One silver lining (TINY) that came out of the COVID-19 shutdowns? Artists couldn’t tour, so instead, many fired up their computers and auditioned for talent shows. The Voice 21, which just finished their season this month, boasted a ton of talent. American Idol also featured impressive artists, many of whom write their own songs.
In 2022, the spring cycle of The Voice exits to make room for the American Song Contest, which will feature live performances of original songs from all 50 states and more. Next year’s list will certainly include a clip or two from the brand new show.
Below are 12 of my favorite talent show contestant vocal performances of 2021. What were your favorites?
As they say on the shows, IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER (well, ok, alphabetized) HERE WE GO.
Ava August & Josh Groban – Both Sides Now – American Idol 19
The American Idol 19 Top 24 each performed a solo and a duet with a celebrity singer for a chance to advance to the Top 16. It wasn’t until 15 year old Ava August sang a gorgeous and emotional duet of “Both Sides Now” with Josh Groban that she became a potential season 19 “dark horse.” She also impressed the judges with her solo rendition of Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers Licence.” Judge Katy Perry remarked that Ava had an old soul that said, “I’m coming back this time, I’m going to do it right, ace this test of life, and become that queen.” Indeed, she sang with a maturity beyond her years. Alas, the young singer left the competition before the Top 10. But she came a long way from being a no-turn contestant on The Voice the year before.
Beane – Grow as we Go by Ben Platt – American Idol 19
Yes, my pick here is a bit out of left field. But hear me out–Beane was underrated! This cover of Ben Platt’s “Grow as we Go” was a lovely, perfect bit of storytelling from the Berklee College of Music alum. He performed it as his Wildcard song on Top 12 reveal night. And save him, the judges did. Paula Abdul sitting in for COVID-19 positive Luke Bryan that week declared herself a “Beane Fan.” Unfortunately, the talented vocalist who was always willing to take a risk, went home the following week after singing “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing.
Brooke Simpson – Lost Cause by Billie Eilish – America’s Got Talent
On America’s Got Talent, singers not only compete against other singers, but against all sorts of Vegas-like variety acts such as magicians, daredevils, comics, acrobats and more. It’s an odd place for a vocalist. But for some, the platform works. Brooke Simpson, who finished in third place on The Voice season 13, used her time on AGT wisely. As a big voiced belter, she could have relied on the standard Whitney and Mariah tunes to move forward. But instead, she sang contemporary songs, showing America exactly the kind of artist she’d be. Also, she championed her North Carolina native tribe, the Haliwa-Saponi, and strived to be a role model. She never failed to deliver a terrific performance, but my favorite was her emotional and powerful twist on Billie Eilish’s “Lost Cause.”
Cam Anthony – Take Me to Church by Hozier – The Voice 20
Cam Anthony won The Voice season 20, and it became clear early on that his coach Blake Shelton, got out of his way and allowed him to do his thing. The singer’s beautiful tone and surprising creative interpretations wowed fans week after week. While his finale take on Cynthia Evrio’s “Stand Up” was dramatic and probably clinched the win for him, my personal favorite was his compelling rendition of Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” from the Playoffs. Staged simply amid 16 other performances, his vocal stood out, cementing his place in the competition as the one to beat.
Chayce Beckham – What Brings Life Also Kills by Kolton Moore & the Clever Few- American Idol 19
Chayce Beckham won American Idol 19 on the strength of his songwriting skills. For instance, he was the first Idol winner to pen his own coronation song. And that song rose to No. 1 on the overall iTunes sales chart and didn’t budge for awhile. But he also performed impressive, authentic covers of songs by Chris Stapleton, Coldplay and Zac Brown Band. His cover of The Beatles’ “Blackbird” on the finale could be the story of his journey on American Idol. Chayce entered the competition a few weeks after a DIU, looking for a second chance. Chayce’s plaintive raspy vocal set against a bluesey Claptonish riff gave the song an earnest country vibe. Fun Fact: Chayce will open for Kolton Moore & The Clever Few in January. He covered their “What Brings Life Also Kills” on Top 16 week.
Girl Named Tom – Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell – The Voice 21
The Voice 21 champs, Girl Named Tom, had so many great performances on Team Kelly Clarkson! But their cover of Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” for the Knockouts established them firmly as the act to beat. They even knocked out early front runner, Holly Forbes, who ended up on Team Ariana Grande after a steal. The performance starts off a little shaky, but by the end, the soaring sibling harmonies and lead singer Bekah Liechty’s ethereal lead vocal left fans breathless by the end. The trio would go on to be the first group ever to win The Voice.
