It’s a night five months and 14 years in the making, as the second-to-last American Idol is set to be crowned in a flurry of confetti … and mild outrage.
After 30 episodes that felt more like 300, the consistently changing-on-a-whim format, at least one stunning elimination, hundreds of songs, and continually sagging ratings that doomed the franchise that discovered the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood to one final go-round, season 14 has finally reached its apex.
The always-star studded affair provides an apt celebratory feel to a quest for the next megastar that will likely go down in the Idol annuls as one of its worst, in no small part due to:
–The debacle of a structure, which once crammed 12 performances into a one-hour show only to follow it up with eight performances in a two-hour show
–The Twitter Insta-Save fiasco that rendered America’s vote moot
–The premature saving of Qaasim Middleton
–The elongated stay of premature Daniel Seavey
–The sing-whatever-you-want trend
–“If I can’t win with this song, I don’t wanna win American Idol, waaaaaa”
–The Incredible Hulkification of Harry Connick, Jr. Harry … angry!
–Jax’s devastating elimination
–Insert qualm here…
But enough about what didn’t work in Season 14, because at the end of the day, format and ratings don’t mean squat. It’s about the guys and gals who lay it on the line, week in and week out, in the hopes of achieving a dream, a dream that only American Idol has succeeded at fulfilling, at least as far as reality shows go.
Nick vs. Clark
After moving on from the shocking results that sent my fan favorite Jax home too soon (we really need more male voters) and got the night off to a somber start, all eyes were on Clark Beckham and Nick Fradiani.
American Idol Recap: Nick and Clark Sing for Your Votes >>>
The pair sang head-to-head Tuesday night, and now one of them will join the WGWG ranks of David Cook, Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen, Scotty McCreery and Phillip Phillips. And the race couldn’t be closer.
It’s neck and neck in our poll, with thousands of votes cast and Nick holding a slight 51-to-49 percent edge. But for me, the winner is inconsequential, to the point where I’m not even rooting for anyone, and I think that’s a first.
Hmm, let’s see … Kelly Clarkson, Clay Aiken, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Katharine McPhee, Jordin Sparks, David Cook, Kris Allen, Crystal Bowersox, Lauren Alaina, Phillip Phillips, Candice Glover and Jena Irene. Yep, this is a first.
I see the benefits and drawbacks of both, with Clark the stubborn and inconsistent superior talent and Nick the always-the-same yet marketable stronger performer. And they’re both quite easy on the eyes, I’m told.
Esteemed colleague Jeff Dodge is going with Clark, but let’s just say we have a similar track record of predictions in this topsy-turvy Season 14 world. So flip a coin and make your guess, because only one can win.
American Idol Predictions: Who Will Win Season 14? >>>
And before the confetti drops, we’ll be treated to two hours of performances from the Top 12 or so with a host of stars, including Chris Brown, Ricky Martin, the Jackson family, Steven Tyler, Fall Out Boy, Vance Joy, Michael McDonald, some band called Echosmith, Nile Rodgers, Janelle Monae, New Kids on the Block, Prince Royce, Pitbull and Jamie Foxx.
Judges Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. will also perform some sort of ditty together, but the happy reunion of contestants means one thing to me: The Return of the Seaves. With the New Kids. Could life get any better? I submit that it could not!
So for now, let’s forget the roller coaster that was Season 14. The final loop-de-loop is upon us, so let’s enjoy it while it lasts. After all, we can only get in line one more time.
The Live Blog Begins Now
We’re kicking things off with both Clark and Nick performing “Centuries” with Fallout Boy, yet another example of song way more suited to Nick than Clark. For the dude who has channeled Motown all season long, hard modern rock isn’t exactly his forte.
Ryan drops the final “This … is American Idol” of the season and conducts an informal poll of the audience before introducing the judges for the last time. Harry is rocking the tux and Keith upgraded to a suit, while J-Lo looks ready to play the next evil stepmother in a fairy tale movie.
Fame + Idol = Negative Fun!
Our next celebrity pairing comes courtesy of the Jackson 3 and new member Tyanna Jones performing a medley of sing-along hits, including “I Want You Back,” “ABC” and more. I’m not sure why, but I really want Billy Dee Williams to come out and join the party. He would fit in perfectly. I’m not sure if he can sing, but at this point, I’m not sure anyone on stage can either. Nice dance moves, though.
