The week we have all been waiting for is finally here. After months, if not years, of anticipation, eager fans everywhere will finally know: Who will win Season 9 of The Voice?
In all seriousness, at the risk of sounding like a Midwestern housewife, I’ve been a fan of The Voice from season one when the talent search program separated itself from its peers by ditching any disruptive novelty. Because the contestants seem to be filtered and pre-screened, the show can skip the embarrassing open tryouts and avoid the mean-spirited weeks of laughing at folks whose talent might not match the height of their dreams. This also permits the show to operate without a malicious, “Telling it like it is,” judge, with every coach on The Voice able to focus on nurturing and building talent, and, perhaps, occasionally some sportsman-like riffing. Not only does this improve the viewing experience, it also allows for a higher ceiling for the artists.
The Voice has showcased performers whose talent rivals that of household names and legendary names. Below, I’ve listed the fifteen best from the first nine seasons:
15. Kat Robichaud – “Sail”
The ambition of The Voice, namely trying to find the best vocal talent literally in the blind, does no favors to rock performances, as you’ll see in the rest of this list. This intentionally narrowed scope excludes much of what makes modern rock what it is: The attitude, the stage show, and the look of the performer. But Kat Robichaud’s season five performance of AWOLNATION’s hit “Sail,” afforded the edgy rock the chance to showcase all of that behind dangerously rock-ready vocals.
14. Celeste Betton and Mark Hood – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”
The Battle Rounds of The Voice have never been my favorite. Too often, the pairings feel strategic (a strong opponent placed against an easy stepping stone) and even at their best, they force two blossoming artists to bend and adjust to one another for a final product that feels uncomfortable and compromised. That’s why Celeste Betton and Mark Hood’s showdown this season is the only pairing to make the countdown. But Hood’s high energy accommodation of Betton’s smooth easiness and the daring vocal improvisation of both makes for a show that one might expect from a group that’s been performing this song together for years.
13. Tessanne Chin – “Underneath It All”
The late full-on reggae breakown in her performance of No Doubt’s hit, “Underneath It All” and her subsequent combination of unmatched rhythm, audience engagement, and that one extended note likely catapaulted Tessanne Chin to her victory in Season 5. But the triumph could be credited to more than just one moment. Chin showed an undeniable charm and likability while also proving to be one of the most interesting winners, in terms of sound, that the show has ever seen.
12. Jordan Smith – “Halo”
In the current season, Jordan Smith was already positioning himself as the competition’s favorite when he made the courageous move of daring the B-hive to come at him. Beyonce, the reigning queen of popular music, is never a small order so what’s astonishing is how easy Jordan makes the song look. Many times, Jordan has been described by the coaches as being “blessed” an given the abundance of chills one gets while watching him sing this song, it’s hard not to agree.
11. Craig Wayne Boyd – “I Walk the Line”
Honky-tonk throwback Craig Wayne Boyd jumped into the competition with a very distinct genre aesthetic, one that isn’t exactly filling up the iTunes charts. His mix of outlaw country and Travis Tritt-inspired vocal approach appealed very strong to a very limited portion of America, but his decision to take the stage the week before in cleaned up appearance and deliver a traditional and powerful Christian gospel ballad (“Old Rugged Cross”) moved him into a favorite position, and following it up with a subdued and heartfelt version of Johnny Cash’s classic love song was all that was needed for a competition win in season seven.
10. Jake Worthington – “Don’t Close Your Eyes”
One of my favorite things about The Voice is its willingness to allow failed auditions to return in future seasons. When young Jake Worthington returned in Season 6, he had taken all of the instructions provided to him in his failed effort and shaped it into a beautiful and haunting rendition of Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” Worthington’s heartbreaking performance managed to turn every chair but Usher’s, which likely didn’t matter given the way that Jake didn’t even flinch at Adam’ first chair turn. He was staring and waiting for Blake the entire time.
