Kelly Clarkson was a brand-new coach on "The Voice" this year - but that didn't stop her from making a bold proclamation in the very first episode of the season in February, when she made a bid for contestant Brynn Cartelli.
"I can win with you," Clarkson said to Cartelli, the teenage pop-soul phenom who stunned everyone in the blind audition by belting out Labrinth and Emeli Sandé's "Beneath Your Beautiful."
Blake Shelton also wanted Cartelli on his team, and the two coaches started bickering. (Shelton: "Kelly has absolutely no experience on this show whatsoever." Clarkson: "I had enough experience that he had me mentor his team on the second season!") Eventually, Cartelli chose Clarkson, one of her idols growing up.
It paid off in a big way, as Clarkson proved prophetic: On Tuesday night, Cartelli, a high school freshman from Massachusetts, was crowned champion of "The Voice" Season 14, winning $100,000 and a recording contract with Universal Music Group. As the show's youngest winner ever, she triumphed over country singer Spensha Baker, soul powerhouse Kyla Jade and folk rocker Britton Buchanan, who was the runner-up.
As the judges gushed repeatedly throughout the season, Cartelli's voice is wildly impressive for a 15-year-old, not to mention her poise and confidence on stage. Clarkson dubbed her everything from "a unicorn" to "an anomaly," while Alicia Keys said she has "a maturity that's way beyond (her) years." Yet during the two-night finale this week, it appears Cartelli could actually be a game-changer for the singing competition - because she has a real shot at becoming the show's first mainstream star.
Before you roll your eyes, yes, we know - the same thing has been predicted about contestants in the past, and it hasn't happened. For all the success of "The Voice," still one of the country's most-watched TV shows, the most common criticism is that it hasn't produced an actual superstar. While some contestants have found music careers after the show, particularly in Nashville, plenty struggle. And no one has come near the level of ... well, Clarkson, who rocketed to stardom after winning the first season of "American Idol" in 2002.
Anyway, here's why we think Cartelli could be different than past "Voice" winners: Her coronation song, "Walk My Way" sounds like a track that could easily become a 2018 song of the summer contender, and it's dropping at the perfect time.
Since the seventh season, nearly all the final four contestants are required to sing an original song in the finale, which will serve as their first single if they win. There have been several quality tunes, such as Season 7 winner Craig Wayne Boyd's "My Baby's Got a Smile on Her Face," which briefly topped the country charts; Season 8 winner Sawyer Fredericks's "Please," written by Ray LaMontagne; and Chris Blue's "Money On You," produced by Tinashe Sibanda, who has written for Maroon 5 and Rita Ora.
However, none of these were breakout hits, and that leads us to Cartelli's song. "Walk My Way" was written by Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter and Nick Monson. Michaels, who performed with Cartelli on the finale and was a "Voice" mentor this season, is one of pop music's most prominent rising artists. Tranter is an extremely successful songwriter for acts from Britney Spears to Selena Gomez, and Monson is known for producing Lady Gaga. Those credentials alone give the song a boost, plus the fact it is unbelievably catchy. Sure, the track might not be your style, but the chorus will almost certainly get stuck in your head. (Particularly the studio version.)
"'Walk My Way' is something you would hear on the radio right now," Cartelli explained Monday night after she sang it for the first time. "Just knowing that this is something current, this is something that people are going to be able to jam out to with their friends - it makes me pumped up to sing it."
After the finale, "Walk My Way" was at No. 1 on iTunes, next to Buchanan's "Where You Come From" - a very meaningful tune that the 19-year-old runner-up wrote himself, although not as likely to catch on at radio.
So it will be telling to see if Cartelli can break through. All the stars seemed to be aligned, and Clarkson said she's already heard from people in the industry who want to work with Cartelli. In the past, Adam Levine has been critical of record labels who drop the ball with talented "Voice" winners - but as Cartelli leaves the show armed with Clarkson's support and a potential hit song, she just may have the best chance of anyone so far.