The American Idol season is a long and grueling one that tests the resolve of contestants and viewers alike, and as we head into the season 14 finale — the 29th and 30th episodes, even with the change to one show a week — we are just a few hours away from yet another coronation.

But this one bears special significance, as that which even last week I deemed unthinkable has come to pass. By now, you’ve all heard the news that American Idol has been, in essence, canceled. Season 15 will be the last chance for young, mostly unknown, potential stars to participate in a reality TV competition that actually offers hope for post-show success.

It’s a rarity, as even shows like The Voice, which many believe showcases superior talent (because the singers are invited), have yet to produce any household names.

To Save? Or Not to Save?

Sure, the ratings have been sagging. And it’s clear that producers had no idea how to handle a format change, butchering the process in unimaginable ways during this cluster-mess of a season. But at its core, through good crops and bad, Idol has always been about the young men, women and Taylor Hicks who might go undiscovered otherwise, chasing their dreams with us along for the ride. 

And I thought that as long as there was potential to uncover the next Grammy-winning rock, pop or country artist, the next Oscar winner or Broadway sensation, the next chart-topping one-hit wonder, or the diabolical mix that is Katharine McPhee, Idol would live on. Even without the ratings, the possibility of post-show revenue was too much to pass up. 

But I was wrong. And after Wednesday — whether it’s Jax vs. Clark, Clark vs. Nick, or Nick vs. Jax — there will only be one more shared journey with a shot at the ultimate spotlight on the line. Unless, I dunno, Netflix saves it or something. I mean, can Ryan Seacrest get by with just 57 jobs?

Who and How Many Will Perform?

On the good news front, the final meaningful performances are contained in a one-hour show, and you have to assume they’ll be announcing the elimination prior to the Final 2 singing a reprise, Simon Fuller’s choice and then closing with the nearly worthless coronation song that no one has heard before or ever will again.

They let Rayvon Owen sing because it was hometown week, and then America had to weed out his three time-wasters before the process could proceed. But to confuse viewers with three more pointless Clark or Nick performances (yes, I’m projecting) during the final tally would be a disservice to the pair who is actually eligible for votes.

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My own personal opinion is that Jax and Nick have punched their tickets to the finale, and that Clark does not deserve to make it because of the off-putting way he’s approached the competition and the lack of growth he’s shown.

That being said, Clark is also the only one who can give Jax a real run for her money, because the potential is always there with him. If it’s Jax vs. Nick, all she has to do is sing a rock song and a piano ballad, and it’s in the bag. Nick can then do three awesome rock songs that sound exactly the same. But only Clark can match her ability to mix things up.

On an unrelated note, is this the first duet-less season?

The Live Blog Begins Now

They kick things off by asking who will go head to head, so I’m relieved we’re getting the results out of the way early. Wow, even earlier than the catch phrase drop. This s–t is happening NOW.

Jax is eliminated. Clark and Nick will compete for the title.

Ummmmm, what? Can we cancel the show early? Because this is a travesty. I can’t even pay attention to her departure montage, because more so than the guys, she deserved to be in the finale. 

The crowd, the band — hell, Nick and Clark — are in complete silence, because literally everyone is shocked. It’s such a crazy odd vibe to kick off the show.

This … is American Idol

I can’t even put into words the pall hovering over the venue right now. No one seems to know what to make of Jax’s abrupt departure. Ryan introduces the judges, with J-Lo rocking a diamond-shaped cleavage cutout, and Keith dressing up with a sport coat over what I can only describe as an oval-necked T-shirt. 

Keith describes the mood as “intense.” Ya think?

Clark is Up First

For his reprisal, Clark is performing “Georgia on My Mind,” the American Idol Showcase round song that put him on the map and my radar (I dubbed it the best of the season thus far in that recap). He was on a keyboard back then, and he’s since upgraded to a full piano and incorporated Stevie Wonder-like head shakes. Because if you can’t sing Stevie, you might as well channel him somehow. 

It sounds great, with a heavy dose of scream singing, but for me, it doesn’t quite capture the magic of his original rendition. Still, it’s a quality way to get things started.

Keith calls it a whole mess of flapjacks swimming in syrup. J-Lo loves Clark’s progress and thinks this one reminded us why he’s here. Harry is a bit less excited, but he appreciates Clark’s drive to always push it musically.

Nick Fradiani Sings Rock Song No. 1

If I had to guess, Nick’s reprisal is Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young,” because it’s the only song he changed the arrangement of all season. Instead, he’s singing Matchbox 20’s “Bright Lights.”

It’s every bit as spot-on of an enjoyable cover as it was the first time around, and I’m wondering if Simon Fuller will just go ahead and pick a Daughtry song for him in the next round. This one is fun, rocks and is literally every exact thing you expect it to be. I’m really going to have to shake off this negativity during the next commercial break. C’mon, pull yourself together, King. 

