Swon Brothers come in third as final results fall into predictable patterns
Danielle dazzles: Danielle Bradbery was crowned winner of 'The Voice' Season 4 Tuesday, triumphing over unlikely underdogs Michelle Chamuel (background, right) and the Swon Brothers (not shown, although someone else's hands did make it into the photo).
So the underdog fell just short after all, and the front-runner stayed the course. Danielle Bradbery, a top seller and consensus favorite from the start, was crowned the fourth winner of "The Voice" Tuesday. Michelle Chamuel finished second, and another underdog act, the Swon Brothers, came in third.
And, since coaches and teams are constantly emphasized on the show, it should be noted that a member of Blake Shelton's team won for the third straight year. Blake had two of the top three; new coach Usher advised Michelle.
The Swons had defied the odds by surviving week after week, becoming the highest-ranked duo in the show's brief history, but no one expected them to finish higher than third. So it was no surprise that it finally came down to Michelle, whose gawky, awkward demeanor and dowdy eyewear made her the oddball favorite, and Danielle, a strictly conventional country singer who displayed an astonishing consistency and vocal skill for a 16-year-old.
Before that final showdown, of course, there was an awful lot of entertainment to enjoy (or endure, depending on your perspective). The finale of "The Voice" has grown to take on the proportions of the most lavish "American Idol" final spectaculars, so there were guest stars, comedy bits and "bring-back" performances that reunited many of the season's finalists.
Speaking of bring-backs, Christina Aguilera will supplant Shakira for Season 5, and she made a return to open the show along with Pitbull on their A-Ha-borrowing, lively smash "Feel This Moment." (It is interesting, in passing, that the only way Christina can get a hit these days is by singing choruses on OPH – other people's hits. Mariah Carey is more or less in the same situation, except she gets top billing even when guest artists do most of the work.)
During a round of otherwise routine generalities from the coaches, Adam Levine semi-retracted his prediction from Monday that Danielle would win. A needless hedge, as it turned out.
The Swon Brothers brought out two of their teammates, Holly Tucker and early casualty Justin Rivers, along with Adam's country-oriented Amber Carrington, to sing one of Lady Antebellum's livelier efforts, "Stars Tonight."
Michelle dueted with One Republic singer Ryan Tedder on the new "Counting Stars," possibly the group's best song to date, and she blended in admirably.
The funniest of several comedy bits, which I hope you'll pardon me for not recounting in their entirety (you should actually thank me for my restraint), was an exaggerated re-creation by Blake of some of Usher's more unorthodox coaching methods.
Florida Georgia Line were joined by Nelly for the pop-crossover version of their banal country blockbuster "Cruise." Finalists Garrett Gardner, Vedo, Kris Thomas and Josiah Hawley made a valiant attempted Temptations move, singing "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" fairly well and even trying out some of the Tempts' tamer choreographed routines.
Danielle brought back Sarah Simmons, the long-lost Caroline Glaser, and Amber again to launch an enjoyable four-part assault on Carrie Underwood's "All-American Girl." Bruno Mars showed the show's faux Temptations how retro R&B should be performed with his own "Treasure," a fine visual spectacle although it sounds better on record.
Well into the show's two-hour span by now, there were still more performances remaining before results were revealed. The Swons were able to attract the elusive TV presence of Bob Seger for an affectionate-seeming duet on the latter's "Night Moves." Also-ran contestants Karina Iglesias and Cathia, along with the more successful Judith Hill and Sasha Allen, combined for perhaps the night's top performance, a sultry version of the great En Vogue tune "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)."
After the top three were surprised by the gift of new Kias, Danielle teamed with Hunter Hayes, who did his best Keith Urban Jr. impression on "I Want Crazy." Michelle brought back her Usher teammates Cathia, Josiah and Vedo for an inconsequential cover of Stevie Wonder's inconsequential cover of the Beatles' consequential "We Can Work It Out."
