Clearwater-raised Juliet Simms came within a hair of winning NBC's hit singer competition The Voice Tuesday, only to land in second place, seemingly unseated by a powerhouse performance Monday from Jermaine Paul, a former backup singer for R&B star Alicia Keys.
The winner was announced Tuesday night in the final minutes of a two-hour finale, as the show's final four finalists were lined up to represent the superstar mentors who had coached them. Paul had been aided by country star Blake Shelton, Simms was backed by Cee Lo Green, former Mickey Mouse Club member Tony Lucca was championed by last year's winning judge Adam Levine and operatic singer Chris Mann was helped by pop diva Christina Aguilera.
Moments before the results were announced, Simms, 26, said she was happy to make the finals. "This is my childhood dream, and I'm standing here," said the singer, who struggled with illness over the weekend and this week.
The results capped a long process which began on Feb. 5, as more than 70 singers were whittled down into teams mentored by the pop stars, who pitted the singers against each other in battle rounds and later saw contestants eliminated through a combination of audience votes and judges picks.
But last night's vote was purely the result of audience votes; host Carson Daly said just 4 percent separated Simms and Paul.
NBC didn't even try to hide how badly its two-hour finale was padded to push the show's results to the very end of the program, rolling out taped bits on the celebrity judges' bickering, the inexplicable presence of Green's white cat Purrfect and skits with cast members from Parks and Recreation and Saturday Night Live.
Still, Simms joined Flo Rida for a rousing version of his new single, Whistle, earning compliments from the Miami-based rapper. Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber also performed his new hit Boyfriend; '80s popsters Hall & Oates pulled the three male finalists onto the stage for a soulful version of their classic Rich Girl.
The atmosphere on Monday's show was markedly different, as contestants poured their heart into the performances viewers would use to decide their fate.
Last week, Simms said local musicians should take heart because the nation is thirsty for something Florida players have always delivered well: Southern rock. So it made a certain kind of sense that she would close the show with an emotional version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Free Bird.
Simms admitted struggling with illness over the weekend and seemed just a shade less intense than viewers have seen in the past. According to the Hollywood Reporter, she couldn't rehearse over the weekend to save her voice, meaning the first time she sang her songs was on Monday's show.
"I must have sang them a billion times in my head," Simms told the magazine. "I literally would fall asleep at night with all the songs on repeat. … And, I've been on The Voice stage so many times now that I feel really comfortable."
Back to showing off dark hair after spending some time on the show as a blond, she joined celebrity coach Cee Lo Green Monday for a glammed-up version of Born to Be Wild and serenaded him with a take on his hit Crazy.
Still, the man to beat Monday seemed to be Paul, who tore through a majestic version of R. Kelly's I Believe I Can Fly to start the show and duetted with Shelton on a fun, funky cover of Sam & Dave's Soul Man.
Unlike rival American Idol, each of the finalists on The Voice have relatively extensive professional performing careers. Simms has had record deals with Sony, RCA and Epic, while Lucca performed on the Mickey Mouse Club with Aguilera many years ago.
Regardless of the result, it looks like Simms has made her mark as a powerful performer capable of closing one of the glitziest singing shows on television.