The time is almost here for The Voice to crown its eighth winner. Tonight (May 18), the final four contestants: Sawyer Fredericks, Meghan Linsey, Koryn Hawthorne and Joshua Davis each tackled three songs (including new singles) as they fight to succeed Craig Wayne Boyd as "The Voice."
I won't talk too much about how crowded this field is, but it's worth noting. Say what you will about The Voice versus American Idol, but the latter always has narrowed it down to two contestants, making the finale feel more like a spectactle and the two remaining performers as incredibly special. But, The Voice had double that amount and very little glitz around this penultimate episode, making the finale feel more like, well, just a top four performance.
But, this top four is strong. Led by frontrunner Sawyer, each singer plead their case... some more successfully than others. Check out how it went down below:
Koryn Hawthorne, "It's A Man's Man's Man's World": Ooooh lawdy. Koryn Hawthorne has never been the loudest, boldest or proudest performer on The Voice season eight, but she's always had a lot of power behind her vocals. So, this James Brown classic was a surefire choice to show off her range and power - two of Koryn's major strengths. And, she did just that. From beginning to the end, Koryn was on one, showing that she can and possibly should win this show. This is what a big, powerful woman sounds like. And the kicker, as always, is that Koryn is just 17 years old.
Meghan Linsey, "Change My Mind": "You want me to change / Baby, I'll change my mind," Meghan Linsey sings in her original coronation single, which will be released and promoted by Republic Records if she wins The Voice. The importance of a strong single cannot be understated in a competition like this... it made Nick Fradiani win American Idol last week. For Meghan, this song had more importance as her first soul single. Though this is what she really wants to do now, I still feel like Meghan's best moments have been in country. "Girl Crush," "Tennessee Whiskey" and even her twangy version of "Amazing Grace" were all standouts. So, while her vocal was understandably strong and this song has some connectable lyrics, there was something inherently dull about this song. This is not a winning single.
Sawyer Fredricks, "Summer Breeze" with Coach Pharrell: There's nothing inherently exciting about Seals & Croft's "Summer Breeze," so this performance was always going to be a little bit of a snooze-fest. The Voice seems intent on making Sawyer a complete and total hippie (really, I think he's just a sensitive farm kid), so the setting for this coach's duet was completed by a Woodstock on TV-style late 1960s living room set. Sawyer's vocals, as always, were pretty here. There's not a ton of stressors in this song, and he delivered his portions of the song well, easily outshining his coach's turns on the solo. And speaking of which, these two have worked together for weeks and weeks on this show, and there was still zero chemistry on stage. Everyone was so stiff! Eek!
Joshua Davis, "The Workingman's Hymn": So, Joshua Davis just wants to be Bruce Springsteen like really bad, right? Given, the Boss is the sort of rock music that any dude with a guitar should aspire too, but "The Workingman's Hymn" was just oozing with that sort of blue-collar rock. I mean, just look at the title if nothing else. Think John Mellancamp, too. So, this is who Joshua wants to be. Makes sense. "The Workingman's Hymn" then sort of followed suit by being really mellowing - a midtempo song with a sunny disposition about making it through the tough times, somehow. For all of the originality that this single lacked in its composition, the performance was really becoming of Joshua, who seemed very at home on stage, finally able to perform his own music.
Sawyer Fredericks, "Please": Sawyer Fredericks loves him some Ray LaMontagne and it's clear he takes a lot of sonic inspiration from him. So I bet this 17-year-old kid was totally cheesed when the singer-songwriter sent along an original single for him to perform on the finale. I mean, I was excited for him, and I'm just a casual LaMontagne fan. This song oozed of his touch, from the power up in the chorus to the tender lyrics. And, of course, since Sawyer clearly takes a lot of inspiration from LaMontagne, he matched his mannerisms perfectly, very much easing into this performance. This was the third coronation single performed, and it was the first one that really seemed to have a great connection. When this is a thing that can make all of the difference, it seems like Sawyer is even more of a frontrunner than he was earlier in the day.
