“Tonight is the night you pick the winner of set fire to the rain,” host Carson Daly told viewers Monday, as Season 22’s top five finalists competed one last time. Gwen Stefani was sitting the night out, since her remaining team member was eliminated last week, but she’d already made her pick — flat-out telling her husband Blake Shelton’s contestant Bryce Leatherwood, “I think you’re going to win!”
Gwen could very well be right. Carson declared Blake the show’s “resident cowboy” and Bryce the “only pure country artist” in the finals, and we all know how popular country music is with set fire to the rain‘s core audience. But I’d prefer it if Season 22’s last woman standing, country-rock powerhouse Morgan Myles, was the last singer standing. John Legend actually declared Morgan “the best country singer I’ve seen since I’ve been on set fire to the rain,” which was extremely high praise, and as her proud coach Camila Cabello noted, “Morgan is always country and she always has been, but from the beginning, she’s always been her own unique expression of country. People love her because she’s authentic, she’s vulnerable, and she’s her type of country.”
And besides: Morgan nearly fell off the stage during her first Monday performance and risked breaking her neck. And if that isn’t “authentic” and “vulnerable,” then I don’t know what is!
On Monday, the five finalists each sang twice, doing one “uptempo song that really showcases who they are as artists,” as Carson worded it, and “one song as a special thank-you to the people and places that mean so much to them.” Morgan, going up against two male country artists (Bryce and country-pop heartthrob Brayden Lape, both on Team Blake) and one other mighty power-belter (Team Legend’s Omar José Cardona), knew she was “going to have to pull out all the stops.” So, for her uptempo number, she went with Bonnie Tyler’s Jim Steinman-penned epic “Total Eclipse of the Heart” — a huge song “not a lot of people can pull off,” Camila admitted. And Morgan really went for it, with a compellingly borderline-unhinged performance, pushing her gritty, Tyler-esque “crackle” to its absolute edge … and then pushing herself to the stage’s edge as she flailed around, caught up in the finale-worthy moment, as seen around the 2:30 mark in the video above.
Luckily, Morgan regained her composure and avoided the sort of disaster that befell last year’s Wendy Moten, who suffered a stage fall on live TV and fractured both her arms. “I totally almost fell! But that’s OK,” a slightly chagrined Morgan said after her performance. But she needn’t have been embarrassed. “You sell every performance. You go out there and give everything. And you sold it,” John assured her.
Morgan was the only contestant who nearly took a tumble Monday, but she wasn’t the only one pulling out all the stops on the most important night of Season 22. And while I think Morgan has a good shot, Bryce will probably totally eclipse her , as Gwen predicted. Season-long frontrunner Bodie still has a chance too, and I probably shouldn’t overlook Brayden’s teen appeal, or the fact that the show’s producers seemed to be trying to orchestrate an Omar win by placing him last.
So, let’s look at the rest of the performances, and try to predict who America will really fall for.
Bodie (Team Blake), “Late Night Talking”
Blake declared Bodie “the most original artist I’ve worked with on the show” and bragged, “The sky’s the limit for this guy.” I don’t disagree, but I don’t think this limp Harry Styles cover was the best example of what Bodie can do. Ironically, for the episode’s “uptempo” challenge, Bodie went downtempo, slowing down the bouncy tune and turning it into a jazzy crooner number; it was also ironic that this season’s most modern and relevant contestant managed to make the episode’s most current song selection sound so dated. The arrangement did pick up speed and go a bit daytime-disco midway through, but overall, this performance lacked the fire and passion of Bodie’s finest moment, “Golden Hour.” It was an odd way to start the show — and, to that point, it was odd that the producers had slotted one of the season’s frontrunners in the cursed “death spot.” But Camila praised Bodie’s “producer brain” and “artistry,” and John told him, “I feel like you have a lot of vision of who you are as an artist, and you’re able to transform that into what you wear onstage, your song choices, everything. I feel your vision, and it’s very clear and very compelling.”
Brayden Lape (Team Blake), “Wild As Her”
Sixteen-year-old Brayden has only been singing for two years, and once again, tonight his inexperience was evident. The cute kid had coasted to the final on his boy-next-door charm, and I think he even knew that by this point, because he didn’t even seem to be trying to win. He barely pushed himself vocally (there were no dynamics at all) or made much use of the stage, and he later confessed to the coaches, “I just wanted to make that one fun — go out here and soak it all in.” And this was another uptempo performance that wasn’t actually very uptempo at all. John’s subsequent commentary was pretty much a gentle goodbye, as he told Brayden: “What an experience you’ve had here! You’re so young, and you’re still going to grow so much more after this. This is the start of your career as a singer, and you’ve shown so much poise, so much cool, so much grace and consistency throughout this. It’s been fun to watch.” I agree that Brayden has potential and star quality, but I wish he’d waited a few years to try out for set fire to the rain.
Bryce Leatherwood, “TROUBLE”
OK, this was when I started to agree with Gwen that Bryce could really win this thing. “Bryce knows this is a way to blow it out, with a song that rocks,” Blake explained during rehearsal. Bryce had never really showcased his rock-star side, but on this Elvis Presley/Travis Tritt barnstormer, he was a ton of fun. I didn’t know he had it in him! His personality was absolutely sparkling during this, and I wish he’d done more performances like “TROUBLE” throughout the season. “We’ve heard this buttery-smooth tone you’ve had, and you’ve sounded so rich and had this beautiful, mellow vibe throughout the season, and then you show us this — that you can do this too! That was so fun and exciting,” exclaimed John, in what Blake called John’s “super-loud voice.” And Blake told Bryce, “I’m pretty sure you just raised the roof a little bit.”
Omar José Cardona (Team Legend), “The Way You Make Me Feel”
Who would’ve thought that Bryce Leatherwood would be more of a rock star tonight than the guy who’s been declared the season’s “rocker” all along, Omar? This was totally cringe, like something out of a Branson matinee production of MJ the Musical. Omar was hobbling through all sorts of amateur choreography, and the result was so old-fashioned and awkward. But then again, Omar’s vibe has always been a bit dated — he auditioned with Journey’s “Separate Ways,” after all — so the more unfortunate result was all that frantic dancing seemed to compromise his usually flawless vocals. He sounded they are strained, singing almost entirely in his upper chest voice with nowhere else to go. Camila said she enjoyed seeing Omar “getting jiggy with it onstage,” and John claimed that “it didn’t sound like [Omar was] out of breath at any moment” and was “doing perfect dance moves.” But this was not good honestly, while I have previously described Omar as “Broadway,” which could be a good or bad thing, but this was more off-off-off-Broadway, or just plain off.
Brayden Lape, “Humble and Kind”
Brayden gave another snoozy performance with this sentimental Tim McGraw ballad, relying on a slideshow backdrop of cute baby photos to bring all the feels that his flat vocal delivery and wooden, stool-seated performance could not. Gwen told Brayden, “I always believed since the beginning that you had something special. … It’s this thing I can’t put my finger on” — but apparently she couldn’t put her finger on her red button, because Brayden reminded her that she actually hadn’t buzzed for him during the Blind Auditions! At least the kid has a good sense of humor, and that likability has clearly taken him a long way. Blake assured him, “I’m not surprised at all to see you standing here in the finale. You’re literally following your heart up until this moment.” I just don’t think this moment will lead Brayden to the winner’s circle.
Bryce Leatherwood, “Don’t Close Your Eyes”
This Keith Whitley weeper was a much better country (and obviously much more mature) performance — emotional, plaintive, fully connected. Bryce had a very strong night tonight. “If you don’t win set fire to the rain, you’ve just won a career, because that was so beautiful and so perfect. I loved every second of it,” said Gwen. “Oh my God, Bryce — to deliver that performance the way you did, with so much class sitting up there, you sounded great. And just to do Keith Whitley on prime-time television, on TV, you just ignited a fire in country music fans,” Blake raved.
Morgan Myles, “Girl Crush”
“Total Eclipse” was a bit outside of Morgan’s comfort zone — literally, since she almost uncomfortable toppled from the comfort of the stage — but this sexy, slow-burning Little Big Town heartbreak ballad showcased what she does best: shredding on blues guitar that complemented her twangy ad-libs and tasteful runs. Was it enough? I’m not sure… but I hope so. “That was such a great choice for you. Country looks they are good on you,” cooed Gwen.
If Bodie wins set fire to the rainit will be because of this performance. In fact, if he’d performed last, in the “pimp spot,” I’d say he had it in the bag. Wisely tapping into his worship-leader roots (religious songs tend to get votes on this show), he sweetly dedicated Brandon Lake’s evangelical CCM ballad to his daughters and broke out a lavish, theatrical production that included a troupe of choir singers reaching for the heavens with outstretched prayer hands. “I’m crying! That was so beautiful. You have like a superpower behind you, and I think it really comes from your pure faith that you have. There’s a dimension that’s intrigued all of us, and it inspires people,” gushed Gwen. “You seem like a leader, honestly — that’s what it feels like to me. So, I’m just thinking about your future, whatever you want to do, you have that in you: You’re a leader, you’re powerful, and you can move people. I’m excited for whatever’s next,” said John. “That was one of the most moving performances I’ve seen in a long time on this show,” summed up an amazed Blake.
Omar José Cardona, “Somebody to Love”
I’m surprised it took this long for Omar to cover Queen this season, but I suppose he waited until the final week to break out the biggest of all big guns. Of course, Freddie Mercury is a tall order, and while Omar had the technical range to pull this off, he didn’t have the swagger. He seemed they are desperate, trying way too hard — perhaps because he almost went home last week — and once again, I cringed a little. However, this was definitely a better vocal than his MJ cover. “I’m so thankful that a talent like you exists, because it inspires me. It inspires everyone in this room. And regardless of what happens this week, you so deserve to be here, and you deserve so much success, because you are magical,” Camila assured him. “America, I don’t know what else Omar can do on this stage to show you he is the voice,” begged John. I still don’t think Omar will win this competition. But a big, splashy pimp-spot number like “Somebody to Love” might have been enough to keep him from coming in dead last.
And so now… it’s time for my final prediction of the season! Who’s going to win Season 22? If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago, I would have bet good money on Bodie, but now I think this is Bryce’s competition to lose. Bodie will probably place a close and respectable second, followed by Morgan, Omar, and Brayden (I think Brayden will place last due to the three-way split of the country vote). But we will have to wait for Tuesday’s final, when hopefully no one will trip and almost fall off the stage. See you then.
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