The final performance slot went to Cher and her new, contemporary-sounding single, "A Woman's World," which continually reminded me of, for some reason, Robin S's now-obscure '90s dance-pop hit "Show Me Love." What an interesting way to celebrate one's mid-sixties.
And at last, the results were revealed, falling out along the lines of most viewers' expectations, if not necessarily their hopes. Danielle was congratulated, confetti rained from the ceiling, and the new winner attempted a reprise of her final Monday song, "Born to Fly," managing to get about three words out before emotions overcame her.
Danielle's "Voice" victory is the first for a flat-out country artist – last year's winner, Cassadee Pope, was a pop-rocker who leaned increasingly toward country under Blake's tutelage. She's certain to make waves in Nashville, which already has enjoyed a particularly bountiful harvest from the TV contests over the last year with "X Factor" winner Tate Stevens and "American Idol" runner-up Kree Harrison. Danielle likely has the greatest commercial potential of any of the TV newcomers.
Michelle's future is less certain, as it may prove difficult capturing her TV-performance lightning in a recorded bottle. The right material will be crucial, and she may be able to supply some of it, having put out several releases of original material in the past. But it remains to be seen whether her new popularity can be sustained over the long term.
Prospects may be brighter for the Swon Brothers, who would seem to have a good shot at a Nashville deal themselves. With continuing support from Blake (who has been generous to his team in the past), they could well be heard from again.
"The Voice" has been notably unsuccessful at turning its top contestants into stars thus far. This season's crop may change all that.
"The Voice" returns to NBC for Season 5 in September 2013.
Everybody's going to Vegas, and one incredible dancer is going straight to the top of the heap
Notable quote: "I was 3…I wish! I'm 43 years old!"
Visit to Atlantic City brings both the LOLs and the awws
No doubt about it: The first date of the night is the weakest. This is because it pairs up Des and Brad, who just don't need to be together. It seems like as long as they don't actually need to speak, they're just fine, and we see them take in some of Atlantic City's more family-friendly sights, like the Steel Pier and our lovely boardwalk. But geez, when they do have to talk, it is rough. Sample conversation:
Des: "So this is your first time on the boardwalk, right?"
Brad: "Yes, first time."
Maybe they're making it look more stilted than it actually was ... but it is still very, very stilted. Desiree is well aware of this: "I need to make sure it's not just qualities I see, but an actual connection." Things don't improve when they have dinner at the Absecon Lighthouse. Seriously: It looks Des would be happier if she could just lay on a couch with a new copy of InStyle. More conversation:
Brad: "You're so amazing."
Des: "Thank youuuuu."
At this point, Des basically decides to put Brad out of his misery: "Dinner was good. Dinner conversation, little rocky." They climb to the top of the lighthouse. Des has, notably, not brought any roses along with her. "Well, Brad. I absolutely loved every single moment, but I felt like something was missing." Like anything to talk about beyond how pretty she is. Brad's going home (to the surprise of exactly none of the guys back at the hotel.) Brad, mysteriously, gets super teared-up about this, but we'll just choose to believe he's emotional about leaving his son at home.
"The Bachelorette" airs Mondays on 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.
Last performance show lives up to season's high standards
The winning singer? Danielle Bradbery (Team Blake Shelton) did absolutely nothing to jeopardize her front-runner status on 'The Voice' during Monday's performance finale. Michelle Chamuel and the Swon Brothers will have to get out the vote big-time.
I don't know if they flipped coins, but if that's the method "The Voice" used to determine who would sing which of their three songs when, they must have used Danielle Bradbery's lucky quarter. Not only did she land the sweetest spot, but she got to save her most important number for the final performance of the evening.
Each of the finalists sang a duet with her or their coach, a reprise of a coach's-choice "defining" song from the season, and a new solo number. Obviously that last one had the most potential impact, but instead of having all three acts make it their finale, the producers switched it up.
That worked against the Swon Brothers, who opened the competitive portion of the show with their new tune. First, they had to follow a bombastic rendition by the Four Coaches (good name for a band … in 1962) of "With a Little Help From My Friends," of course using the plodding, overwrought Joe Cocker template that has all but obliterated from memory the affable Ringo original.
