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.”