J-Lo says that Nick is the type of person Simon Fuller had in mind when he thought up this crazy competition so many years ago, and this performance brought him to yet another level. Harry pleads for people to vote, while Keith believes the audience reaction speaks for itself. 

Jen calls Round 1 a tie, but I get the distinct feeling that the judges are pulling for Nick because Clark rubbed them the wrong way during the course of the season.

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Simon Fuller Picks for Clark

The creator has chosen Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” for Clark, probably because it’s exactly the type of song he’d pick himself and reveals nothing about what type of artist he can be. 

He keeps it subdued for the first half, before opening up into full scream sing for the rest. Again, it’s great vocally, but it doesn’t match the lyrics on an emotional level. This guy is in agony, full of desperation over how little sunshine there is in his life when this chick is gone. And frankly, I needed to see a bit more darkness.

Harry commends Clark for following up a slow song with another slow song (that he didn’t pick), and he appreciates the inward soulful performance. Keith tells a Bill Withers duck joke, and J-Lo just wants to know who Clark was singing to. Beautiful, heartfelt and amazing, she coos. I must be getting cynical in my old age, but Clark has just never nailed it for me. Not since that showcase. Maybe I’m being too hard on him.

Simon Fuller Picks for Nick

Will he pick something that forces Nick out of his comfort zone and gives him a chance to shine? Or will it be Nick singing rock song no. 2? Nope, it’s Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up,” and it will be interesting to see if Nick can nail the emotional content of the song. 

Is this the first time we’ve seen Nick at a piano? I think so. It’s pitchy at the start, before the band kicks in, and then it’s basically a rock version of Jason Mraz, which feels weird. He tries a screechy note to feign desperation and longing, but I’m not feeling it. Though if a hard version of a Jason Mraz love song is your cup of tea, then this was spot-on.

Keith praises Simon for the song choice and raves about the fact that Nick can also play piano. J-Lo laments how difficult America’s decision is, while Harry claims Nick’s greatest gift is leaving it all out there, and this was yet another emotional and heartfelt performance. 

Harry calls Round 2 a tie, by which he means Nick won Round 1 and Clark won Round 2. It’s all rainbows and butterflies from the judges. 

Clark Beckham’s Coronation Song

Let me start by saying I basically despise coronation songs, particularly as the final performances, because the contestant is basically at the mercy of a songwriter who may or may not have written a hit. One guy gets a good one and the other gets a bad one, and there’s not much either can do to change their respective fates. So it’s as much a judgment of the song as it is the singer. 

Clark’s first official single is called “Champion,” and he’s a fan of the lyrics, which are about battling through adversity and were apparently written by a very creative third grader. “We’ve got the heart of a champion” is the big message, which isn’t as fierce as the eye of the tiger (in either incarnation). Look, I don’t think it’s a very good song, but Clark nails the highlights and might be a champion after all.

J-Lo loves to hear them sing their first official songs, and she welcomes Clark to the big leagues. Harry thinks this is the exciting part after four performances, because we can tell this is a new song that the singers are getting used to. And he thinks Nick will struggle as well. Keith hopes these performances will inspire kids to try out for Idol 15.

Nick’s Coronation Song

Nick’s song is called “Beautiful Life,” which he describes as Fun. meets the Goo Goo Dolls meets him, and Scott predicts it will be a big success.

Nick’s description is spot-on, and there’s none of the awkwardness that plagued Clark’s performance, but that’s just because it’s a way better song. It’s much more of an anthem, and it’s perfectly suited to Nick’s voice. I can imagine this one being on the radio, and I love how into it and interactive Nick is. It’s easily the performance of the night. 

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly why the coronation songs are unfair. This one just exudes “leveling the playing field.” 

Harry enjoyed it and thinks it was strong, but he stresses that Nick got lucky because the song sounds like it was tailored specifically to him and his voice. J-Lo loved it and called it “Nick in the moment.” Keith dubs “Beautiful Life” the kind of song people go out and buy.

Who is the Next American Idol?

For me, the finale was bland, uninteresting and exactly what I expected until Nick’s final performance, which rocked the house. I’m not sure which is a bigger travesty, Jax’s elimination or Clark getting stuck with that unfortunate coronation song. 

Who won the night for you? And were my critiques on point or too harsh? I’ll admit my mood was tempered with the early results, but I still attempted to be fair and balanced throughout. And nothing knocked my socks off until the end. 

And that’s it for the meaningful performances of season 14. All that’s left now are the fun ones, when the contestants team up with famous musicians to see if they can hang before either Clark or Nick is declared the winner in a firestorm of confetti. So who’s it gonna be?

You can watch the American Idol season 14 finale on Wednesday, May 13 at 8pm on FOX.

(Image courtesy of FOX)

Bill King

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Emmy-winning news producer & former BuddyTV blogger. Lover of Philly sports, Ned, Zoe, Liam and Delaine…not in that order