The Voice finalists: (l to r) Jermaine Paul, Chris Mann, Juliet Simms and Tony Lucca
What more is there to say, fellow Voice voyeurs? We’ve cartwheeled through what seems like 16,930 weeks of brackets, faceoffs, and duets, and now we’re down to the final four combatants in the big, red-chaired conclusion of The Voice. I suggest we celebrate by donning our most ironic t-shirts (Hell, I’ll wear a glittery “Team Xtina” baby tee too, Adam! Particularly if we’re wearing it at the same time!) and correctly the ranking last night’s performances. As usual, we’ll start low and work our way to #1. Will the winner of The Voice be justified? Not if the sepia-toned catalog of Josh Groban has anything to do with it!
4. Chris Mann: “The Voice Within,” “You Raise Me Up,” “The Prayer” (with Christina Aguilera)
Would you hate me if I revealed a soupcon of conscience? Because hear this: I sort of feel bad for placing Chris Mann fourth. I know he’s a crocodile-teared, ice-faced Il Divo understudy, and he even selected songs I hate (namely that hackneyed-ass Christina Aguilera ballad “The Voice Within,” the one with the Evanescence-scamming video), but I have to admire him for sticking to his guns, delivering America 400 scoops of maudlin balladry, and believing in his personal snoglobe of schmaltz. Schmaltz has a place! We can’t all be Iggy Pop and Chrissie Hynde. Some of us have to be that wide-eyed torch singer who duets with Vonda Shepard or the Christmas crooner with the holiday album, the Santa hat, and the reindeer-trampled grandma. Chris is just that guy.
But that’s the problem: He’s just that guy. For me, the critical point of failure was his selection of “You Raise Me Up,” the angelic Josh Groban panty moistener whose self-seriousness begs for Weird Al‘s interception. When Mann bleated the Oprah favorite, he sounded waaaay more like Groban than I wanted. In fact, he was mistakable for Groban’s own echo. The point of The Voice can’t be to regurgitate 10-year-old phenomena in a newer blazer and wolfier eyes. And we shouldn’t continue to allow Mann, who believes his instrument is an unrestrained, mythological panther of originality and boldness, to mistake his voice for anything other than a very impressive, very pleasing, tuneful display of very expected style. His rendition of “The Prayer” with the flu-challenged Aguilera was his best moment of the night, but I can’t see him overcoming the ignited fan bases of his competitors. Actually, I can’t even see him, period. Because his electric ultraviolet eyes blinded me back in March.
3. Jermaine Paul, “I Believe I Can Fly,” “God Gave Me You,” and “Soul Man” (with Blake Shelton)
I dare you to read Jermaine’s song selections again without giving way to a fit of enraged cackles. Am I projecting here? Because if I’m not mistaken, “I Believe I Can Fly” is an R. Kelly ballad from Space Jam. You may have already accepted that, but I only tolerate the Jock Jams-y bits of that soundtrack, not the ballads. If Jermaine had whipped out “C’mon N’ Ride It (The Train)” and made locomotion gestures with his arms the whole time, I’d have cried with joy and, consequently, believed I could fly. That’d have been nervy. But if I’m not mistaken, “I Believe I can Fly” is about touching the sky, flying past the stars on your Acme rocketship, and shooting a three-pointer as Marvin the Martian poignantly blinks. It is most certainly unworthy of a climactic vocal showcase — let alone one as eye-poppingly overwrought as Jermaine’s — and for that I have to dock him major points. The funny thing about vocal gymnastics is it produces the exact opposite effect of the singer’s intention: It’s not impressive or riveting. It’s boring. I was so bored with Jermaine’s performance of “I Believe I Can Fly” (and “God Gave Me You”) that I almost relegated him to fourth place on the spot. Don’t devolve into tears to telegraph vulnerability. Vulnerability usually happens when you aren’t weeping, really.
Thankfully, Jermaine reeled me back to the light with his version of Blake Shelton’s “God Gave Me You,” a surprisingly out-of-step turn for a guy who doesn’t spew country credibility. Sure, the tribute to Blake was a requirement of the episode, but I personally found the marriage of Jermaine’s insistent belting and Blake’s tender message a striking juxtaposition. It was interesting enough to best Chris Mann, whose song selections merely reiterated everything we knew and feared about him.