The Swons couldn't do anything about the luck of the draw, or following the coaches, but they presumably had some control over the new song they sang. So after having performed an Eagles ballad ("Seven Bridges Road") earlier in the season, they chose another one, "I Can't Tell You Why." It was sung well, with impressive brotherly falsettos, but wasn't the exciting show-opening kick in the pants the audience needed, and it seemed to go on forever. Usher joshed that it was "great you guys found the girl part of your voices. All that was missing was the third Bee Gee." Shakira said the "falsetto quite suits you" and praised their "universal appeal," and Blake paused to proclaim this year the "best season of 'The Voice' so far" (true) before patting his duo on the back for always "doing something new to expand your audience," adding, "and you did it again tonight."
Michelle Chamuel was up next with her defining song, which Usher decreed to be Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble," a choice difficult to dispute. Reprises nearly never match the initial impact, but Michelle built the intensity skillfully and it was terrific once more. Shakira said, "Your energy is contagious," and Adam further theorized that "you can't fabricate the energy. People are screaming so loud it hurts our ears." Blake said she had "become a rock star," and Usher repeated last week's comment that Michelle was "the winner," adding, "You can't have that many relatives to keep screaming."
The performances with the biggest potential indifference factor were the duets with the coaches, and Danielle got hers out of the way first. Actually, she and Blake did a delightful up-tempo Patty Loveless hit, "Timber, I'm Falling in Love," which sounds like a lost Buddy Holly song and delivered the goods, a little less energetically than it ideally could have. The judges recused themselves from comment on these duets.
According to Blake, the Swons' defining moment was Anne Murray's "Danny's Song." That may have caused fans of their "Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes," "Turn the Page" or "Wagon Wheel" to scratch their heads, not to mention that the last thing they needed was another sleepy ballad. Usher said they "personalized" it and "did it such justice." Adam called it "refreshing" and said their performance of a "classic record brings back great memories." Blake said, "You reinvented it," and claimed "it feels like it could be on radio today."
Michelle's new song came right in the middle of the show, meaning she would close with the coach duet, not theoretically the strongest way to go out. She sang Annie Lennox's "Why," a challenge she met admirably, starting by singing into a magic mirror that suddenly stopped reflecting her movements and showed her in a different pose. The gimmickry was effective, but didn't overshadow her subsequent conventional, strong vocal. Blake said, "I'm still freaked out about that mirror trick you did. That was cool." He added that it was important to show her more "laid-back" side. Shakira dropped some philosophy, declaring, "When you have humility on one side and talent on the other hand, that's the perfect recipe for long-lasting success." Usher, in a similar vein, said that "likability and capability" make for a "powerful artist, and that is what you possess."
The Swons jumped the queue ahead of Danielle to sing their last song in the competition before she had performed her last two. The brothers joined with Blake to sing Brad Paisley's pointed and hilarious poke at reality shows, "Celebrity," a badly needed injection of up-tempo fun.
Danielle's definer followed, and after botching the choice for the Swons, Blake came through with Pam Tillis' "Maybe It Was Memphis" for his teen star-in-waiting. It was the right choice – great song, powerful performance, and it's always nice to hear plugs for William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams in a country song. Shakira told her, "You've pulled the bull by the horn. You've gone straight to the vein of America." The only way Adam could top those compliments was to say she has "one of the better voices I've heard live" and added, "I think Danielle is the winner of this thing." Blake bolstered the case for Danielle by calling her "one of the most important artists we've ever seen walk across this stage."
How could the show follow that? Not too well, as the finalists were joined onstage by the rest of the season's top 16 to sing Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' "Home," not to be confused with Blake Shelton's "Home" or Phillip Phillips' "Home" – this is the one with the annoyingly Lumineers-like "heys" strewn through it.
After that distraction, Michelle and Usher dueted on U2's "One," a good choice set off by a nicely understated arrangement. However, Usher couldn't help dominating through the strength of his vocals (laying back comes more easily to Blake), so it may not have been Michelle's strongest possible send-off.
