Even though it's pretty much a useless endeavor, fans of reality TV talent shows love to compare "The Voice" with "American Idol." Who has the better singers? Best production values? Top judges? Most bloated episodes? Etc. etc. ...
There are valid arguments to be made on both sides, in various categories, but there's one area that "The Voice" just can't measure up: It has yet to produce a chart-topping phenomenon.
And now we've come to Season 4's final showdown between Danielle Bradbery, Michelle Chamuel and The Swon Brothers. Season 4 is when "Idol" gave us Carrie Underwood, who followed "Idol"'s Season 1's breakthrough, Kelly Clarkson.
Can "The Voice" finally step up and produce a star? Is there a chart-topper among these three finalists?
That remains to be seen, of course, but Monday night's performances might have a big say in the matter -- if we can make it through yet another two-hour show (For three singers!). Our contestants will sing three songs apiece: One an encore of a "defining moment," one a duet with their coach, and one new offering.
But before we can get to those performances, the night begins with the coaches -- Usher, Shakira, Adam Levin and Blake Shelton -- combining their talents on the Beatles' classic "With a Little Help From My Friends." OK, all four of them may be sharing the love but only two of them, Blake (Danielle and The Swon Brothers) and Usher (Michelle) still have horses in this race.
And they're off ...
The Swon Brothers (New Song): The Eagles' "I Can't Tell You Why"
The Eagles are a good fit for the guys, who are about as edgy as the 1970s country-rock band. Too bad "I Can't Tell You Why" is the sleepiest, most bland song the Eagles ever recorded. At least it gives them a chance to show off some falsetto. But, still: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Even so, Usher gives some back-handed props (with a reference to the Bee Gees) and Shakira waves a "Go Okies" pennant, because, after all, no one criticizes anyone on this show.
Michelle Chamuel (Encore): Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble"
It just came to us: Michelle reminds us of "Darla," the quirky cartoon heroine from MTV fame. She's our beloved dark horse coming into the night and this performance might be better than her first time around. The power and the fierceness are all there, along with the squatty-spastic moves. How can you not like her? Shakira calls her energy "crazy" and "contagious." Adam points out her crowd support, claiming they scream so hard "our ears hurt."
Danielle Bradbery and Blake Shelton (Mentor Duet): Patty Loveless' "Timber, I'm Falling in Love"
Never one to go easy on the hype, Blake calls Danielle "one of the strongest vocalists on Earth." That's kind of laughable, but she does come in as the apparent front-runner. The question is: Does this old, relatively obscure country song help her cause? One other question: Is it creepy at all that a 16-year-old is singing with a much older dude about "falling in love"?
The Swon Brothers (Encore): Loggins and Messina's "Danny's Song"
This was really lovely and sweet the first time around and nothing happens here to change that. We love how they finesse and caress the lyrics, and work in some nice harmonies. It does seem a little funny, though, that their so-called "defining moment" came just a week ago. Usher admires how they personalized it and calls it an "incredible" rendition. Adam says it's a classic that brings back good memories.
Michelle Chamuel (New Song): Annie Lennox's "Why"
Interesting. Michelle starts out by singing to herself in the mirror before turning around to face the audience. She's clad all in white. Lots of emotion and heart. Shakira shows her support by donning glasses and calls it "beautiful." Blake is hung up on the "mirror trick," but likes how Michelle showed a more "laid-back" side of herself.
The Swon Brothers and Blake Shelton (Mentor Duet): Brad Paisley's "Celebrity"
Is this fair? The Swon Brothers close out there night and Danielle still has two songs to go? Can you tell who the producers are pushing? Anyway, the guys have lots of fun on this tongue-in-cheek song about fame and reality shows, supermarket tabloids, etc. It's pretty much forgettable, though.
Danielle Bradbery (Encore): Pam Tillis' "Maybe It Was Memphis"
This one takes us back to early in the season, when Danielle was starting to make a name for herself. And it established her specialty: Mid-tempo, country-pop songs. There's no doubt, she's a technically precise singer, but she still doesn't have much of a stage presence after all these weeks. Is "robotic" the right word? "Passive"? Then again, she just 16! Shakira -- now wearing a cowboy hat -- says Danielle grabbed "the bull by the horns" during this performance. Adam comes right out and says Danielle will win the crown.
Michelle Chamuel and Usher (Mentor Duet): U2's "One"
Damn, we love this song. Of course, no one does it like Bono and Mary J. Blige, but Usher (who starts it off) and Michelle do an admirable job. And it's great to see the two of them up on the stage together -- two very different people ("we're one, but not the same"), who seem to have forged a genuine friendship.
Danielle Bradbery (New Song): Sara Evans' "Born to Fly"
One more performance before voting begins. The video clips remind us how far Danielle has come -- from a shy girl who had never performed in public, to the singer many believe will not only win the competition, but will be the most marketable contestant ever produced by the show. This snappy song does nothing to damage that reputation as she basically nails it. The crowd loves it. Usher calls her "a special thing." Adam says her perfection "is almost boring" at this point.
So what did you think of the over-padded final? Who do you think SHOULD win -- and who WILL win?