Finalists Terry McDermott, Cassadee Pope and Nicholas David (l-r) with… (Tyler Golden/NBC )
From its first moments to its last, "The Voice" struck a perfectly pitched emotional chord in this season's final performance Monday night, highlighting music's power to access pain and sorrow, to heal and to uplift.
Friday's heartbreaking tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, never far from our thoughts in the intervening days, was directly addressed in the show's initial moments. The coaches, contestants and hosts gathered onstage amongst flickering candles to sing a tribute – Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" -- to those killed.
They held small placards with the names and ages of the victims. So many 6s and 7s. As much as we've read about and tried to absorb the incomprehensible loss – or avoided the news and tried to process its essence without its details – the solemn song, and those simple signs, brought it home.
And it brought the rest of the evening into sharp relief. After a quick look back at the journeys of the three remaining singers, Nicholas David, Terry McDermott and Cassadee Pope, which offered us a moment to bolt for the tissue box and get ourselves back together, the competition resumed.
It was, as Adam Levine predicted, the "most competitive finale we've had yet," and one that, as Christina Aguilera noted, was anyone's game.
It was also a music-packed night, with each singer singing a total of three songs: one new, one a reprise of a song with which he or she had previously had a "breakout" moment, and a duet with the contestant's coach.
Nicholas David brought us all some much-needed joy with a medley of Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" and Jimi Hendrix's "Fire." With flames leaping out of his piano and adding sparkle to his glittery gold sport coat, David's high-energy performance -- with a few kicks that Blake Shelton predicted might get him a call from the Rockettes -- earned him a standing ovation from the three male coaches. "Your fire tonight burned this house down," David's coach, CeeLo Green, said.
David also reprised his take on Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" and turned in a dazzlingly bizarre duet with Green on Wild Cherry's "Play that Funky Music," complete with a cage dancer, aerialists and a dancing mini CeeLo whose name, we learned, was Milo.
Cassadee Pope, clad in a gorgeously glimmering mirrored gown, led with a reprise of coach Blake Shelton's sad and soaring hit "Over You," which seemed to hold a new meaning. Shelton called it an "appropriate" song for the moment. "America's heart is heavy right now," he said, "and that's about healing.... It somehow starts the healing process. That's what music does and can do."
She followed up with a rocking duet of Sheryl Crow's "Steve McQueen," in which Shelton generously granted her most of the spotlight, and then capped the performances off with Faith Hill's "Cry." "For every great moment that you've had on this show, and you've had a lot of them, I've never heard you sing as good as you did tonight," Shelton told her.
Pope's Team Blake teammate, Terry McDermott, kicked off his performances by dueting with Shelton on Aerosmith's "Dude Looks Like a Lady," with what Carson Daly warned us was "a familiar face on guitar." But you might have been too distracted by Adam Levine's bare torso – not to mention his tight jeans, long-haired wig and glasses – to focus on his face for long.
Or you may have been marveling at McDermott's clean, clear, crisp vocals, which were on display as well on his two subsequent songs: Mr. Mister's "Broken Wings," his adorable son Liam's favorite song, which McDermott tried to de-'80s, and a reprise on Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" that was a marked improvement from the way he had sung it earlier in the season. "Every time you get onstage something epic happens," Shelton told him after "Broken Wings." "You make these classic rock songs sound new again....And nobody's been able to do that except you."
Any of these three singers is worthy of wearing "The Voice" crown. We'll find out which of them takes it tonight. Who would you like to see win?
INTERACTIVE: 'The X Factor' vs. 'The Voice'
'The Voice' recap: Trevin Hunte heads home, leaving three
'The Voice' recap: The top four sing in the semifinals
PHOTOS: Holiday TV specials
PHOTOS: 15 shocking moments from 'South Park'
VIDEO: Watch the latest fall TV trailers here