'Voice' finale kicks off with what might be the closest race in the show's history

For the first time in seven seasons, all four coaches on The Voice are represented in the finale — even Gwen Stefani, who only made the top four once, way back in Season 9, with Jeffery Austin. And this just might be the closest race in the entire history of The Voice, too. Before Monday’s all-important final fan-voted episode of Season 17, I figured this was either Kelly Clarkson’s all-American country crooner Jake Hoot or John Legend’s powerhouse show-woman Katie Kadan’s competition to lose, with Blake Shelton’s blues-rocker Ricky Duran gunning for second. But now I think even this season’s outlier, Team Gwen’s diva Rose Short, has a decent shot.

On Monday’s two-hour telecast, the four contestants each performed three times — once with an original single, once with a cover tune, and finally in a holiday number with his or her coach. And all four had their standout moments. Jake, Ricky, and Katie all had memorable, recordable originals. Rose definitely had the best cover song. Katie and Jake more than held their own — in fact, they excelled — in their delightful coach duets. Overall, I think Katie pulled off the most consistently fantastic night, performance-wise, but Jake still seemed most likely to be embraced by mainstream voters. However, let’s not rule out the advantages that Ricky and Rose enjoyed by performing last, in the episode’s “pimp spots.”

Any of these victories would be notable. Katie and Rose, women in their mid-thirties who don’t look or sound like typical pop stars and have overcome multiple hardships, represent what The Voice is supposed to be all about. Jake would not only fulfill Kelly’s dream of winning with a male country artist, but he’d be the first true one-chair contestant to win the show. (Season 12 champ Chris Blue was technically a one-chair turn, but he auditioned last, when Alicia Keys was the only coach with an opening on her team, so that doesn’t really count.) And finally, four-chair contestant Ricky would help Blake, the series’ most historically successful and only remaining original coach, return to the winner’s circle for the first time since Season 13.