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Barron's Chris Kroeze channels Sweet Home Wis. in 'The Voice' finale

Chris Kroeze hovered over "The Voice" audience singing "Sweet Home Alabama" on Monday. / Tyler Golden, NBC

Chris Kroeze hovered over "The Voice" audience singing "Sweet Home Alabama" on Monday. / Tyler Golden, NBC

A Southern rock classic and faith-fueled new song will help determine if western Wisconsin’s Chris Kroeze wins “The Voice” on Tuesday night.

As fans back home in Barron, Wis., and in many surrounding towns declared it Chris Kroeze Day and gathered for viewing parties after work and school, the long-haired, woolly-faced rocker kicked off Monday night’s live finale episode with a performance of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” The classic-rock anthem allowed him to show off more than his voice.

“You’re a rad vocalist, but your guitar skills are off the charts,” judge Kelly Clarkson said after Kroeze, 27, played a fiery solo on his Les Paul.

Once the season’s other three finalists took their turn – none brandishing an instrument like he did -- Kroeze then showed off his faithful and emotional side with a Christian-themed original song called “Human,” written by a pair of Nashville songwriters. Amid lyrics preaching against infidelity, jealousy and self-pity, he sang, “I shouldn’t pray just when things ain’t going right.”

Kroeze also got a little sinful in Monday’s episode via a duet of “Two More Bottles of Wine” with his coach Blake Shelton, a rowdy song by Texas bluesman Delbert McClinton made popular by Emmylou Harris.

Recordings of all three of Kroeze’s performances can now be streamed via Apple Music, which is one method used to determine which of the four finalists will take the top prize on Tuesday’s two-hour season closer. Fans can also try to make the Wisconsin finalist a winner via the voting page at NBC.com or via “The Voice’s” app.

Using the Kroeze-branded hashtag @SmallTownStrong, social media postings on Monday already showed there’s ample support for Kroeze back home in Wisconsin. First and second graders in Barron and nearby Spooner posed in cutout paper beards with “Go Chris!” messages. Kroeze’s manager Bruce Evans said the singer’s family, friends and neighbors in Barron gathered for an assembly at Woodland Elementary and a watch party at Rolling Oaks Restaurant (his wife and toddler son were in the TV audience in Los Angeles).

In a Star Tribune interview last month, Kroeze acknowledged how bittersweet his appearance on the show has been for his hometown, which has been wrestling with the tragic disappearance of 13-year-old Jayme Closs and murder of her parents since October.

“I hope what I’m doing out here at least raises some spirits in a little way and has brought some positive news to the community,” he said.

In setting up Kroeze's first performance Monday, his coach Shelton harked back to prior performances of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Doobie Brothers tunes to underlined the Wisconsinite's small-town, regular-joe appeal: "All along his journey, he’s been performing these iconic songs," Shelton said. "That’s why people can relate to him."

Kroeze supporters will have to wait through guest performances by the likes of Panic! at the Disco, Dierks Bentley, Halsey and incoming "Voice" judge/coach John Legend before finding out the final winner of Season 14 on Tuesday's final episode. It airs 7-9 p.m. CT on NBC (KARE 11 locally).

Chef Lidia Bastianich 'kisses the fish' with Minnesotans in new PBS holiday special

Lidia Bastianich pets sled dogs in Walker, Minn./photo courtesy of PBS

Lidia Bastianich may refer to those of us who live in this state as "Minnesot-ee-ans," but you'll forgive her after watching her joyous new special, "Lidia Celebrates America: A Heartland Holiday Feast, aPBS special premiering 8 p.m. Tuesday on TPT, Ch. 2.

After digging into shoofly pie in rural Pennsylvania and whipping up tamales in Denton, Texas, the Emmy winner heads to the Midwest where she spends time with the Hmong community in Wausau, Wisc. and learns how to make lefse with Iron Range chef Maxwell Mraz. During a stop in Walker, Minn., she goes ice fishing with local guide Jason Rylander and even cajoles her grandson into participating in the tradition of kissing a eelpout.

You can see the moment in this clip from the special:

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