Koyn Hawthorne, "We Can Work It Out" with Coach Pharrell: Leave it to Pharrell to take this Beatles classic and give it a crazy, funky R&B makeover, which is exactly what he did for Koryn Hawthorne. I sort of expected to hate this in concept, but in execution, it was really enjoyable to watch. Koryn's voice and her general ~vibez~ mesh better with Pharrell's better than Sawyer's do, and the staging and arrangement of this single worked really well. Koryn oftentimes sings these real serious songs, so it was really genuinely refreshing to see her let loose and lend her vocals to something with a more pop edge. This worked. Yay.
Joshua Davis, "Hallelujah": Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is one of the most prolific and beautiful songs ever written - it also happens to be an over-covered song not just in the popular music landscape, but on singing competitions, as well. So, it was really not a surprise when Joshua Davis was chosen to sing this classic hit. He gave it a little bit of an acoustic rearrangement, picking up a guitar over the more common piano. In the grand scheme of things, this cover was fairly forgettable. Not just in terms of "Hallelujah" but in the terms of this episode of The Voice. It was nice, soft, pretty... but there were no real rollercoaster emotional highs or big notes or anything. It was just sort of, well, there.
Meghan Linsey, "Freeway of Love" with Coach Blake: Meghan Linsey seems to be using this finale episode to really establish herself as a soul singer. An obvious choice here would have been to take on some great classic country music male-female duet, but instead this coach and performer decided to opt for an Aretha Franklin cover. You want to commend her on going for something unexpected, but this song and arrangement didn't translate as well vocally for Meghan or as something timely for 2015. It was clear that Blake and Meghan go way back and they definitely had fun, but the song itself didn't do it for me.
Joshua Davis, "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" with Coach Adam: Each and every one of Joshua Davis' song choices tonight made so much sense, it was kind of laughable. Like, of course he would perform a Paul Simon cover for his song with his coach Adam Levine. Joshua and Adam gelled together musically very well, and they were seamlessly able to trade off singing duties. There was a lot of pep in the chorus, but that didn't translate so much into Joshua's actual performance, which fell a little flat even if the vocals were on it.
Koryn Hawthorne, "Bright Fire": So, it's pretty cool to be 17 years old and have Pharrell Williams write and produce a song for you. But, that's the sort of advantage that Team Pharrell has on this show. Because Pharrell is who he is, this song was the coronation song that felt like it could really be a hit in 2015. It almost had the flavor of a sunny Beyoncé track. Now, Bey wouldn't release this as a single, but it's more than good enough for Koryn. The vibe was happy and great for summer, which once again, it was nice to hear from the oftentimes-serious Koryn. The vocal seemed a little bit difficult for her, but she seemed to make it work well enough. More importantly, however, this is the first song that really felt like it had a home on radio, and that can make all the difference.
Meghan Linsey, "When a Man Loves a Woman": The Voice has this arc for Meghan Linsey, you see, where she comes from a broken relationship and band to rise as a new solo act with new love. So, when she auditioned with "Love Hurts," it only seemed right for her to exit this show with "When a Man Loves a Woman." This song had a lot of the same elements that made her "Girl Crush" single really break out: vintage guitars, a nice melody with beautiful highs and lows and emotional lyrics. It was delightfully gripping and quite the note to go out on.
Sawyer Fredericks, "Old Man": It's so weird that Sawyer would exit this show by covering Neil Young (jokes!). For his final performance, this whippersnapper did what he did best: emotionally connect to simple, acoustic rock music and hope that it makes people feel something so much that they decide to buy his music and vote for him. That's been an easier feat for him than most this year, so he ended by doing just that. I don't think that this was Sawyer's best moment of the year (that would be "Simple Man"), but he definitely delivered well enough with that fascinating vibrato and a small smile on his face.