This is it, you guys. The months we’ve spent, the hours we’ve given over to this corporate-sponsored talent show have all amounted to one last hour.
What’s that? One hour, you say? “American Idol” chose the LAST performance episode of the season to finally cut back the time we are expected to bleed away for them. So somehow, with millions of extra hours sprinkled throughout the season, Wednesday night’s finale actually felt rushed and too short for such a momentous occasion.
Sure, there was the change in setting, at a much bigger and brighter auditorium. Sure, Kree Harrison finally put on something that fit her, and Candice Glover bared her legs for the first time. But other than those few tweaks, tonight didn’t feel like it was supposed to lead us off into the sunset with a new “Idol.” In fact, it was probably the lowest-key episode of the season.
We opened with some then-and-now footage. Kree’s just a little tot on the Rosie O’Donnell show, being very overconfident about her “god-given talent.” Candice is shown walking in to her auditions in three different years. Then, in unison: “This would change my life.”
Ryan Seacrest sums up the situation. It’s country vs. pop, Lone Star State vs. Palmetto State, Kreedom vs. Candygirl. At the most basic level, it’s female vs. female, the first such finale since Season 3. It’s also the first plus-size vs. plus-size finale maybe ever, as the two curvaceous ladies emerge from behind the glow wall (they brought that with them to the new studio). Ryan chats them up for a second, and Kree says it’s surreal being in this “the-A-ter,” which sends us all back to the 1940s, before the Beatles and Burt Bacharach and other musical obstacles for these young’uns were even invented.
The rounds will be as follows: Round 1 songs are selected by “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller. Round 2 is the new single the winner will release. And Round 3 is repeats of the ladies’ favorite songs they’ve done this season. Kree won the coin toss and chose to be first, even though the one who goes last is always the most remembered. Her choice makes no sense, unless Kree’s trying to throw the competition and give it to Candice, which is totally plausible.
Simon Fuller gives Kree Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” and the geniuses in set design project angel wings onto the wall behind her, then prop a camera near her feet looking up, so it looks like the wings are on her. And they move and flutter, and it’s all very literal. She’s in a form-fitting light-gray strapless gown with silver trim, and it’s lovely and so much better than the mom tops. Her singing is beautiful, and she does that storytelling thing country singers are so good at. But it’s also very relaxed, maybe too relaxed.
Candice sings “Chasing Pavements,” and it’s also pretty laidback. She starts very low, and kind of breezily sails through the song, almost, actually, in a Burt Bacharach style. There’s even a light and sweet little falsetto at the end straight out of “Promises, Promises.”
Judgment is untraditional tonight. The first two rounds, only a pair of judges comment on both performances at once. So at this point, Randy Jackson and Mariah Carey speak. Which basically means Mariah speaks, for a really long time. She says that the two girls have different styles, which is incredibly obvious, and she takes several minutes to say it. Randy criticizes the song choices of their boss Simon Fuller, and Ryan catches him: “Just because you’re leaving you say stuff like that now.” And there’s actually a spoken acknowledgment of Randy’s departure. I thought for sure they would just continue to not address anything that actually goes on with this show.
Randy says he gives Candice a slight edge in the round.
In between rounds, Carly Rae Jepsen, a “Canadian Idol” finalist, shows up to deliver on the promise no one ever asked for, to perform a new single with production elements decided on by people who were invested in this scenario enough to go online and vote. So basically, decided on by 11-year-olds. The song is called “Take a Picture,” and there’s a dancer dressed as a photographer, which is to say not in dancer clothes, dancing all around. The song is very Robynesque, baby-voiced dance music, and it’s long and boring. This is what America decided on? I can’t imagine which elements were up for grabs. The sunglasses she wore, then the hat she wore, the puff of smoke here and there? Thanks, America.
Before the round begins, Ryan takes a walk down the aisle in the auditorium and meets a middle-aged woman who interrupts him to tell him he’s good-looking. He kisses her on the head and then takes him with him the rest of the way, not noticing that she is injured and maybe unable to actually walk, to meet Aubrey Cleland, the “Idol” finalist that never was. Wow, jackpot.
Kree, back in her comfort zone, aka a blazer, was up next to do her single, “All Cried Out.” It’s standard country pop, the kind of song that’s completely interchangeable with a million other songs but will do just fine for her. She struggles a bit on the high notes, though, and it’s not a fluke—it keeps happening.
Candice’s song is called “I Am Beautiful,” and I can’t figure out if it’s about a guy or god. She starts off pissed at a “you” who treats her bad, but says she can get through it because “he says I am beautiful.” So who’s the he? I hope it is god, because I don’t like to think that a woman as strong as Candice needs a guy to tell her she’s beautiful in order for her to believe it.
This time Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban weigh in. Nicki loved Kree’s composure. About the high notes, though. “It wasn’t that she was straining, but it seemed like it was from the gut,” was how she explained it. Nicki also loved Candice’s song, in light of her admission last week that she had body insecurity issues. Keith said he felt the songs were tailor made for the girls, but he declares Kree the winner of round 2.
Kree wisely chose to reprise her Hollywood song, “Up to the Mountain.” It’s the one about which Jimmy Iovine said a few weeks ago that Kree sang with “a cry from her soul.” And the original happened so long ago, it wasn’t going to be overkill. Like that time on “The X Factor,” when Fifth Harmony sang the same song two weeks in a row, with the exact same arrangement and production and even outfits? Thank goodness Kree didn’t do that. It was great—not sure if it was cry from the soul great, but very close. All four judges gave standing ovations. And this time, they were allowed to talk. Keith praised Kree’s spirituality, Nicki thought it was beautiful, Randy said it was Kree’s best performance of the night (it was), and Mariah said she appreciated the balance between Kree’s first understated number and the power in this one.
Candice picked “I Who Have Nothing.” Even though last time she sang it, Nicki wisely warned everyone watching never ever to sing that song on “Idol” again, because it could never be as good. Well, it was as good. Candice opened a cappella, which was different and insanely difficult to do, and then just built from there. Again, all four judges are out of their chairs. Keith said it was “like a planet exploding to life.” Nicki was just thrilled Candice wore a dress above the knees for the first time. Randy said Candice “shot this whole night to a whole ‘nother level.” And Mariah said it surpassed her “Idol” expectations, which admittedly were low, but still.
With that, Candice certainly won the night, and, most likely, the title. All part of Kree’s master coin-toss plan, but well deserved nonetheless.