The final five competed — from home — this Monday to win The Voice Season 18, and really, any of them could take the title when Carson Daly announces the winner on Tuesday. Some viewers may gravitate towards the artistry of subtle singer-songwriters like Team Legend’s CammWess, Team Kelly’s Micah Iverson, or Team Nick’s Thunderstorm Artis; others may prefer the dynamite-diva stylings of flawless Team Blake powerhouse Toneisha Harris. Actually, it’s highly likely that Team Blake’s pastor/everyman/father of eight Todd Tilghman will prevail, as he smartly played right to his base this Monday, performing a MercyMe hit in his empty small-town church. Last week, Todd admitted that he’d already stocked his home with confetti for this week’s quarantined finale, and he has reason to be cocky — but anything could happen.
But no matter who wins, CammWess has sort of won already, because he can always boast that he was the first contestant in The Voice U.S. history ever granted permission to sing Prince’s most iconic song, “Purple Rain” — after his coach, John Legend, personally vouched for him to Prince’s estate. (Side note: Micah also became the first Voice U.S. contestant to receive clearance to sing Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” — which was cool too, though somewhat less historic.)
So, did CammWess do Prince (and John) proud? Does anyone other than Todd have a shot at winning this thing? Let’s assess the night’s 10 performances — each contestant doing a cover and an original (the latter with crossover-series assistance from Songland judges Shane McAnally and Ryan Tedder) — before I make my final prediction.
CammWess (Team Legend)
For his Prince cover, CammWess took the “Purple” theme to heart, with purple smoke, purple neon Spencer Gifts lightsabers, and a sparkly purple Zara blazer. All purple everything! This was, of course, a massive improvement over past at-home Voice performances whose lo-res effects resembled a Flying Toasters screensaver. I wouldn’t say this was a massive improvement over how CammWess typically performs, however, since I prefer his more solemn singer-songwriter side. But doing any Prince song is a challenge (it’s impossible to live up to Prince, really), and CammWess handled it well. Kelly Clarkson called him “gifted,” Prince fanatic Nick Jonas told him he did the song justice, and John said with a grin, “I knew Cam wouldn't let me down.”
CammWess’s self-penned, Tedder-coached original, “Save It for Tomorrow,” was actually fantastic. It sounded like John could have written it — or recorded it! It was honeybutter-smooooooth and serenely sexy. Maybe CammWess should have auditioned for Songland instead. “I hear it on the radio right now. … It feels like he's ready to be an artist and make music that the whole world should be listening to,” raved John.
Todd Tilghman (Team Blake)
Todd didn’t take a big chance doing CCM superstars MercyMe’s “I Can Only Imagine,” but playing it safe has taken him pretty far, so there was no reason to shake things up now. This was a pleasant, solid vocal, but certainly not as exciting as most (or, really, any) of night’s other performances. But his coach, Blake Shelton, gave the hard sell to Amurica anyway, calling Todd a “man of God” and declaring: “Todd’s really what this show is all about. He's never sang outside of church before. He lives in a small town. He has eight kids. The world should know about these artists.” John called this “a wonderful performance,” and Kelly sobbed into her ever-present wine glass and called Todd “special.”
Todd’s original single, “Long Way Home,” was super-meta, as it was penned by Ryan Innes, a contestant from The Voice Season 4 who had submitted the very same song on the Season 2 premiere of this year’s Songland. “Long Way Home” was rejected by that Songland episode’s guests, Lady Antebellum, but will the third time be the charm for Ryan? Perhaps, with Todd in his corner. It’s a good tune, and Todd did a good job with it. “I have always kind of been torn on how I feel about this ‘original song’ part of The Voice, but you have something that is so unique about you, that you can take an original song and breathe so much life into it that it just feels familiar. That's your gift, man,” said Blake.
Micah Iverson (Team Kelly)
Micah made sure Snow Patrol wouldn’t regret their decision to clear “Chasing Cars.” Dreamily performing the Britpop power ballad on his cozy, candlelit patio for his immediate family, he cast a delicate spell and made me feel like I had just flipped on my brain-massaging Calm app. This performance didn’t have any big breakout moments, but it didn’t need to. “It's effortless what you do, going from your head voice to your chest voice, the ache, it's so impressive — and honestly, so much better than most people on the radio right now,” gushed Kelly.
Micah’s McAnally-assisted earworm, the jangly and jaunty “Butterflies” (written by Troy Ogletree and Jason Strong), was magical. I was getting total Owl City/Postal Service vibes. This was my favorite of all five originals — it felt so current and cool, almost too cool for The Voice. “You will be the one to watch whatever happens in this show, regardless. I think you will be on the radio very soon and a force to be reckoned with,” said Nick. “I cannot wait to hear this on the radio,” concurred Kelly.
Thunderstorm Artis (Team Nick)
Thunderstorm’s cover song, Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” could have easily come across as clichéd by any other singer; it was actually just performed, rather sappily, by American Idol top five contestant Jonny West. But Thunderstorm gently tapped into the song’s true spirit; like Micah, he said more with a whisper than most contestants could say with a shout. “I wake up each day, as I'm sure so many of us do in this time when we have been quarantined at home, trying to find ways to stay encouraged, trying to find ways to stay connected to the ones I love and remember that although we are going through a really tough time, there is hope in this world, and it is a wonderful world. I believe we will get back to days like that. I am so grateful you brought that message,” said Nick.
Thunderstorm’s self-penned original, “Sedona,” reminded me of great modern indie songsmiths like José Gonzalez, Ron Sexsmith, Ray LaMontagne, and Badly Drawn Boy. This was warm and fuzzy and pretty, showcasing what John called Thunderstorm’s “raspy and angelic” tone and intricate, often overlooked guitar work. John also called this performance “mesmerizing,” while Nick said, “You just gave your best performance yet on this show. Congratulations.”
Toneisha Harris (Team Blake)
There is no doubt that Toneisha is the best technician of this Voice season — and one of the best of any season. If The Voice was judged by, well, the voice alone, she would win by a landslide. But her performance of Journey’s “Faithfully” was just a little too faithful; I wish she’d taken more liberties with her interpretation. Still, there was no denying that her vocals were at a stratospheric Steve Perry level. Kelly even called her “one of my favorite singers on the planet” and compared her to Chaka Khan.
Toneisha’s original, which she wrote as a tribute to her son, a leukemia survivor, was corny and old-fashioned — but she was clearly so connected to the material, singing from such a deep place in her heart, that she transcended the schmaltz. In the end, it was Toneisha, not Todd, who took the show to church. John told her, “This song was perfect for this moment that this nation and this world are going through right now.” Blake was so moved that I could almost forgive him for yet another one of his improper uses of the word “literally,” as he joked, “I was thinking maybe Toneisha hasn't heard, but we're supposed to be social distancing. She literally touched millions of people.”
So now, it is prediction time. I still think Todd has the edge, but Thunderstorm has a devout online fanbase, and Toneisha is in a lane of her own (which helped this year’s newly crowned American Idol winner, Just Sam, prevail in a top five finale crowded with four singer-songwriter types). So, I am going to tentatively guess that Todd will place first, followed by Thunderstorm, Toneisha, CammWess, and Micah (though those latter two could switch places). Tune in Tuesday to see if I’m right.
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