09. Deanna Johnson – “Down to the River to Pray”
After a four-chair second audition, this return contestant, whose initial effort saw her falter to stage nervousness, had started once again to falter to her stage anxiety. Her coach offered decisions that were, in essence, a leap of faith in the young powerful vocalist whose voice was both delicate an sultry, immediately recalling the power of Florence Henderson of Florence and the Machine. To remedy her nervousness, Adam assigned Deanna “Down to the River to Pray,” a song choice he hoped would sooth her with its connection to her church choir roots. It proved to be the perfect step.
08. Josh Kaufman – “One More Try”
Season 6’s eventual winner Josh Kaufman was a quiet favorite pretty much throughout, and all the evidence necessary could be found in his four chair audition. Kaufman’s soulful tone and seductive airiness made for an artists who seemed immediately marketable, the kind of opening performance that makes you wish the album was already cut. Like other covered artists on this list, George Michael is a giant on the microphone, and Kaufman doesn’t misstep.
07. Audra McLaughlin – “You Lie”
Too often, the country contestants on the The Voice seem to split their vote against one another, often unfairly dividing the best contestants on Blake’s team alone. That was the case in Season 6, when Jake Worthington and Audra McLaughlin both made it into the late rounds. While neither ended up winning the season (and again, they were chasing a deserving Josh Kaufman), McLaughlin’s exhibition of her full talent in her performance of Reba McEntire’s hit, a stair climbing vocal of undeniable strength, serves as a great reminder that she is likely the most skilled country artist the show has ever seen.
06. Matthew Schuler – “Hallelujah”
In the current season of The Voice, Leonard Cohen’s legendary song was brought back to the stage by Jordan Smith in a performance that lead coach Blake Shelton to comment in comparison to this version from Season 5’s Matthew Schuler. However, I have to disagree with Blake’s assessment that Jordan’s topped Matthew’s, if only because the smiling teenager’s optimistic approach reinvented Cohen’s melancholic classic as a celebration vocal without disrupting the song’s unshakable spirituality.
05. Cassadee Pope – “Over You”
All of the Season 3 winner’s performances were astonishingly precise, but the added dramatic weight of her rendition of Blake Shelton’s wife’s song puts this single effort above the rest. Watching Shelton react to the hyper-personal lyrics from the basically-fated winner intensifies Pope’s reliably strong singing. While none of the show’s official social media accounts hosts the performance or studio version, you can find a fan-hosted video here.
04. Cody Wickline – “He Stopped Loving Her Today”
Cody Wickline’s classic country styling never seemed suited for the battle rounds, so fans should feel even more blessed for the opportunity to see this performance of what is arguably the greatest and inarguably the saddest song in country history. Though it would have been great to see how his haunting and heartbreaking tone matched further music on the stage, Wickline’s audition stands as the single best country performance in the history of the show.
03. Jacqui Lee – “Who’s Loving You”
There’s a moment in Jacqui Lee’s performance in which the camera catches coach Christina standing with intimidating posture, punching her firsts downward like an angry Celine Dion, maestro-ing her teenage performance every step of the way. And never has it seemed more like a coach and contestant pairing elevated a sing song beyond what anyone could expect. Lee channels all the best of her coach’s strength here, rocking every single line with more emphatic certainty than anyone her age should be able conjure.
02. Jordan Smith – “Somebody to Love”
My man Jordan is like a stage version of Perseus. Dude is going after rock Gods. After “warming up” with an audition from Sia, Smith has taken on Beyonce, Adele, the pope’s choir, and now Freddie Mercury. No one should be this good at Freddie Mercury, the greatest rock talent of all time. It’s almost unfair to watch. It’s hard to say what songs are left for Jordan to attack, but honestly, at this point, he could probably mail it in with “Who Let The Dogs Out?” and still be the season’s favorite to win.
01. Juliet Simms – ” Roxanne”
Juliet Simms’ voice is a perfect rock n’ roll storm. Just the right amount of air and rasp, of power and vulnerability, and that ever-present scratchiness that simply cannot be trained and should not be attainable for anyone who hasn’t spent decades sipping whiskey in the corner of a smoky bar. And yet, this young singer, while still in her 20s, did more to improve an original hit than any artist in the history of The Voice. To take nothing from Sting, but Simms’ powerfully jarring and alternative-tinged cover is the best song ever delivered by the show.
Featured Image: NBC