They don't call it "The Voice" for nothin'. It was a big ole battle of the multi-octave divas on Monday's final "Voice" Season 5 showdown, as the remarkable Tessanne Chin took on Whitney Houston's near-untouchable "I Have Nothing," and then pint-sized powerhouse Jacquie Lee belted Jennifer Holliday's gauntlet-throwing Dreamgirls epic "And I Am Telling You." Even with the volume turned down, this was one very loud episode.
But where did that leave the quiet man of Season 5, scrappy singer-songwriter Will Champlin, who sang in between these two mighty-lung'd ladies? Did he get lost in the shuffle? Or is it possible that Tessanne and Jacquie could cancel each other out, thus leaving an opening for the nerdy, likable Will to pull off one of the biggest underdog upsets in singing-show history on Tuesday's grand finale?
Let's recap all of the performances and assess...
Tessanne Chin (Team Adam) – For their first numbers, each of the contestants revisited their Blind Audition songs, which I thought was a bit of a cop-out on the show's part. I would have preferred to hear new tunes. But hey, if I had to hear a "Voice" oldie, at least it was a goodie, because Tessanne's cover of Pink's "Try" was just about as fantastic as I remember it being the first time around. If anything, she rocked a little harder this time, more confident than ever after coming off of such a strong Season 5 run. Her presence, as she worked the stage in an elegant jumpsuit and an architectural updo, was the presence of a true star. A rock star. "Everything you do just draws me in," gushed Tessanne's proud coach, Adam Levine. "I've enjoyed the process of working with you so much…[Your talent is] exceedingly rare. I've never seen anything like it in my life."
Will Champlin (Team Adam) – I don't recall being all that impressed by Will's first audition, mainly because his song choice, Gavin DeGraw's "Not Over You," was so ho-hum. I really would have rather seen him sing something else tonight. But that being said, this was a marked improvement over his Blind Auditions version. Before, he was scruffy and a bit geeky; now, he'd somehow morphed into an Adam Levine mini-me, with a salon haircut, a GQ suit, lots of swagger, and maybe even a few moves like Jagger. But he's still a lovable dork at heart; there's just something endearing about the guy, and when I see him onstage, I always root for him. "There isn't anyone who works harder," said Adam. "I have profound respect for you. You have really overcome the biggest hurdles in this competition." Then Christina Aguilera, the only other coach still in this season's running, actually said Will was in the "bottom three" instead of the "top three." An innocent flub, a Freudian slip, or just straight-up shade? With Xtina, sometimes it's tough to tell.
Jacquie Lee (Team Xtina) – I remember when Jacquie did Amy Winehouse's torchy and tortured "Back to Black" at her audition, I thought the song was all wrong for such a bubbly young Jersey girl. But over the course of the season, the rapidly maturing 16-year-old seems to have grown into the song. It suited her better this time around. Unfortunately, her youthful excitement, nerves, or eagerness to please eventually got the better of her, and towards the end of the performance she became almost painfully shrill, almost screaming the song. But her potential was still immense. Proud coach Christina called Jacquie a "gem" and announced, "I've been in this business a long time, and let me tell you, she is going to go so many places."
Tessanne & Adam – Each contestant also shared the mic with his/her coach this evening, and I wasn't sure how Tessanne and Adam's voices would blend, especially on a beloved Beatles ballad like "Let It Be." These singers are just so different: the reedy-voiced rocker and the Jamaican queen. But their duet worked out much better than expected. They had great chemistry onstage and seemed to really enjoy performing together ("I have never been more excited about any performance in my life," exclaimed the hyperbolic Adam during rehearsal), and the Police-esque reggae jam during the last minute of the song was truly inspired. Very, very nice.
Jacquie & Christina – Christina chose to duet with her protégé on her own Hunger Games soundtrack song, "We Remain." Of course she did. Just like she picked her own song "Beautiful" for her duet with Beverly McClellan in Season 1. Some things never change. Anyway, Jacquie totally held her own, although sometimes the two ladies did sound like they were battling each other to see who could sing the loudest. At times, this duet unfortunately brought out the shoutiness in both singers. But it was cute to see them holding hands like besties, Jacquie clearly still enamored with Christina and Christina taking on a sweet, big-sisterly role. I really do hope Christina does right by Jacquie and keeps mentoring her after the show is over, regardless of what happens or who wins. I see a real bond between them.
