The annual American Idol journey follows a long and bumpy road, and writing about it as many as three to four times a week for the better part of five months can be an arduous undertaking.
Still, it comes with a sense of melancholy that this is the final BuddyTV recap of a show that not only created some of the most celebrated artists in the music industry, but also helped shape a generation over its 15-season run and certainly laid the groundwork for all talent shows that followed.
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I Love You This Big
And so even though I usually save this mushy stuff for the end of the finale blog, I think it’s worthy of higher placement this time around. Sure, we can expect a night of nostalgia as Ryan Seacrest et al. prepare to ride off into the sunset, but after covering this juggernaut for nearly half a decade, it’s clear that the Idol community is what kept the franchise afloat and made it worthy of live blogging in the first place.
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In light of that, I’d like to offer a special thanks to all the regular readers and particularly to those who have watched along with me and offered simultaneous commentary. We’ve laughed, been outraged and shocked, gotten teary eyed or goose pimply, cringed, and agreed to disagree. And we’ve done it all together.
So to Purrdy1050, Izzitme, Iskildum, CityofAngels, K9car, Dookie1983, MTEast2, B-rock, Rumple, Jberryl and anyone else I missed (you know who you are), I offer my sincere gratitude, and thanks for spending your midweek nights with me.
Now shut up, sissies! America’s Got Talent and The Bachelorette are right around the corner.
A Moment Like This
At the conclusion of Season 14, I offered a laundry list of issues ranging from a wonky format to surprise eliminations (Jax) and elongated stays (Daniel Seavey and Qaasim Middleton’s save), to whiny Clark Beckham contestants who refused constructive criticism from folks trying to make him them famous, all to explain why the 2015 winner would likely go down as one of the worst (with condolences to Lee DeWyze, who is now famous notable for nothing, except maybe that his coronation song was a U2 hit instead of an original).
And outside of his coronation song, Nick Fradiani has largely lived up to the billing. Still, I argued that at the end of the day, it wasn’t about ratings, Twitter Insta-Save fiascos or what didn’t work. Rather, 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.
So while it’s easy to get hung up on Season 15’s negatives — namely that America was largely kept out of the voting process until the Top FIVE, if you can believe it (with a bit of shade thrown at Olivia Rox’s premature exit, and the judges for a complete lack of criticism over the past few weeks and not a shred of it during the Top 2 performances) — The Farewell Season should go down as a wildly successful one.
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Flying Without Wings
The talent was as on par with any other season, and while it remains to be seen if there’s a Grammy winner in the bunch (which has certainly been lacking as of late), the top three in particular encompass all the essentials.
We’ve got inspiring backstories of overcoming adversity involving domestic abuse and mental disorders, epic transformations, big hair, good looks, attitude, humility and, most importantly, giant voices.
And in addition to being incredibly gifted in different ways — from raw power to creativity to smooth perfection — all three are incredibly likable and easy to get behind. And as you’ll see soon enough, they rightly dominate the Top 35 performance rankings.
This is My Now
The match-up between Trent Harmon and La’Porsha Renae could not be more evenly matched, and esteemed colleague Jeff Dodge did a great job summing up their similarities and differences, including gender and location peripherals.
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La’Porsha has been a powerhouse front-runner since the get-go, while Trent has evolved from a farm boy wearing flannel and a cowboy hat to the slick peaking-at-the-right-time superstar-in-the-making whose “Chandelier” was the best of the season.
With all the meaningful performances in the books, it’s time for a night of revelry and celebration (and Pitbull, probably) before Simon Fuller sends the aging Idol to the farm upstate. Like Jeff Dodge, I will be happy with whoever wins. And like Jeff Dodge, I predict that winner will be Trent Harmon.
As both are stellar, it comes down to personal preference. And for me, the deciding factor is La’Porsha’s tendency to over-sing her runs. It’s unnecessary and showy, and as noted in my Top 2 rankings, it’s the same reason Christina Aguilera crushes “Say Something” on the recorded track with A Great Big World but is practically unbearable singing it live. Restraint.
It’s rather ironic, because Trent’s best moment came when he unrestrained on the reprise.
But what I think doesn’t matter, because the final decision belongs to America. One final time, the live blog begins now (and the words “final” and “last” will be grossly overused).