Danielle had that final spot to present her new song, and she didn't blow it. Sara Evans' "Born to Fly" is very country, upbeat, and demands some range, which Danielle displayed plenty of in a winning (possibly in both senses of the word) rendition. Usher said she was "special," Adam said, "Your perfection is almost boring me," and Blake said, "I'm one of the millions of people out there that you have wrapped around your finger."
Rating the night: It's a talent-show truism that voters have already made up their minds before the final performance show. But if this evening swayed anyone, I'd have to say they'd be most likely to head in Danielle's direction. All three songs were well chosen, she sang impeccably, and her positioning was optimal. Michelle also did very well, but – largely because of order and positioning – probably had less overall impact than Danielle. The Swon Brothers got the short end of the stick and didn't help their cause with two ballads.
"The Voice" Season 4 finale airs Tuesday, June 18, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
Everyone knows that Ted loves Peggy, except maybe Ted
"Mad Men" airs Sundays on 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
Sword swallowers, escape artists and one dude 70 feet in the air share their skills
Michelle and Danielle also survive as predicted, Amber and Sasha depart
Swon for the money, two leave the show: Continuing their unlikely but not undeserved run of 'Voice' success, the Swon Brothers, left, emerged triumphant over Sasha Allen and Amber Carrington, far right, to win a spot in next week's finals against favorites Michelle and Danielle.
It's hard to say there was an upset on "The Voice" Tuesday, since the obvious finalist candidates were the first two announced and the final slot was a crapshoot anyway. And personally, I'm not at all upset that the Swon Brothers floated into the finals with Michelle and Danielle.
There was a sharp and alarming drop in the quality of music performed, but that doesn't really matter on a results show, where you're mostly sitting impatiently through the songs waiting for the voters' decisions.
And the voters' decisions were good, ensuring that this season, no matter who wins, goes down overall as the show's best.
Fall Out Boy were joined by Michelle for their flashy-but-tuneless comeback hit "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark." Then last season's third-place winner, Nicholas David, made his return, providing the first of three strong reminders why this has been a superior "Voice" season. His new single, "Say Goodbye," featured his acoustic guitar and a hat, but those same affected vocals were unaffected by the changes. Sonically, he ditched his R&B/blues leanings to hop aboard the acoustic neo-folk bandwagon that all the lamer kids are into, but even the Lumineers would have thought twice about singing a song this tiresome.
But we had done enough penance – the first result was revealed: Michelle was safe. Score one for Team Obvious.
Season 2 finalist Tony Lucca played his new single, also from an EP (it's a sweeping generalization, but EPs are usually a sign that your label isn't confident enough in you to risk a full album). "Never Gonna Let You Go," featuring Tony on guitar and hat, turned out to be lightweight but enjoyable pop-rock fare, but it was still clear that Tony couldn't have competed with this season's cast.
You may recall a bucketful of verbal bouquets I tossed toward the producers for their consistently good taste in group-song vehicles. Let me retract that – Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," sung by the top five, was as hopeless as anything on "Idol" (though better harmonized).
No thorns for Danielle, however; she was the second finalist announced, leaving a true toss-up for the final spot.
Season 3 runner-up Terry McDermott sang his new single, also from an EP. "Pictures" was an exercise in plodding tedium. How pleasant it was this season to be spared those antique classic-rock stylizations.
Still, all the mediocre performances served their main purpose, for suddenly there was virtually no time left to drag out the final result, which I have already spoiled for you by revealing that the Swon Brothers snagged the last spot in the finals. I'm pleased for them – "Turn the Page" was a master stroke Monday, and let's hope "Danny's Song" was an aberration. But they'll still have a tall hill to climb to beat Danielle and Michelle next week.
Eliminated: It's sad that Amber, who was a versatile and accomplished singer who made a few intriguing choices, has to depart. It's not so sad that Sasha, easily the most conventional of the five remaining contestants, will join her in "Voice" oblivion.
