Night One of The Voice's two-night finale featured original songs from each of the finalists, for the first time in the show's history. Nashville soul singer Meghan Linsey and Michigan folk rocker Joshua Davis each premiered self-penned numbers, while the two teenage contestants showcased tunes by a pair of well-known Grammy winners: Ray LaMontagne and Voice coach Pharrell Williams.
Last week, 16-year-old Sawyer Fredericks was declared the competition's frontrunner by Blake Shelton — a surprising statement, since he's Linsey's coach. But given the Fultonville, New York native's dominance on the iTunes chart throughout the season, the statement wasn't much of a stretch. Immediately following the NBC broadcast, his original song, "Please," shot to Number Two on iTunes, just below Taylor Swift's new Kendrick Lamar collaboration, "Bad Blood."
"Please" was written by Fredericks' musical hero, Ray LaMontagne, a singer-songwriter and kindred spirit who also hails from a rural part of the Northeast. It's a solid Americana love song that could possibly give The Voice its first radio hit after eight seasons — if program directors can look past its singing competition origins and give it a shot on adult alternative or college stations, where LaMontagne is a staple.
"I remember hearing the music when my dad was working on the house, and I just fell in love with his voice, and the way he plays guitar, and I picked up a lot of that kind of style that he does," Fredericks explained leading into his performance.
Rival coach Adam Levine said he could understand the euphoria of singing a track hand-picked by an idol. "If I was 16 and Eddie Vedder was like, 'Hey Adam, dude-that-loves-me-and-worships-me, here's a song I wrote and you can sing it,' that would blow my flippin' brains out. . . So dude, you win! I don't care what happens. That's the coolest thing ever. Game over!"
Louisiana high school junior Koryn Hawthorne found herself at the receiving end of coach Pharrell Williams' prolific ability to multi-task. The 10-time Grammy-winning writer, producer and artist tells Rolling Stone Country how "Bright Fire" became his gift to his young ingénue.
"There was this song that I had that I hadn't quite gotten right yet," he recounts. "So she walks into my life, and it's like, 'Well, I have to do a song,' and I have to figure out what it's going to be. I woke up at 6:00 one morning, and I was like, 'Oh!' The song was called 'Sun' first. But when I thought about her, I was like, 'OK, it's 'Bright Fire'…I could just hear what she was going to do with it."
Hawthorne tells Rolling Stone Country Williams timidly asked whether she liked the piece. "Do I like it?! Is that a question? No, I loved it, and it was an amazing moment," she recalls.
Team Adam's Joshua Davis says his heartland anthem, "The Workingman's Hymn," is indicative of his point-of-view as a singer-songwriter. "It's not a love song, it's not a song about drinking beer in red solo cups. It's a song about economic disparity, and hope in troubled times," he tells Rolling Stone Country.
The father of two from Traverse City, Michigan, admits the karaoke format of The Voice has been an adjustment. "I don't usually play covers, and this whole thing of being dropped into this whole framework where it's like you're singing all these well-known covers, it's been awkward in some ways for me."
Although Meghan Linsey has been lauded for putting her own bluesy imprint on classic cuts, she relished the opportunity to showcase her talent as a songwriter. "Change My Mind" was written with a couple of friends during an especially vulnerable period in her life.
"I wrote it in the middle of a bad relationship," she explains to Rolling Stone Country. "I want to empower women. That's kind of my goal as an artist — not changing for a guy. I feel like I've come a long way, especially through the show. I'm really on the other side of that stuff that I felt was holding me back."
"She deserves to win because she fought back, and man, that's impossible to do. If you get that door cracked open at some point and you get your foot in the music industry, that's hard," Shelton tells Rolling Stone Country. "But when you get shut out and you find a way to fight back — I can't commend her enough for that."
As one-half of Steel Magnolia — her country duo with former fiancé Joshua Scott Jones — Linsey once toured with Shelton as his opening act. When asked if they might hit the road together again, the "Sangria" singer replied, "I hope so! Maybe she'll let me open for her. If I can afford Meghan when this thing is over with, I'd love to have her out on tour with me. She's very expensive."
"I don't know what to say about that! I've never been expensive!" Linsey laughs.
But regardless of whether she takes the crown tonight, her stock has definitely risen — along with her self-worth. "Auditioning for the show is one of the scariest things I've ever done in my life. It really took a lot of courage to do that, and you know, you go big, or you go home. And for me, there was just never an option to go home."
The Season Eight winner of The Voice will be revealed tonight on NBC, with a recap show at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT, and the results show at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT. The latter will feature performances from all four judges, plus Luke Bryan, Kelly Clarkson, Meghan Trainor, Ed Sheeran, Sheryl Crow, Maroon 5 and John Fogerty.
Monday night's live show included three songs from each of the four finalists. Here's a list of what they sang:
1) Original Song by Joshua Davis, "The Workingman's Hymn"
2) Leonard Cohen, "Hallelujah"
3) Paul Simon, "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"
1) Seals and Crofts, "Summer Breeze" (duet with Coach Pharrell Williams)
2) Original Song by Ray LaMontagne, "Please"
3) Neil Young, "Old Man"
1) James Brown, "It's a Man's Man's Man's World"
2) The Beatles, "We Can Work it Out"
3) Original Song by Pharrell Williams, "Bright Fire"
1) Original Song by Meghan Linsey, Dee Briggs and Julie Carter-Moriva, "Change My Mind"
2) Aretha Franklin, "Freeway of Love" (duet with Coach Blake Shelton)
3) Percy Sledge, "When a Man Loves a Woman"