Last night’s finale was the best finale of American Idol ever. Yes, they still had some of the cheesy antics with the ‘Golden Idol Awards’, which “honor” the worst contestants from the early audition and Hollywood-week episodes. Of course the first award went to Nick “Norman Gentle” Mitchell, and despite having already used up his 15-minutes of fame, he acted like he was getting a real award but then stripped out of his sweats to his Norman Gentle get-up. He reprised his unique (and funny) rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”
Of course they had to give an award to Katrina Darrell, a.k.a. Bikini Girl, who walked onstage in the expected swimwear but looked significantly more ‘top heavy’. “I was gonna ask you what’s new,” said Ryan, “but I think I know.” She started to massacre the song “Vision of Love,” but we were saved by her fiercest critic, Kara DioGuardi, who joined her onstage and out sang her by a million miles. At the end of the song, Kara even ripped open her dress to reveal her own bikini – and quite frankly, I thought she rocked the bikini much better than Bikini Girl did. Of course Ryan hastily explained that they (he and the judges) had made a bet with Kara that she wouldn’t flash like that on stage, but that if she did, they’d donate a bunch of money to her favorite charity. Not only does the charity get to benefit, but at least Bikini Girl was officially put in her place.
The final award of course went to the contestant you loved to hate, drama queen Tatiana Nicole Del Toro. When Ryan told her that there was no time for her to take the stage, it was obvious it was a set-up segment, because she easily got past the two security guards (who were close enough to stop her from reaching the stage, but didn’t) and she grabbed her award and began singing her signature song, “Saving All My Love for You,” before finally being escorted offstage. That was a few minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
Aside from those annoying segments (which I could have fast forwarded past but somehow felt compelled to watch), the rest of the finale was incredible. In years past the finale seemed rather cheesy, like they were trying too hard. Last night they actually gave us a decent show. The previously eliminated finalists from this season all got what could be a last chance to sing on national TV. In addition to group numbers, most of the contestants were matched up with established performers.
At the beginning of the show, we saw our two finalists in matching all-white outfits, then the music kicked off with the top 13, also in all white, doing a cover of Pink’s “So What.” Later the girls performed a slowed-down version of Fergie’s “Glamorous”, which segued into Fergie herself doing a snippet of “Big Girls Don’t Cry”. That then segued into Fergie being joined by her Black Eyed Peas mates to do the group’s hit “Boom Boom Pow”. I thought it was interesting that the live feed was lost just as Fergie was singing her solo of that song – not sure if it was a technical issue or if AI was censoring.
Last year’s winner, former bartender David Cook, came back for a second visit this season singing his ballad “Permanent”. He sang it as a tribute to his older brother, Adam, who recently succumbed to his decade-long fight with brain cancer. The version will be available on iTunes, and the proceeds will go to the charity David set up in honor of his brother, seeking a cure for brain cancer.
The other performances included Lil Rounds standing toe-to-toe with Queen Latifah and rocking it on the regal one’s new single, “Cue the Rain.” Finalists Anoop Desai and Alexis Grace bopped along with Jason Mraz to his reggae lite hit “I’m Yours”, Allison Iraheta partnered with Cyndi Lauper for “Time After Time”, and third-place finisher (and my favorite this season) Danny Gokey did an outstanding job with his soulful run through Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” which paved the way for a duet with the R&B legend on his new single, the slinky “Just Go.” My hubby was pleased to see legendary guitarist Carlos Santana, who ripped into “Black Magic Woman,” and just when we were wondering who was going to do the vocals for that song, Matt Giraud took the stage sporting his familiar fedora, and was soon joined by the rest of the top 13 for a sing-along to the Grammy-winning smash “Smooth.”
The finale was kept at a much faster pace than years past, with the hits coming right after the other. The top two got their chance to shine, with Kris Allen doing an outstanding job alongside Keith Urban on the hit “Kiss a Girl,” while Lambert donned studded metallic (wings?), gigantic platform boots and a space-age black leather suit to croon the classic Kiss ballad “Beth.” Just as we were wondering if Kiss were really going to make an appearance, sure enough the pyro-loving rockers descended from the ceiling to sing a medley of “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock and Roll All Nite,” with Lambert doing such a fantastic job, he almost showed up both of the band’s singers with his power-rock vocals.
Michael Sarver and Megan Joy were paired with one of the night’s strangest visitors – comedic legend Steve Martin, who plucked his banjo on the original bluegrass tune “Pretty Flowers” from his just-released debut musical effort, The Crow. When asked who he thought would be the winner, Steve Martin replied “I know it’s a long shot, but I hope I win!” Continuing the Boomer-friendly cavalcade of oldies, the male finalists put on their best “Reservoir Dogs” black suit and ties to sing Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?,” paving the way for Rod Stewart himself to sing his classic, “Maggie May.”
Towards the end of the two-hour flashback fantasy ride, the two finalists took center stage and started to sing a Queen song – which then of course segued into Queen guitarist, Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor to enter center stage for a fog enshrouded version of the English glam rocker’s iconic “We Are the Champions”. Adam and Kris grabbed hands for a ‘bro-shake’ at one point, and ended the song by holding a dual high note, solidifying America’s choice as the top two.
And finally, at the end, it was time for the results. It was obvious that Adam and Kris had formed a genuine bond, and you could tell from Kris’s face that he was expecting Adam’s name to be announced. His genuinely shocked reaction to his own name being announced was priceless. I had resigned myself to the fact that Adam would be the next American Idol – no offense to the Adam fans out there, but I always thought he was consistently ‘over the top’ in his performances, more of a rocker-Broadway sort of singer…a peg that didn’t quite fit into the slot that typically an American Idol winner gets put into.
I always tend to root for the underdog – and when my favorite, Danny Gokey got voted off from the top three, I was hoping that Kris would pull some magic trick and become the next American Idol. Apparently the magic was there. I’m sure a lot of it was due to the hard-to-sing song that was picked for the winner’s first single – while Kris seemed to struggle with it the night before, it suited his voice better than it did Adam who for the first time that I can remember all season, sang it a bit pitchy. It’s interesting how one song can determine the fate of any of the contestants, as evidenced by earlier eliminations this season as well as Danny getting eliminated when he did.
I think the top ten of this year were actually talented – more so than from years past, and I think more of them will end up with great careers rather than fading back into the woodwork. But, ultimately, the night belonged to Allen, who truly underwent a transformation on the show. He morphed from the meek and shy guy who auditioned and said he wasn’t sure he was the next “American Idol,” to the singer who silenced the nay-sayers – not with a Lambert-like rebel yell, but with a quiet confidence and a shy grin. While Adam has a greater range with his voice, Kris is the one who seems to connect emotionally to every song he sings – which makes him connect with his audience even more. His likability factor is akin to Carrie Underwood when she was a contestant – and we all know how well she’s done and how far she’s traveled from her AI days. America definitely made the right choice.