"The Voice" airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
Questionable song choices balanced by strong performances
No respect: Amber Carrington is an acknowledged underdog on 'The Voice,' but she sang well enough Monday to earn a spot in next week's finals. Will voters agree?
I can't stress this enough: There's nobody remotely close to a mediocre singer left on "The Voice" this season (a stark contrast to last season), so the songs are of the utmost importance. And on Monday more than half of them were lacking.
It has been a pretty solid season for song choices this year, so a slump may have been overdue. But it was a bad time for it – when five singers are competing for three places in next week's finale, everyone needs to stand out. And dredging up the old warhorses or newer material that's less than riveting is not a good way to accomplish that goal.
Opening the show, Usher provided an object lesson on how to sell a new song. Actually, "Twisted" sounds old – another entry in the recent run of retro R&B numbers spearheaded by Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake (and Cee Lo before that). This falsetto-focused tune was very Prince-like, except where Prince would have blasted a guitar break, Usher dazzled with a dance break. Times change.
The competition proper began with the Swon Brothers, who dedicated Bob Seger's "Turn the Page" to their bandmates past and present. The minor-key ballad is one of the best road songs in the canon, and the Swons did it justice, with perhaps their best performance yet, demonstrating how to sing a classic rock ballad with sensitivity and guts. Usher unleashed his first "incredible" of the night, Adam called it "another great performance," and the Swons' coach, Blake, said it set the bar really high for the night. He felt they had shown the biggest growth week to week of any contestant.
So far so good, but Sasha Allen changed that trend by choosing "I Will Always Love You," Whitney-style. That's why I would have preferred her to be gone by this stage – I was afraid she was most likely to go to the dry well of over-familiar ballads. Judith or Sarah – or even Holly – wouldn't have laid down such a weary tune. Sasha had nothing to bring to it except a lot of smoke billowing around the stage. It was karaoke of a high order, but still karaoke. Adam termed it one of the two hardest songs to sing (along with "The Star Spangled Banner") and said she took her own approach to it. (Maybe she took it with her offstage – it was hard to hear it as performed.) Usher said, "That voice will keep you here." Sasha's coach, Shakira, was impressed with the courage it took for Sasha to sing the song (courage that has been displayed, it might be added, by dozens of contestants before her) and rhapsodized, "So beautiful, so pure."
It was homecoming night on "The Voice," mirroring a popular late-season "Idol" feature, and Michelle Chamuel got the love of the populace of Amherst, Mass., and the greater Boston area. She then sang a rather puzzling Usher choice, the current dance-pop hit "Clarity," by Zedd featuring Foxes. Not a bad song by any means, certainly preferable to the likes of "I Will Always Love You," but just not a total consensus hit nor a truly compelling song that allows Michelle to shine, as did "I Knew You Were Trouble" last week. Adam said she was always amazing, Blake said he always hopes another coach's singer stumbles, but Michelle never does. Usher said, "I'm proud that you never do," and congratulated himself on the song choice.
Danielle Bradbery's homecoming was celebrated by the citizens of Cypress, Texas, and much of Houston. Blake chose Tim McGraw's "Please Remember Me," written by the great Rodney Crowell, but this ballad is far from either's best effort, featuring a pleasant verse that succumbs to a big, generically bland chorus. It's the wrong kind of song for the youthful Danielle, and her vocals were too showy. Usher, perhaps casting about for a substitute all-purpose compliment after exhausting "incredible" for the next decade or so, said, "Amaze-bells!" and praised her control. Adam observed, "From a technical standpoint, it doesn't get more proficient than that." Blake marveled, "There are no weaknesses in her singing. How the heck is that possible?"