Next up is the Top 6 Idol girls with Nile Rodgers and Chic. It’s “We are family” and “Le Freak,” followed by a new song and then capped off with “Good Times” and “Rapper’s Delight.” It’s great to see Sarina-Joi, Adana and especially Joey Cook again. The camera loves Maddie Walker, who is dressed like an ancient Egyptian goddess. But the child version of the Halloween costume, not the adult kind.
Go, Go, Go, Ale, Ale, Ale
It’s on to the one-time Latin heartthrob of the moment Ricky Martin, performing his new single “Mr. Put It Down.” He’s no longer Livin’ la Vida Loca, shifting his focus to Broadway and his personal life, but you can only keep that chiseled face and wiggling hips out of the spotlight for so long,
He’s then joined by the Top 6 Idol guys for a stirring rendition of his classic hit, with Qaasim and Quentin holding their own and the other dudes in the background. But watching Rayvon and Clark dance is a reminder why they’re both better at ballads. They close things out with “She Bangs” and “The Cup of Life,” and I’m ready for a commercial break and a glass of water. That was so hot you could end the California drought by toweling off Ricky’s forehead. Guy’s still got it.
I rather enjoyed that. I’m not gonna lie.
In Appreciation of Butts
Janelle Monae is up next, performing new hit single “Yoga” featuring Jidenna and Adanna Duru. It’s an unabashed ode to “letting your booty do that yoga,” and the backup dancers are all adorned in sports bras and, of course, yoga pants. I think it’s my favorite performance of the season even though I have the TV muted.
Then it’s back to the Latin with Prince Royce’s first crossover song, “Back it Up,” featuring Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull. And thanks to the dancers, you don’t have to wonder what he’s singing about backing up, which also explains J-Lo’s appearance. It’s the backside segment of the finale, and I can only hope Sir Mix-A-Lot is coming out next. But instead, it’s just Pitbull doing exactly what Pitbull does in/to every song.
Joey Cook is One of the Cool Kids
Echosmith hit it big last year with “Cool Kids,” and if you know another one of their songs, you’ve got a leg up. They’re the pairing du jour for Joey Cook, who fits perfectly into the band and could serve as a backup lead singer in case of emergency. Especially since the song is basically about NOT being one of the cool kids. And she knows how to play the accordion.
They should just do this all season long and let us judge the contestants on how they perform with celebrity duets each week. Because this is much more enjoyable. Though I guess that’d be a bit like Christmas Everyday, wouldn’t it?
After a judge/host selfie, Ryan announces that the gang will all be staying together for the final season before plugging J-Lo’s upcoming Las Vegas residency. Then it’s a montage of how much the judges love each other and how goofy and lovable Harry is when he’s not raging out before Keith Urban gets his turn on stage to perform his 18th number one hit, “Even the Stars Fall 4 U,” because Twitter talk is even cool in country now. And even though country music is my pet peeve, it’s clear why this guy is a legend.
Ray and Ray
After well wishes from Kelly Clarkson, it’s the guy who won an Oscar playing Ray and a guy whose nickname is Ray. Rayvon Owen joins Jamie Foxx for a rousing and heartfelt rendition of “In Love By Now,” and if there’s a movie 20 years from now about Jamie Foxx, maybe Rayvon can play the lead. Because their voices are a perfect match.
Ryan checks in with Nick and Clark, asking them what surprised them most about the process. And I think their answers are telling. Clark was surprised with how many other things you have to be good at other than singing, from hair and makeup to interacting with people to all the practicing and preparation. And Nick said he was shocked at just how awesome the musicians and crew all are.
Then they give away Ford Focuses to Clark’s pastor and some guy Nick knows. And they’re getting cars, too. You get a car! You get car! You all get a carrrrrr!!!
The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For
And I’m not talking about the results. Yes, ladies and gents, it’s time for NKOTB to teach all their best moves to Daniel Seavey, whose parents were probably only kids when these guys hit it big. The medley awaits.
It’s all the classics, from “Step By Step” to “You’ve Got It (The Right Stuff),” and while he handles the dance moves well enough, it’s just better when the guys drown out Daniel’s singing parts. Again, the Seaves could’ve had a career and a bright future if he’d just waited a few years to start it. But this feels like the group was granting a wish to a superfan.
Caught in the Riptide
Quentin Alexander covered Vance Joy’s “Riptide” during the season, and I wrote that I enjoyed it more than the original. So naturally, they’re performing together. Quentin is forced to sing Vance’s arrangement, but he still nails it. When he does stuff like this, it makes you think he might be that rare sixth-place finisher with a chance at a career. Harry looks like he wants to say something about intonation but instead just bobs his head.