Time of My Life
The finale kicks off with a welcome message from none other than President Barack Obama that’s actually a recruitment for voter registration (#Hillary2016), and then the Season 15 Top 10 is joined by dozens of Idol alums for a stirring rendition of Barry Manilow’s “One Voice.” Hey, it’s all for fun at this point, right?
Ryan makes his entrance and is joined by Brian Dunkleman for some shtick about the latter’s infamous decision not to return for Season 2, and he is granted the honor of introducing the judges. Keith Urban has upgraded to a suit to mark the occasion, and Jennifer Lopez is glammed up ahead of her performance. Also, I wonder how many tuxedos Harry Connick, Jr., actually owns, because I’m sure it’s more than would fit in my closet.
Then it’s a first-ever finalist duet, with Trent and La’Porsha teaming up for Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston’s “It Takes Two.” She forgets the words, and he’s wearing leather pants. Anyone else think we should just let them sit this one out?
Oh, and ex-judge Steven Tyler offers his well-wishes from Niagara Falls.
Do I Make You Proud
Ex-judge Kara DioGuardi makes her triumphant return to the stage looking 100 times better than she sounds for a terrible rendition of Pink’s “Sober” with Tamyra Gray and Jordin Sparks.
It’s followed by a piano tune from Colton Dixon that leads into Justin Guarini and Jordin teaming up on “No Air.” Add Kimberly Locke, Allison Iraheta and Larry Platt to the mix, capped off with a rip-roaring “All By Myself” by Pia Toscana, and you’ve got one crazy collaboration.
If every performance is as complicated, this might end up being the most challenging blog yet. I apologized if I missed anyone, but I didn’t realize they’d be cramming 15 years of singers into one multi-song performance. The takeaway, though? Pia should’ve made it so much farther in the competition. That girl has some pipes, and she’s quite easy on the eyes.
Winners: Pia Toscana, Colton Dixon; Losers: Kara DioGuardi, Justin Guarini
Also, I hope they have all the vote-for-the-worst recipients perform together. Let’s see Sanjaya, Tim Urban, Kevin Covais and the Seaves team up for a boy band medley.
American Idol #1 is not in the house tonight, because Kelly Clarkson is about to pop. But luckily for us, she has graciously pre-recorded a mashup of literally all her biggest hits. There’s no need to discuss its brilliance, because we all know there’s only one or two who can hold a candle to her. She closes it out with a goose bump-inducing and soul-shattering rendition of “A Moment Like This.”
Winner: America; Losers: Newborns not mothered by Kelly Clarkson
(On a side note, wouldn’t it be ironic if she gave birth the day American Idol died? Like when Demi Moore gives up her soul so that her baby can save the world in The Seventh Sign?)
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Tasked with following the GOAT are the male Idol rockers, consisting of Constantine, a Poison-esque James Durbin, Caleb Johnson and Bo Bice, with Daughtry joining the group midway through to point out that he’s better than them.
Winners: Daughtry, Caleb Johnson; Losers: Bo Bice’s smoker lungs and old skin, Bret Michaels
Inside Your Heaven
Next up is the baby GOAT, the one and only uber-hottie Carrie Underwood, accompanied by Keith Urban for Tom Petty’s “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” There’s so much sex appeal on stage you can actually see it, and you could probably cut it easily, like a seductive knife through provocative butter. You got Keith for the ladies and Carrie for the guys (or whatever tickles your fancy), both lookin’ all sexy like. Life is good.
I say that, but then it’s time for the reject country collaboration, consisting of Diana Degarmo, Skylar Laine, Kree Harrison and a whole tractorload of pitch issues. They’re joined by Bucky Covington, Ace Young and Constantine (again), and it’s like a bunch of drunk people singing karaoke together.
Kellie Pickler, Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery join the party to raise the bar a bit, but this ninesome has nothing on the Hoop De Doo Musical Revue.
Winners: Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, People who are attracted to people; Losers: Country music as a genre, Walt Disney
Oh, and Nicki Minaj says hi from her white couch in front of white curtains with her white hair.
Harry runs through all of Idol Gives Back’s charity work, with special mention of his passion project to bring music to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He and a cute little girl from the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music then team up for “What a Wonderful World,” backed by inspirational pictures of hope amid devastation.