Hunter Metts – Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová – American Idol 19
Hunter Metts delivered one of the most memorable moments of American Idol 19. As he finished singing a mesmerizing rendition of “Falling Slowly,” his mind went blank and he forgot the lyrics. A more seasoned performer could have covered for the slight blip. But the gaff took him out of a spell he was clearly under. So frustrated with himself, he began crying. Katy Perry insisted that perfection was an illusion, and pointed out the singer’s vulnerability. Lionel Richie had an anecdote about the time he forgot the words to his hit “Hello.” Luke Bryan called the performance his best yet. Indeed, Hunter was so connected emotionally to the song, his mind seemed to go blank for a second. But that gorgeous falsetto and deep connection to the lyric made up for any gaffe. Hunter left the competition at the Top 7, but not before he released a lovely self-penned winners single, “20,000 kisses.”
Jershika Maple – Break Every Chain – The Voice 21
On The Voice 21, Team John Legend went to the finals with Jershika Maple. But at no time did the gospel and soul singer appear to have it in the bag. She fought every step of the way. Her Voice journey began on Team Kelly Clarkson, in the next round, John stole her in the Battles. She won her Knockout against contender Paris Winningham, but then John needed to save her at the Playoffs. It seemed that Broadway belter, Joshua Vacanti–never saved stolen or in the bottom until the semi-finals–would prevail. But Jershika ended up in the bottom TWICE and both times she won the Instant Save. And it was her transcendent and powerful rendition of Tasha Cobbs Leonard’s “Break Every Chain” that propelled her past Joshua, singular country contestant Lana Scott from Team Blake and seemingly industratable father-son duo. Jim & Sasha Allen from Team Ariana in that last Instant Save. She EARNED her spot in the final.
Jewel (Queen of Hearts) – La Vie en Rose by Edith Piaf – Masked Singer 6
When it comes right down to it, nobody was gonna beat Jewel on The Masked Singer 6. The 90’s singer-songwriter proved she could sing anything, as she took on country, pop, blues and yes, FRENCH pop. And she did it all costumed as a big red one-eyed heart, sporting a crown. In an interview with Kelly Clarkson after winning the show, Jewel explained how she considered herself a songwriter first, so never performed covers. She picked songs that she’s always wanted to sing. Actually, a better word would be interpret, because she certainly made them all her own. She even did a smart thing, releasing studio versions of her competition songs in an EP. A crew member read the lyrics of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie En Rose” to Jewel through her in-ears. She had trouble memorizing French, a language she did not speak. Nevertheless, the performance was a Masked Singer highlight.
Pia Renee – What the World Needs Now is Love by Jackie DeShannon – The Voice 20
As Pia Renee delivered a heartwarming rendition of the 60s classic “What the World Needs Now Is Love” in her Knockout battle, the coaches didn’t know that she had just lost her mother. Pia’s unique phrasing on a familiar song felt fresh and immediate. The Burt Bacharach/Hal David favorite delivers a message that has always seemed timely, and Pia elevated the song’s meaning with runs and adlibs that were both impeccable, yet laden with emotion. Her coach John Legend remarked that she managed to “flawlessly deliver the song without getting overwhelmed by emotion.” A season standout, Pia also shined on a cover of Jazmine Sullivan’s “Need U Bad” for her Playoffs performance. Unfortunately, Pia left the competition at the semi-finals.
Willie Spence – Glory by John Legend and Common – American Idol 19
At the American Idol 19 Top 4, when so much was at stake, R&B singer Willie Spence delivered the moment he needed with a powerful rendition of ‘Glory.” The song ended with the gospel choir in the background, and Willie giving everything he had for a spectacular and moving performance. “I’m so glad you took us to church,” said Katy Perry. “It’s in God’s hands now! I don’t want to choose.” Luke Bryan added, “You’re literally going to save people’s lives with your voice.” Willie went on to The Top 3 final and ultimately finishing in 2nd place behind Chayce Beckham.
Wendy Moten – Jolene by Dolly Parton – The Voice 21
At 57, Wendy Moten was determined to go through The Voice gauntlet, hoping to kick start a solo career in Nashville at the end of it. So, when she face-planted on live TV during a results show, she wasn’t going to let a little thing like a broken wrist on one side and a shattered elbow on the other get in her way. The R&B back-up singer powered her way t0 2nd place on season 21 behind Girl Named Tom. Wendy tended to stick to tried-and-true songs like Whitney and Motown covers, but she ALWAYS brought her own vibe to her performances. She made it all look effortless! But for Challenge Week, which had contestants step out of their boxes, she and her coach Blake Shelton settled on a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” And did she Whitney it up? No she did not. She performed a soulful, yet countrified version of the song that took great advantage of the singers luscious low notes. So good!