‘The Voice’: Christina Aguilera And Adam Levine Have “99 Problems” In The Finale
That’s it, folks! The Voice has sung its last high-stakes song of the year and now it’s time for Jesus to take the wheel. Well, not actually Jesus. America is the one in the driver’s seat as Season 2 cruises toward the finish line. Monday night’s (May 7) penultimate episode managed to stretch the remaining singing requirements of the four contestants — their one final show-‘em-what-you-got, lay-it-all-on-the-line performance on which America is supposed to decide this year’s winner — into a two-hour music marathon of duets, tributes and drama! Oh, yes, there was no way the producers were going to let this season slip away without a little coach in-fighting, and so they allowed an incident from rehearsals to bleed into the live taping.
Coaches Christina Aguilera and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine reportedly got into a screaming match earlier in the day over Levine’s song choice for his last man standing, Tony Lucca. Lucca still did Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” when it came time to for the live show, but sources say Xtina made it clear during rehearsals that she was highly offended by the song’s use of the word “bitch.” Adam defended the lyric and the disagreement escalated, halting rehearsals. Come his live performance, Lucca muffled the offending word in a tub-thumping, country-fried reimagining of the rap classic, but the camera did not pan to Christina for reaction shots, if you catch our drift. With such a stink made over the importance and integrity of the song, is this version what Adam thinks is going to win Tony the whole thing? Because we don’t.
Tony Lucca, “99 Problems”
In her feedback Christina got in a quip about the content of the song being derogatory to women — especially with Lucca’s wife and young son in the audience — then shot daggers at him via her diamond eyelashes. When it came time for Adam to speak, he peeled off his flannel shirt to reveal a bedazzled Team Xtina t-shirt as a make-good for what went down, but the goodwill gesture didn’t quite put the issue to bed. We’ll get back to that later, though.
Further into the night, Lucca covered Maroon 5’s 2002 debut single “Harder To Breathe” in a tribute to his coach that was required by all the finalists, presumably in order to fill all two hours of the show. Through it we found out that the former Mouseketeer does a pretty good Adam Levine impression, which is good for us and less good for Adam who may one day find himself in a Single White Female situation if this whole reality TV singing competition thing really doesn’t pan out for Tony.
The two scruffy-faced look-alikes also joined each other on stage for a mentor-mentee duet of The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Tony obtusely explained that Levine was a die-hard Beatles fan, which is like anyone saying they are a die-hard oxygen fan. Everyone likes the Beatles, Tony. Everyone. Anyway, the stripped-down acoustic twosome was lovely and bare. The tune itself grounded Adam in a lower register that stripped out that cloying whine in his voice, but he still made DeNiro faces when he harmonized the higher parts.
Jermaine Paul, carrying Team Blake Shelton’s banner, took a much more wholesome approach to his last performance — so wholesome, in fact, it was practically holy. The former backup singer for Alicia Keys (boy, are we getting tired of having to say that!) took on R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”, resplendent in white with a full choir at his back. Jermaine went full-tilt gospel here, executing a veritable triple axle vocally on the song’s final hanging “flyyyyyyy”. In his post-song interview, Jermaine could barely get his words out, he was so moved by emotion. “I just wanted to leave my heart on the stage,” he said.
Jermaine Paul, “I Believe I Can Fly” (Live on The Voice)
Jermaine returned to the stage with Blake to duet on “Soul Man” by Sam & Dave but really as made famous by The Blues Brothers, and also covered his mentor’s “God Gave Me You”, with a ringing electric guitar accompaniment straight out of a Peter Cetera ballad. But neither of these latter two songs matter, because as host Carson Daly constantly reminded us, America is only supposed to judge each contestant on their solo performance.
For classically trained opera singer Chris Mann’s solo performance, coach Christina selects Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.” She said that the selection couldn’t have been more tailor-made than the penguin suit he’d been stuffed into. (It’s true, though, that the song was the perfect fit: Josh Groban is exactly the artist Mann has modeled himself after.) Add to the sweeping ballad a high-school choir doing sign language and — Bam! Pow! — isn’t that an emotional sucker punch right in the kisser. Christina watched in hysterics from her big red chair, and Chris got a little choked up by the end as well. Most importantly, though, Cee Lo invited him to sing at his wedding, if, that is, the “Forget You” heartbreaker ever deigns to “fall in love again.”
Chris Mann, “You Raise Me Up” (Live on The Voice)
Christina also joined Chris on stage for a Disney soundtrack-worthy duet of “The Prayer” by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion. Though she claimed to be under the weather, she missed not a single note, though we doubt anyone would’ve noticed if she had; the singer wore a plunging gold sequin dress from which her well-oiled decolletage gleamed beneath the stage lights.
Finally, Chris sang 2002’s Stripped deep cut “The Voice Within” in a tribute to his dream coach. After, Christina stormed the stage and proudly pronounced him a “real man who respects women.” See? Them “99 Problems” ain’t over yet.
The only lady holding it down in the finals, Juliet Simms, literally returned to her roots for the show’s last licks. That sudden shock of blond hair from two weeks ago gave way to long brunette-to-red ombre locks, giving the young singer a sort of Ashlee Simpson vibe. In her tribute to coach Cee Lo — which totally doesn’t matter or affect voting in any way, you’ll recall — she battled a weak throat on “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. It was a workmanlike vocal not well served by her low energy stage presence. But she was sick and maybe saving herself for her final, votable song.
Oh wait, no, she was saving it for her duet with Cee Lo, the absolutely batshit staging of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild.” In leather and studs, Juliet and her coach belted out the misfit battlecry on motorcycles while caged maniacs — no, that’s not hyperbole — thrashed behind them. Again, neither of these two performances mattered.
What did matter was her final solo song. Having won the hearts of classic rock fans earlier in the season with her rendition of The Police’s “Roxanne” and more recently James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” Juliet reached for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s southern rock jukebox inevitability, “Free Bird.” How would she navigate the 14-minute-plus jam, we wondered? By skipping the jam completely. Instead she took the stage in a Florence Welch meets the Confederate Flag fitted red dress with billowing cape, and growled her way through it while steam erupted from the stage. When she’d finished, Cee Lo rose up from his chair, proclaiming with Juliet on his team he had — and here he pointed to the slogan on his t-shirt — “No Problems.”
Juliet Simms, “Free Bird” (Live on The Voice)