Amber Carrington dedicated Katy Perry's "Firework" to her best friends – Amber's, not Katy's, who might well be the other participants in her "Last Friday Night" menage a trois. "Firework" is not only an all-too-common music-contest staple, it's the gifted Perry's most generic (word of the day on my pocket calendar) song, one of the innumerable "you're really special so feel better about yourself already" anthems littering the landscape. Like Sasha with her Whitney cover, Amber sang well but the specter of karaoke loomed large. Blake raised another good point – he was disappointed it wasn't country, which was supposed to be Amber's specialty. But he added that the "power of your voice is phenomenal." Shakira wasn't nearly so impressed, suggesting that Adam add "Firework" to his shortlist of hard songs to sing, and adding, somewhat lukewarmly, "but you did good." Adam, Amber's coach, declared she was the best singer in the competition and said the best thing about her was that she didn't fit into a niche.
The Swon Brothers were unlucky enough to kick off the second half of the show as well as the first, insuring that they'd be farthest from undecided voters' minds at the episode's end. They received the adulation of Muskogee, Okla., then sang the ancient Kenny Loggins number popularized by Anne Murray, "Danny's Song," leaving curious viewers to wonder just what remote crevice of which lost cave they pulled that one out of. Performed adequately at the piano, the song, still sentimental and lackluster after all these years, may prove to be -- you must have expected this one – their Swon song. Usher thanked them for "making us love country music," which would have been a more meaningful compliment had they actually performed any country songs Monday. Adam revealed that it was one of his favorite songs, and said it was an "incredible rendition." Blake claimed that tonight was the biggest they'd had on the show.
Sasha went home to New York and an outpouring from friends and family, then redeemed herself with a Donna Summer song. Great as Summer was, you always fear the worst after a tease that someone will do a Summer song, since it's usually "Last Dance" or "She Works Hard for the Money" or "Dim All the Lights" or similar mush, but Sasha did "Bad Girls" in front of a colossal sign spelling out her name in lights. Rich in attitude and power, it was one of her season's best. Adam loved the song choice and performance, but teased her about the sign. Usher also poked fun at the neon extravagance but said she was great. Shakira proudly proclaimed, "You've become this phenomenal performer."
Danielle dedicated her song to her best friend and parents, then sang a song that could have been written for her, "Who I Am" by turn-of-the-century country phenom Jessica Andrews, who was Danielle's age (16) when the song became a hit. It's a joyous celebration of family heritage, and Danielle sang it directly to her mother, fortuitously present in the crowd, in a gesture so sweet even a cynic (not that there are any of those recapping "The Voice") couldn't resist it. Usher was moved to send out his love to his own family, then said, "That right there is why you're still here." Shakira said Danielle was the "cutest thing ever" and "such a little star." Blake assured the audience that Danielle was the same "unaffected" girl she always had been, and topped Shakira by saying, "She's a superstar."
Rockwall, Texas, and Dallas in general expressed its appreciation of Amber, who sang a song by her coach's band, Maroon 5. Thankfully it wasn't one of those unlistenable hits from the group's early days, but a newer song called "Sad," a pretty piano ballad not terribly dissimilar to Rihanna's "Stay." The unfamiliarity may have been risky, but Amber sang it exquisitely. Blake congratulated her on making one of Adam's songs so beautiful and praised her "emotional" vocal. Usher declared himself "really blown away," and Adam said she sang it "better than I did." (Not touching that one.)
Finally, Michelle, in the sweet, show-closing slot, dedicated Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" to her coach, Usher. Good song, but performed far too often, thus requiring a truly distinctive version. Michelle came close to managing that in her impassioned finish, but mostly it was just solidly good but short of a knockout. Shakira said Michelle is on "a permanent crescendo," Adam said she took the song to another level, and Usher, with time running out, announced, "You're the winner!"
Triumphs and triage: Michelle wasn't the winner of the night, but it's unlikely she did anything to hurt herself. Danielle saved one of her most charming performances for last and also seems sure to make the top three. My preference would be for Amber to complete that final trio, especially because of the way she pulled off the Maroon 5 song, but I'm not sure if that will work for her. Sasha did a good job of making up for her Whitney crimes (and, I need to remember, many voters like people who cover Whitney songs). If the Swons had switched the order of their songs, I wouldn't be so worried about them, but "Danny's Song" was a snooze and a half.
"The Voice" airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.