In perhaps the most shocking Voice result since Jermaine Paul beat out Juliet Simms, Tony Lucca, and Chris Mann five years ago, on this Tuesday’s quadruple-elimination show, a pair of presumed frontrunners and consistent iTunes charters — indie wunderkind Hunter Plake and sweet country teen Brennley Brown — went home, heartbreakingly just one week before the big Season 12 finale.
Instead, two dark-horse contestants galloped through to the finals: Team Blake’s pop-soul prodigy Aliyah Moulden, who made the top three via Monday’s public vote (along with Team Blake’s country crooner Lauren Duski and Team Alicia’s soulful showman Chris Blue), and Team Adam’s bluesman Jesse Larson, who won the real-time Instant Save Twitter vote in a nail-biting sing-off against Hunter and Brennley.
So… if you were reading that last paragraph carefully, you may have noticed that the words “Team Gwen” were never mentioned. Yes, Hunter and Brennley were Gwen Stefani-mentored contestants — and up until this this week, Gwen had been doing a bang-up job with both singers. Season 12 practically seemed like Gwen’s season to lose. So how did this happen? Why will Gwen be the only coach sitting out next week’s finals, after losing both of her promising team members in one night?
Well, the first instinct would be to blame Gwen for some questionable coaching decisions. After all, she did encourage Hunter and Brennley to “switch it up” (i.e., stop doing everything that was working for them) in a crucial week — with imaginative song-flipper Hunter doing a disappointingly straightforward, Imagine Dragonesque performance of U2’s “With or Without You,” and Brennley ditching her charming ‘70s folk vibe for a peppy, throwaway cover of Sara Evans’s lightweight “Suds in the Bucket.” However, no contestant can truly be forced to do a song that he or she isn’t feeling, so Hunter and Brennley have to shoulder some of the blame here.
But there were other factors (and conspiracy theories!) to consider. Song choice may have doomed Hunter and Brennley, but it certainly helped other contestants, particularly Chris and Aliyah, who performed religious ballads (always crowd-pleasers with the mainstream Voice audience) on Monday and as a result made it to iTunes’ top 10, just behind chart-topper Lauren.
And then, there was the matter of performance order. Hunter got the “death spot,” singing first, and even his duet of the night, with Aliyah, came early in Monday’s episode. Brennley also sang early, in the night’s third solo slot. Conversely, Aliyah got the “pimp spot,” closing the show, which no doubt helped her odds.
Additionally, some fans gossiped on Twitter about backstage shenanigans, audio issues, and alleged busing, claiming that producers had it out for Hunter for some mysterious reason, or that the powers-that-be had sabotaged Brennley to clear the way for Lauren, with whom Brennley undoubtedly split some of the country vote. Much ado was also made about a glitch that was causing Hunter’s solo recording to appear twice in the iTunes store, although that seemed to be resolved and Hunter ultimately squeaked in at No. 10 on the chart, clinching the iTunes bonus. (NBC did not respond to Yahoo’s request for clarification on what exactly happened.) Some people even joked that Gwen is so in love, and such a loyal girlfriend, that she deliberately threw the competition so that Blake could rack up another (sixth!) win — but that conspiracy seems about as real as her clip-on multicolored hair extensions or the “coffee” in Blake’s Starbucks mug.
Anyway, while it may be a head-scratcher why neither Brennley nor Hunter got enough votes to make the top three, it’s understandable that Jesse won Tuesday’s Twitter sing-off. Brennley and Hunter likely split the vote among Gwen’s devoted fans, and Jesse, singing last and doing a passionate performance of the Chris Stapleton-popularized “Tennessee Whiskey,” easily upstaged the other two — especially Hunter, whose poorly chosen song, OneRepublic’s midtempo rocker “Love Runs Out,” proved sadly prophetic.
Maybe it all comes down to the hard, cold fact that with an incredibly strong top eight, it was impossible to predict which four would advance to next week’s grand finale, and it was inevitable that some brutal cuts would be made. No one really deserved to go home this week; everyone deserved a shot at finale glory; and Lauren, Chris, Jesse, and Aliyah will surely bring the fire during next week’s showdown. Let’s face it, when even dynamite singers like TSoul and Vanessa Ferguson end up in the bottom two and automatically go home without even singing for the Save — which is what happened this Tuesday — that’s a sign that Season 12 may be the most competitive season in Voice history.
Then again… producers could have spared us all this grief, or at least delayed it, by not having a four-way elimination. Why can’t they just have normal semifinals results nights, instead of these bloodbaths that make it seem like the show’s famous red chairs were borrowed from the set of the Red Wedding? It’s enough to make me look forward to ABC’s reboot of American Idol, a show that mercifully cuts just one contestant, one week at a time.
One last note: Adam Levine, when gloating Tuesday about his lone contestant, Jesse, making the finals, claimed that Jesse was the first one-chair contestant to ever achieve this feat. Not only did he disrespect Chris Blue with his historically inaccurate comment (Chris was also a one-chair turn, for Alicia Keys), but Team CeeLo’s Nicholas David was actually the first to do that, way back in Season 3. And Adam’s proclamation was another dis to Gwen, because her one-chair contestant, Jeffery Austin, also made it to the finale in Season 9!
Jeffery and I will discuss all this and more on an especially shady episode of “The Day After” Wednesday. See you then — and see you at next week’s finale.