Will & Adam – Oh, heck yes. "Tiny Dancer." The Almost Famous song. I got teary-eyed and tingly-toed the moment I knew that these guys would be singing this Elton classic. I enjoyed their joint performance, but there was one problem: Adam was better than Will. It was like watching an episode of that short-lived talent show "Duets," on which the celebrity coaches consistently outsang their protégés. Will simply got upstaged here, and that's too bad. Hopefully a (slight) misfire like this won't keep Will from becoming fully famous.
Tessanne – OK, now it was really time to go for the gold. Adam was NOT playing when he assigned Tessanne Whitney's "I Have Nothing." Clearly he believed that Tessanne could pull it off, and I didn't doubt her abilities either. But Tessanne actually seemed a little nervous, stressing, "I can't sing Whitney like Whitney!" Well, she came pretty darn close. This was the kind of performance one might see at the Grammys, or even on the Oscars: a true tour de force, the performance of a legend in the making. A song like this would have been the undoing of most other contestants, but let's face it, Tessanne Chin isn't like most other contestants. "I was so thrown off kilter by how you do this…It's really unlike anything I've ever heard. You're just capable of everything, and it blows me away," gushed Adam, declaring Tessanne the winner right then and there. Adam may have been correct in his prediction…but regardless, he probably should not have made that comment right before his poor other contestant, Will, had to sing.
Will – Will got Bryan Adams's "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You." Seriously? Ugh. He'd have a tough time following Tessanne with that sapfest. But Will's true fighting spirit came out again, and he sang his heart out. I liked this performance much more than I thought I would. (I loathe this song, and I was overall disappointed by all the "American Idol"-ish song selections tonight.) I liked the fact that Will didn't get carried away and oversing (he's been guilty of that many times before on this show). The performance was heartfelt and simple, and when he serenaded his wife (who's currently battling a brain tumor) and baby daughter, and his wife started to cry, my own eyes started to mist over, too. It was a lovely performance, but Adam seemed to think it was Will's swan song, saying things like "I consider this a victory for you" and "You've won already" and "There have been so many little victories for you" and "It doesn't even matter if you win." It felt like a kiss-off. Well, I am sure it still matters to Will and his family if he wins! If Adam was trying to gently bid Will goodbye, his tactic may have backfired, because worried/angered fans may now pity-vote for Will instead of Tessanne.
Jacquie – If there is any song more epic, ambitious, and advanced than "I Have Nothing," it's "And I Am Telling You," first made famous by Jennifer Holliday and later by "American Idol's" Jennifer Hudson and, um, Norman Gentle. (It was also performed by new "X Factor U.K." winner Sam Bailey across the pond this week.) This was a big song for such a little girl, and to be honest, I don't think she completely captured the desperation of the lyrics. Jacquie probably hasn't had her heart broken yet, and doesn't have any lovelife experience to draw from. But vocally? She was totally on point. She was impressive. She nailed every note and looked like a glamorous pop star, poured into a Mariah-worthy, molten-gold freakum dress while fireworks ignited behind her. She owned the stage, and with this being the last impression in voters' minds, she may end up owning the season.
So now, it is prediction time. Who's going to prevail on Tuesday's finale? You know, this may be the biggest toss-up in "Voice" history, or at least since Season 2 when Jermaine Paul somehow won. After two seasons dominated by obvious frontrunners/eventual winners Cassadee Pope and Danielle Bradbery — thus resulting in somewhat anticlimactic finales — it's exciting to realize that really any of these contestants have a shot of winning.
Will Champlin, the season-long underdog and "pinball of the competition" who was shuffled from team to team, not to mention the only male ("WGWG") or rock contestant in the mix, definitely has a chance. The sweet family moment he had during his final number could sway voters, and his fans (aka the "Champs") are ardent and very mobilized and organized online. If he won, I'd be happy for him, and so would much of America.
However, if it really comes down to the VOICE, then it really comes down to Tessanne vs. Jacquie. Jacquie has the support of Jennifer Hudson and Lady Gaga, who tweeted their praise and encouraged their millions of followers to vote for the young singer. But as of this writing, Tessanne has two songs in the iTunes top 10, so I'm going to guess that the winner will indeed be Tessanne. I have no idea who'll place second or third.
There will be an answer, soon, so I'm going to let it be for now. Tune in Tuesday to find out what happens, and to see guest performances by Lady Gaga with R. Kelly, Celine Dion with Ne-Yo, OneRepublic, and a bunch of your returning "Voice" Season 5 favorites. In the meantime, let's rewatch the coaches' Monday night performance with Def Leppard of "Pour Some Sugar on Me," just because it was so awesome: