It was, as usual, a dramatic night on The Four this Thursday — even without the show’s resident troublemaker, Jason Warrior, and without disgraced judge Charlie Walk, whose absence (in light of recent sexual misconduct allegations) was mentioned only in passing by aggressively grinning host Fergie.
On the Season 1 finale (yes, there will be a Season 2, surprisingly), newbie Evvie McKinney, who first appeared on the show only last week, beat out season-long frontrunner/golden child/chosen one Zhavia. It was an epic showdown featuring plenty of tears, knee-drops, footwear malfunctions, and catfighting — while judge DJ Khaled sat on the sidelines, literally munching on popcorn. To quote the show’s annoying catchphrase that never quite caught on, he was ready to eat.
Before I get into the performances by Evvie, Zhavia, eventual runner-up Candice Boyd, and my personal, totally robbed favorite, Vincint Cannady, I have some broad, overall thoughts about The Four. Indulge me.
First, the format of this series is just bizarre. Think about it: Can you imagine someone winning The Voice, American Idol, X Factor, or America’s Got Talent just ONE WEEK after auditioning? No, because those shows — Idol in particular — are skillful at developing story arcs that get viewers invested in the contestants’ success. Does Evvie even have enough fans from this show who’ll want to buy her music when it comes out? Perhaps that won’t even matter, since The Four has a partnership with iHeartRadio to ensure airplay — and plenty of new artists without TV-crafted backstories find success at Top 40. Let’s just hope Evvie has the goods to compete with those artists. She was great last week and amazing this week, which is why she won. … But those performances could have been flukes. We’ve all seen Idol and Voice contestants who started off strong, only to unravel after a few weeks. Evvie didn’t get a few weeks, so we still don’t know what sort of artist she is or could be.
Second, for a show that claimed, repeatedly and emphatically, that it would be different from other tired TV talent shows and would better represent what’s going on in the modern pop market, it’s ironic that in the end, the final Four contestants were typical Idol material: classic, classy divas in sequined pageant-wear. Rappers like Lex Lu, Illakriss, Rell Jerv, and Nick Harrison, and edgier types like Vincint (a self-described “black, gay, weird artist” and “shining ball of glitter” who covered Radiohead), Tim Johnson Jr., and Zhavia fell by the wayside.
Third, the WWE-level shenanigans on this show — the contestants’ smack talk, the judges’ bickering and overly harsh critiques, security guards dragging misbehaving contestants off the set — were just too much. These antics not only seemed fake but were often out of step with the times. There’s enough mean-spiritedness on the internet, and in the world in general, these days. That’s the reason the rebooted American Idol won’t be showing any bad auditions. I’m all for TV drama and tough love, but sometimes The Four was just tough, with no love.
But finally, on a happier note, when was the last time that the top two finalists on any singing competition were both women of color? Um, that’s right — never. Even in Fantasia’s Idol season, there apparently wasn’t room for Jennifer Hudson or LaToya London in the top two. So seeing Evvie and Candice standing side by side on the finale stage was a heartening development.
And now, without further ado, here’s my full recap of Thursday’s finale performances. Pass the popcorn.
The R&B diva’s massive, mighty vocals on No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” were impressive enough to at the very least turn Gwen Stefani’s chair on The Voice, but the arrangement and phrasing felt very cabaret/adult contemporary/hotel lounge to me. Maybe it wasn’t such a compliment when judge Diddy called Candice “seasoned.” But Meghan Trainor told Candice, “You nailed every single note,” which wasn’t a lie. DJ Khaled just lit up a candle, for some reason. This dude has more onstage props than Carrot Top.
“I may not have history like some of the other Four, but the world hasn’t even seen what I can really do yet,” proclaimed the future winner. And damn! It turns out Evvie can do a lot. The Tina Turner version of “Proud Mary” could have been totally clichéd — and to be honest, some of Evvie’s rubber-limbed dancing and hairography bordered on Vegas tribute act. But she was just such a vivacious, growling, lively performer, I could not resist her ritzy charms. No one could. Even the normally disapproving and stank-faced Zhavia was smiling and singing along. Evvie totally sold this. Heck, I’d go see her in Vegas. Diddy called her “fearless,” and Meghan said, “That was my favorite performance throughout the entire season.” Khaled called Evvie an “icon” and blasted his obnoxious air horn in approval.
Definitely the truest “artist” of this final Four — maybe of the whole season — Vincint performed a stunning, passionate rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” in front of some rotating computerized skull that looked supercool. The song started off sweet and weepy, à la Sam Smith, then came roaring to life with some rock ‘n’ roll Jagger swagger at its awesome end. “Creep” is another tune that’s been done to death on various singing competitions, but Vincint proved that he’s “so very special” and that, yes, he does belong here. Meghan called him “amazing.” Diddy called him a “sleeper” (an odd term, since, like Evvie, Vincint only joined the cast last week) and said, “This is the first time anybody’s given me goose bumps.” DJ Khaled said, “I knew you could sing, but today, I can tell you knew this was the finale.”