Scott Borchetta has another surprise for the winner, because in addition to the record contract, they’re going back to Nashville to hit the ground running. He’ll be making radio appearances, present at the CMAs and then get to work on the first album.
The Night of the Living Background Dancers
Chris Brown may be more used to making negative headlines these days, but he’s still a performer at heart, and it’s his new single “Fun” with, you guessed it, Pitbull. They’re joined by a host of sexy dancers and Qaasim Middleton, who gets more “yeaaaahhhhs” than lyrics. And you don’t have to know the song to guess Pitbull’s contribution.
Brace yourselves, folks. Because while Jax was denied a performance Tuesday night, she’s back in full force and set to sing next with Steven Tyler. It’s time to make your mark, girl.
In Love with a Jersey Girl
It’s redemption time, as Jax now has a chance to perform with a rock icon and prove she deserved to be in the Final 2. Let’s just hope she’s up to the task.
After well wishes that Chris Daughtry recorded on VHS, the Aerosmith frontman starts off with “Love Is Your Name,” and I’m pretty sure he just forgot the words. But royalty does as royalty pleases, and I love me a chick drummer. Jax is gazing on in adorable admiration as she waits to join the party, and it makes me miss and love her even more. She looks so nervous as the song nears its end!
Steven then beckons Jax on stage with the “Walk This Way” intro before they launch into “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart.” It’s perfection, and it’s far too short, ending with both of them laying on the judges’ table.
Jax leaves with a parting thank you, because her departure was so abrupt that she never got her closure. But she’s grateful for the opportunity, and it was a dream come true. Hopefully, it’s not the last time we get to see her.
And in another telling moment, Clark announces that he cannot wait to perform with Michael McDonald.
Clark Goes Old School, Nick Goes New
Because 1976 Doobie Brothers is as current as Clark gets, he’s dueling pianos with Michael McDonald for a rousing rendition of “Takin’ it to the Streets,” and I’m not sure about this new head sway Clark has suddenly added to his repertoire. But the boy can sing. And scream sing.
Nick is up next with Andy Grammer to sing “Back Home,” which should have been his reprise instead of “Bright Lights.” (Fun fact: Andy Grammer was born in 1983, which means he is seven years younger than “Takin’ it to the Streets.”)
It’s another fun and spectacular rendition, and Nick really excels at the anthem-type songs. I’ve never heard of Andy Grammer, but he apparently has multiple songs, because a “Honey I’m Good” duet follows. These guys could be twins.
The Real Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For
Just kidding! Before the final results are revealed, the judges get their time in the medley spotlight. With Harry on the piano and Keith on the guitar, J-Lo and her see-through ice skating costume get Rihanna‘s “Diamonds.” Then it’s Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven,” complete with Harry and Keith solos. Not sure why Harry doesn’t even get a microphone, though. Maybe he’s hoarse?
Okay, so NOW it’s the real moment of truth, that which even a Seavey Sighting cannot trump. It’s time for a champion to be crowned, and the results are in. First, there are kind words of mutual admiration, and then Kieran dims the lights for the final time in Season 14.
The winner of American Idol is … NICK FRADIANI
A tearful Nick is swarmed by the competitors he bested, and you have to wonder if he ever thought this moment possible when his band was kicked off America’s Got Talent last summer. And no one looks prouder than his sweet rocker father as Nick launches into “Beautiful Life” one more time.
The confetti and streamers fall as he embraces his parents and Scotty B., while Harry and J-Lo hold up their phones, likely Periscoping the sights and sounds of the festivities.
And just like that, American Idol Season 14 is in the books. I’m pleased with how it turned out, if not only for Clark’s sake at not having to sing “Champion” again. Nick earned his win after a rough start to the live shows, evolving into a consistent rock force. And all the format complaints and negativity seem for naught when you see the winner celebrate. It really is all about the kids.
Are you happy with the results? Who was your favorite celebrity pairing? For me, it was Jax and Steven Tyler, as well as the re-emergence of Ricky Martin, though so many of these performances were energetic and fun.
While Nick looks towards the future, I look back on yet another season of recaps, rankings and live commentary coming to an end. As always, I thank all of you for reading, joining the conversation and watching Idol with me each and every week. It’s rare, especially with a show like this, for people to watch in real time, and it’s you guys — the names I recognize and the newcomers alike — who make it all worthwhile.
Here’s to hoping we’ll all be back together again in January for one last rodeo. And cheers to American Idol, which will be remembered and revered long after its days on the airwaves have come to an end. See you next year.
American Idol returns to FOX next January for the 15th and final season.
(Images courtesy of FOX)