Drat. I was right (below) about Nicholas David’s chances on The Voice, but the fact that he came in third place behind Terry McDermott exposed some of the show’s bogusness when it comes to voting. Frankly, it’s amazing he got as far as he did, given the bias these kinds of shows have for sensitive crooners on the male side, and diva wailers on the female side. It’s hard for a guy with his own style and vibe to break through the corporate perma-crust that surrounds so much contemporary popular music, but Nicholas did it, and for that he should be commended.
Cassadee Pope was the perfect winner because she is a plug-and-play pop princess. Any producer can now buy a few songs for her, hire a band, and send her out on the road. She’ll be great. Can’t wait to see her at the Grammy’s, where over-produced pop music is grossly over-appreciated.
And in the end, Nick might look back and see that he dodged a bullet. Winning The Voice comes with all kinds of contractual obligations that the “losers” don’t have to deal with. Having come in third, Nicholas is largely free to do his own thing now. In terms of exposure, he got just as much as Cassadee, and the show had to have expanded his fan base to the point where he can now market himself the way he wants, at the pace he wants. Lots of people are going to want a piece of him, but he’ll have more leverage in the artistic-freedom department. I’d rather be him than Cassadee at this point. For the next few years, her life will not be her own.
So congratulations, Nicholas—you may have been the big winner after all. Take that Kia Sorento and drive it all the way to the bank.
The Voice voting is over, and tonight (Tuesday), we will find out if America prefers the soulful song stylings of Minnesota’s own Nicholas David (“The Feelin” Mrozinski), or the cookie-cutter diva clone, Cassadee Pope.
Going into last night’s final, I thought Terry McDermott had the best shot at winning—not because he’s better, but because he appeals to three key demographics: teenage-girls who like men who look like boys, guys who grew up playing Guitar Hero, and their parents, who were weaned on McDermott’s specialty: radio hits of the seventies and eighties.
Unfortunately, Terry had a tough night. Some technical troubles apparently caused him to sing the first half of Mister Mister’s “Broken Wings” painfully flat, and his duet with coach Blake Shelton was crippled by a horrible song choice: “Dude Looks Like a Lady,” one of the worst songs Aerosmith ever recorded—and they recorded some bad ones.
So Terry’s toast. That leaves Nicholas and Cassadee, and the songs they presented last night couldn’t have presented America with a starker choice. Nicholas David, the strange-looking hairy dude with the wife and kid who sings retro-classic soul and R&B, versus Cassadee Pope, the young, beautiful songstress with the pearly teeth and bad-girlish arm tattoo who sings alt-country anthems of heartache and obsession. Whichever way the voting goes, it will say something about American artistic tastes, though that something may not work in Nicholas’s favor.
The biggest disadvantage Nicholas David has right now is that he is a true original. No one looks like him, sounds like him, or performs like him. His voice—sexy and dangerous at the low end, alternately ecstatic and aggrieved at the high end, yet somehow gravelly and smooth at the same time—is as distinctive an instrument as Clapton’s guitar or Yo Yo Ma’s cello. And his style—the Jesus-length hair, the gypsy jewelry on his hands, the Eisenhower-era slacks—is all his own. He also has an amazing artistic range. He can do everything from sad, slow tearjerkers and moody R&B ballads to, last night, fiery rock ‘n’ roll and rollicking, jubilant funk.
Last night, Nicholas pretty much killed it, opening with a tremendous medley of Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” followed by reprisal of the gospel classic “Lean on Me”—his “breakout moment” on the show—capped off by a duet with Cee Lo Green on “Play That Funky Music (White Boy),” which, besides great singing, featured a kid dressed as mini Cee Lo busting some moves. It was all great fun, and put an exclamation mark on the idea that Nicholas David can pretty much do it all, even—and especially—on the most important night of his life.
Not so Cassadee Pope. She can sing, yes, and looks great onstage, but in the end she’s basically a clone of the type of female alt-country singer that’s already been cloned 1,000 times—Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, LeeAnn Rimes, Sara Evans, Trisha Yearwood, Shania Twain, Kelli Pickler, Taylor Swift, that young singer on Nashville, take your pick. She’s a good mimic of a certain type of singer—a very popular type, but a type nonetheless. She has a clear, pleasing voice, but there is nothing particularly distinctive about it. She sings songs about heartache and pain extremely well (a country staple), and she does a nice job on songs full of anger and defiance (also a country staple), but there isn’t much fun and frolic in her soul. Her range is limited to the country diva canon, and she fits that mold perfectly. Paradoxically, her limitations are her strength, because there are millions of people in this country who love those kinds of singers and those kinds of songs.
Unfortunately, I think I know how this plays out. McDonald’s will always sell more hamburgers than Matt’s, because Americans have been conditioned to like the Big Mac’s aggressive averageness, which is emblematic of a kind of mediocrity that pretty much defines American taste. Applebee’s, The Olive Garden, Subway, Red Lobster, Dairy Queen, Domino’s Pizza, KFC, White Castle et. al—none of these places serve good food. They are popular precisely because they don’t serve distinctive, flavorful food; they serve perfectly mediocre fare to people who prefer that everything in their lives remains contained within certain known, comfortable boundaries.
Cassadee Pope is a McSinger, and people like her because she represents something familiar and easy to like. That’s also why she’ll probably win. But pretty women who hold that high note until everyone starts cheering are so common they’ve become a cliché. If Nicholas David loses, it will be because he is a true artist, and in America, true artists typically don’t stand a chance against remade versions of the tried and true.
I hope I’m wrong, and that my fellow Americans will see fit to reward a man whose singular talent deserves to be recognized. But even if I’m not, and Cassadee does win, Nicholas had a great run and will come home more popular, I’m sure, than he ever in his wildest dreams thought possible. I hope that turns out to be a good thing for him, and that the artist in him doesn’t get crushed by weight of his newfound fame.
However it plays out, we’re behind you, Nicholas. Let’s just hope that this time around, America has better taste than it’s shown in the past.
The Voice finale airs tonight, Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 7 p.m., on NBC/KARE11.