Cassadee Pope came to seem like the inevitable winner of Season Three of The Voice. The young Florida singer, fresh out of her major-label contract with her previous band Hey Monday, sang her way into a career reboot and last night took the Voice title for Team Blake, champs now for the second season in a row.
Pope's win started to seem like a foregone conclusion after she scored a bona fide chart hit with her coach-penned song "Over You," which, given the new rules of ranking for this season, gave her what proved to be an insurmountable lead. Songs that chart in the Top 10 on iTunes being weighted (multiplied by 10) and counted toward a cumulative score, to insure against the whims of week-to-week performances (see also, infamously, Jennifer Hudson on Idol). The move seemed designed to insulate popular contestants against getting voted off the show after an off night by making clearer distinctions between who was capturing America's heart and who they wish would GTFO. The downside was less cruel drama of instant and unjust eliminations, which is kind of the whole reason to watch reality singing competitions.
On last night's epic two-hour blowout finale, there was much star-studded bluster, so many ghosts of eliminations past and legends being upstaged by show finalists as the show lurched toward its predictable end: Pope sodden with tears and coated in luminous metallic confetti. She is now $150,000 richer, back on a major and the proud owner of a new Kia, which was a surprise award to each of the three finalists in the show's denouement, with keys delivered by a bewigged Santa Cee Lo in a sleigh with shinin' rims. Third place finisher Nicholas David and runner-up Terry McDermott, fathers to young children both, looked as stoked about their new family wagons as we've seen them all season.
What was most notable about Season Three, and what separates The Voice from other singing competitions, is that the show makes room for, and values to a certain extent, quirky. It is a testament to America's tastes and desire for someone with genuine talent that a contestant who fits no real contemporary pop mold made it all the way to third place – and that he finished so close behind the familiar-sounding Pope, who could just as easily been a finisher on Idol or The X Factor, which goad their singers toward palatability. David was familiar sounding in that he sounded like the spawn of Bill Withers and Al Green.
Pope, for her big voice, was so Avril-esque that it was embarrassing to see her do "I'm With You" alongside her heroine on Tuesday's finale, giddily glancing sidelong as their two voices meshed into one UberAvril. Carson Daly mentioned what a big deal it was to Pope, a huge Lavigne fan, "as we learned all season long." It's doubtful he meant it as a burn; it was more like stating the obvious. She also performed alongside the Killers on "Here With Me," and the Kelly Clarkson on "Catch My Breath," on which Pope held her own.
Beyond David, there was precocious teen Melanie Martinez, complicated farm boy Cody Belew offering up curious and conceptual performances, sticking to their weirdest guns, rather than gunning for lowest common denominator pop appeals. And America was down for that. Which is where coach Christina Aguilera underestimated the voters. Or perhaps more aptly, underestimated America's interest in cookie-cutter pop singers stomping ferociously in diva heels and luxe weaves as they soul-yodel tortured melismatic note runs. That would explain why Xtina gamed her team for Top-10 pop and wound up player-less weeks before the finale.
It's also worth noting that Pope is the first woman to win The Voice. This season was rife with incredible, powerful women who went home too soon; Pope brought back Martinez, country gal Liz Davis and Pope-fave De'Borah for her curated ensemble performance – and even in her half-chorus return De'Borah was a potent reminder of what an energetic stand out she was. David's ensemble number wrangled Dez Duron (with whom David found spiritual fellowship), Amanda Brown and Trevin Hunte for one of the best group numbers of the entire season on the Boyz II Men prom favorite "End of the Road," which David said was a dedication to the indelible bonds of friendship formed by the competitors. McDermott's turn also brought back popular favorite Brown, swaggy grandpa Rudy Parris and punky homeschooler Michaela Page for Kiss' "Rock and Roll All Nite," which seemed like a wee gift from McDermott to his Kiss-fanatic roomie Parris.
As strong as guests Rihanna and Bruno Mars and their tender hits are, their cameos fell by the wayside. They seemed unrelated. They were way less weird than David owning "Cruisin'," though an alert-looking Smokey Robinson gave it his best. It was certainly less awkward than Peter Frampton looking way too excited to be on TV as he performed "Baby I Love Your Way" with McDermott, who seemed to downplay his capabilities out of respect. There were several more guest spots and performances, including the coaches doing "Time of Your Life," while a yearbook style slide show played behind them. It was supposed to be sentimental – Xtina's giggling threw that a bit.
Ending the season with two endless hours of loud, dramatic singing from too many people to keep track of was fitting: we spent weeks watching 64 singers make the ranks and then get dismissed in rapid succession, blurring into one long b-roll of corny adages and underdog struggles, from comas to coming out. And then, when the big moment finally arrived, the new pop princess was delivered exactly how America wanted.
Best Xtina diss-compliment: On coach Adam Levine's spotlight reel, she said of him "He likes to absorb the spotlight."
Best hair: Michaela Page, whose gossamer updo-cum-electrified fauxhawk looked like a miniaturized replica of the Spinal Tap stage cocoons. Runner up: Cee Lo's Santa Wig looked like it was modeled on Deniece Williams circa 1988.
Most egregious emotional button-pushing: Moments prior to the announcement of the winner, Carson Daly asked Nicholas David what he would say to his dead grandfather if he were here right now, immediately bringing the singer to the brink of tears.