Following vocal powerhouse Candice, dancing dynamo Evvie, and unique showman Vincint, Zhavia no longer seemed like the frontrunner. “Evvie’s a belter, Vincint is a soul singer, and Candice has a big voice, but I feel like my style is something new that hasn’t been heard,” she insisted, but her mumbled cover of Drake’s “One Dance” was patchy — and pitchy. Her nasal tone, especially in her lower register, was more noticeable and jarring than ever (she actually sounded like she had two voices, one high and one low, and she was dueting with herself), and it didn’t seem like she’d be able to blame that on illness anymore.
Meghan tried to be nice and instead blamed Zhavia’s imperfect performance on her uncomfortable lace-up cage shoes (I hope the show’s poor stylist didn’t get fired after that comment), but Diddy was blunter, saying: “I have a responsibility to tell you the truth. I haven’t been feeling your energy since you walked on this stage. It isn’t the original Zhavia that walked up there, fearless. That performance was not your best, and you’re responsible for that. I’m telling you the truth because I want you to have a chance to win, so I need you to know, you’re ranked No. 4. You are way, way better than that.”
At this point, the studio audience had one last chance to vote for the singer they thought gave the best performance, with the winner of this first round earning the opportunity to pick his/her battle partner in round two. Evvie won, of course; the dynamite lady knew how to work the crowd, and it paid off. Finding herself in an advantageous position, Evvie challenged the apparently fourth-ranked Zhavia. “I chose Zhavia, because I want to win,” she explained frankly. Oh snap.
Zhavia vs. Evvie McKinney
Heeding Meghan’s fashion advice, Zhavia returned to the stage barefoot to sing Rihanna’s “Man Down.” More like woman down, amirite? To be fair, this was definitely an improvement over “One Dance.” But she still sounded garbled and weird — distinctive, yes, and that was a good thing, but still weird. The best part of her performance was when her climbed the steps leading up to where Evvie was seated (easier for Zhavia to do now that’d shed her problematic boots) and got all up in Evvie’s face. It was a fun TV moment, but Evvie didn’t look scared. At all. Meanwhile, the Khaled-eating-popcorn GIFs practically made themselves.
At least Zhavia’s song choice was current and hip. I can’t say the same for Evvie’s tune, “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers. Yes, it’s a classic, but come on, Christina Christian was doing it on American Idol Season ONE. Still, Evvie’s ferocious, tiger-eyed performance style made it work. Even Zhavia seemed to be enjoying this number, though she must have known she was about to lose that Republic Records contract.
Diddy seemed unimpressed by both women, and it was time for the judges (not the studio audience) to decide who was moving on to the final round. A lot of melodramatic, obviously staged in-fighting ensued, with Khaled at one point threatening to walk off the set. Oh, c’mon, guys. This was not a difficult decision. So, yeah, Evvie won, dropping to her sparkly knees with teary joy while Zhavia curled her lip disdainfully and Vincint’s face broke out in a priceless, GIFable tea-sipping expression.
Vincint Cannady vs. Candice Boyd
Bruno Mars’s “Locked Out of Heaven” was a smart choice for Vincint, a funky-fresh, uptempo tune that allowed him to show off his personality — and his awesome body roll moves! This was fierce. Vincint had Meghan literally up out of her seat schreeching. And his screaming falsetto at the song’s climax was ev-er-y-thing. What a star this guy was.
Conversely, Candice went back to Idol Season 1 with the tried-and-true Whitney Houston staple “I Have Nothing.” So old-fashioned! Seriously, this was a stellar vocal, but there was nothing original about it. This was not the performance of an iHeartRadio “On the Verge” artist pick. Those crazy kids who love the Chainsmokers and Migos and Cardi B would not dig this.
The judges seemed like they were, understandably, veering toward Vincint, with Diddy even astutely telling him, “I really feel like there’s a need for a male singer that has your poise, that has your grace, and that, most importantly, has your voice.” But then, against the wishes of a dissenting Meghan, they went with Candice. Massive mistake. Poor Vincint really did get locked out of heaven.
Evvie McKinney vs. Candice Boyd
Evvie sang her sequined heart out on John Legend and Common’s “Glory,” in a performance more histrionic and over-the-top than anything Jason Warrior ever did. But, once again, it worked. Evvie is a born performer. She gave the Oscar-winning anthem the passion and commitment it deserved.
Candice’s cover of Rihanna’s “Stay” was calmer, but at least she was doing something modern and youthful for once. Her vocal was also technically better than Evvie’s. But did she exhibit real star quality, or did she just seem like a really good backup singer? That was up to the judges to decide.
“I love both of y’all. Y’all are both strong vocalists. Both of y’all’s performance, to me, was flawless. And y’all the definition of great,” Khaled said. Diddy said, “I think you [both] deserve to win. This is a very, very, very hard decision. I just want to say, thank y’all for representing for music — real, great, quality music.”
In the end, Evvie took home the circular Lucite trophy — along with that Republic deal. “Let me give you some insight on why we chose who we chose,” Diddy declared. “The vulnerability. The rawness. The feeling. But it really came down to this unexplainable desire and willingness to do whatever it took to entertain people. They both did a great job, but I really feel that we found something special that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
And so, the Four became the One.
It goes without saying that this show had many problems — even though I did say that a lot, all season long. However, if Fox can keep recruiting talent like Evvie and Vincint, fix the show’s above-mentioned formatting issues, incorporate a way for fans at home to vote, find a new fourth judge who’s not a serial predator, and confiscate DJ Khaled’s air horn, then I will watch — and recap — Season 2. See you then.
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