest on Monday night.
Each of them — Team Blake's country turned soul singer Meghan Linsey, Team Adam's soothing-voiced singer-songwriter Joshua Davis, and two earnest, gifted teenage contenders from Team Pharrell, Sawyer Fredericks and Koryn Hawthorne — took the stage three times during the two-hour proceedings, singing one cover, one original debut "single," and one duet with his or her coach.
For the first time ever, "The Voice" gave the singers a chance to perform and record songs they themselves had written. Linsey and Davis took the show up on the opportunity, giving viewers a fuller view of their talents and capabilities. That's not to say Fredericks and Hawthorne didn't also rise to the occasion when it came to their original singles. In fact, both took advantage of a different sort of remarkable opportunity. Fredericks performed a song sent in just for him by his idol, Ray LaMontagne, and Hawthorne sang an inspirational tune completed for her by her own exceptionally accomplished coach, Pharrell Williams.
It was a night of super-solid, sometimes stellar performances. Clearly, all four of these singers want to win:
Koryn Hawthorne (Team Pharrell): The 17-year-old, single-mom-raised inspirational singer proved she'd come fully into her own with "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" by James Brown, which Levine called "unbelievable" and Shelton her "best performance yet." Williams commended her on the way she, a young woman, "respectfully" took control of the band and the room and the sound. "You were born for this," he told her.
After Hawthorne dueted with Williams on "We Can Work It Out," she took the stage with her original song, "Bright Fire," an inspirational song Williams had written, but said he'd "never quite got … right," until he met her. He said the song's good feelings and "sunshine" vibe were "what God is to us" and encouraged Hawthorne to bring church to her vocals. Levine marveled that Hawthorne had realized a dream so young by singing a song written for her by Williams. "That's crazy," he told her. "None of the rest of it matters." Williams, for his part, said his heart was "beating so fast" because they had performed the song, whose sentiments were clearly beyond special to them both, "in front of everybody." Sweet.
Meghan Linsey (Team Blake): Linsey launched herself as a soul singer, as Shelton put it, and sought to "empower women," she said, with a song about a bad relationship she'd cowritten with two friends, "Change My Mind." Levine declared himself proud of Linsey for performing her own song and proud of the show for giving her the platform to do so. Shelton said she was not only an "incredible" singer, but had written a "strong" and "powerful" song.
Linsey and Shelton dueted on "Freeway of Love," although she almost singlehandedly carried the vocals. Then she dug into "When a Man Loves a Woman," beginning on a set piece made to look and turn like a vintage turntable. Williams said Linsey had "completely rewritten" her future. Levine said her voice had an "extra gear" that made it special. And Shelton said that, if a performance could "change the course of events," Linsey had given it. "That is the performance of the night so far," the coach cannily declared.
Sawyer Fredericks (Team Pharrell): Fredericks, who will probably win this thing, dueted on "Summer Breeze" with his coach, then followed that up with the song that probably clinched it for him: the new tune LaMontagne sent him, "Please." Accompanying himself on guitar, as time-lapse images of blooming flowers burst like fireworks behind him, 16-year-old Fredericks was everything he needed to be: earnest, heartfelt and soulful. Levine told him that being able to perform a song given to him by his hero was incomprehensibly amazing. "Dude, you win," he said. "I don't even care what happens .… Game over." Williams said it felt "amazing" to "watch someone's dream come true" like that.
Fredericks got the final slot of the evening, bringing what Williams called his "rich sense of Americana" to Neil Young's "Old Man," performing amidst a host of dangling guitars. Levine begged Fredericks never to "lose sight" of "the purity, the sanctity of who you are and what you do." Williams said the teen's future was in front of him. "The clock starts now," he told him, adding, "You are living the dream and I'm so happy that I'm anywhere near your dream."
Joshua Davis (Team Adam): Davis may have a more limited vocal range than perhaps all of the singers remaining in the competition, but he showed off his breadth emotionally and as a songwriter with a song he'd penned himself about "hope in troubled times," "The Workingman's Hymn." Shelton called him a "great songwriter" and said it was a "good sign" that the tune had instantly lodged in his head. Levine said that, not only was it "the coolest thing ever" that Davis had been given and had taken the opportunity to perform his own song, but that the song itself was "fantastic." Davis was "the real deal," he said.
Davis may have squandered an opportunity to stake a serious claim to the win with his so-so, too-safe rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" (though Levine, at least, thought he had been successful at "bubbling over"), but he at least partly redeemed himself in his duet with Levine on Paul Simon's "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes," which was actually quite lovely.
So who will win? Judging from last night's performances, as well as those previous, and the current standings on the iTunes charts, where Fredericks is currently occupying the No. 2 and 4 slots, with "Please" and "Old Man," respectively, he would seem to have the win all but sewn up. Linsey, another consistently strong performer and fan fave, has also cracked the iTunes top 10, with her "Change My Mind" clocking in at No. 5 as of this writing, which will stand her in good stead on Tuesday night. All four singers are showing up somewhere in the iTunes top 15 songs.
My prediction: Fredericks for the win, Linsey second, and Hawthorne and Davis trailing. Of course, anything can happen. Soon the guessing game will reach its end and we'll know our Season 8 winner for sure.