Harry introduces a segment of superstar team-ups, beginning with Katharine McPhee, Casey James and a duet of Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now.” It transitions into Carly Smithson tackling Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again,” followed by Clay Aiken on John Denver’s “Annie’s Song.”
Ruben Studdard and Amber Holcomb tackle The Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere,” before Jessica Sanchez warrants goose bumps with Celine Dion’s “The Prayer.” She’s another one who has really matured, and her best days might be in front of her.
Winners: Jessica Sanchez, Carly Smithson, New Orleans, Africa; Losers: Clay Aiken (again), Country music (again)
The only judge to ever leave and come back gets her turn in the spotlight, as J-Lo takes center stage for the first performance of her new single “Ain’t Your Mama,” which dropped earlier Thursday.
She transitions into “Let’s Get Loud,” and as much as I enjoy watching her, her music isn’t really my cup of tea. I like some of her older material, even the stuff she did with the Lox, but now everything is a dance club anthem that sounds like a collaboration with Pitbull. I’m too old for clubs, and I think it’s well documented how I feel about Pitbull. Still, she’s a true entertainer in every sense of the world. Like a quintuple threat.
Winners: See-through apparel designers, girls with asses; Loser: Pitbull
I am Beautiful
Enter the divas reunion, because it’s time for the trio of Layota London, Fantasia and Jennifer Hudson to perform “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (which must piss off Clay). There are other songs, too, but I can’t take the time to look them up because I’m mesmerized by J-Hud’s complete and utter brilliance.
It’s tough to call Brandon Rogers, Clark Beckham, George Huff, Danny Gokey and Elliott Yamin their male counterparts, but these guys “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (for attention). That’s mean, though, because I like at least two of those guys (looking at you, Gokey!).
They clear out for Fantasia to crush whatever song she is gloriously scream-singing through, and each elongated note gives La’Porsha Renae hope that anything is possible. Latoya is then joined by the Silver Fox himself for some patented Soul Patrol-inspired Taylor Hicks dancing. Dude is underrated.
A version Joshua Ledet that is so mature I barely recognize him (he looks like the grown-up Urkel) destroys “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” and then Candice Glover and Melinda Doolittle close out the segment with a Christmas song about Jesus. And that is not a joke. Glory to the newborn king (Clarkson).
Winners: Jennifer Hudson, guys who go prematurely gray, Jaleel White; Losers: Guys who came in second or third, restrained vocals, Christmas in July
Five WGWG winners on the stage all at one time? The heads of teenage girls around the country just simultaneously combusted, but it’s true. Phillip Phillips, Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen, David Cook and Nick Fradiani are all on pedestals for a tribute to the late, great David Bowie.
Since it’s a medley of hits performed by five guys doing the exact same thing, let’s rank ’em, shall we? For me, it’s Phillips, Cook, Allen, DeWyze and Fradiani. And I know Kris Allen gets no love, but he was and is one of my favorites.
What follows next is a collection of the highs and lows of 15 seasons of American Idol, from the worst auditions and bloopers to bikini girl and much love and hatred for Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. Remember when “Seacrest out” was a thing?
As Long as You Love Me
Paula and the Dawg Randy Jackson saunter out and present Ryan, the only one who made it through all 15 seasons, with the show’s neon sign. Simon joins the group of originals in what appears to be a genuinely surprise visit, and after requesting that Paula apologize to all the contestants she was mean to over the years, he gets emotional in thanking fans for their dedication.
And what finale show would be complete without an appearance by William Hung and a performance of “She Bangs”? The answer is none. Even non-Idol finales should have William Hung. He’s like Psy, but worse, which makes him better.
Oh, and ex-judge Ellen Degeneres wants you to know, from the set of her show, that her life would suck without Idol.
The clock is ticking, so why not waste a bunch of time showing viewers’ “favorite” Ford segments, like those exist. I wonder if this will be followed up with a tribute to Coke? With just 15 minutes to go, it’s all proof that money talks. Still, La’Porsha and Trent will each be driving off in their own brand-new Ford Focus. Yay.
There’s certainly no need to dwell on sponsors, though, not when one of the few specimen on God’s green earth who can make me appreciate country music is heading back on stage. Season 4 winner and mega-star Carrie Underwood is performing “Something in the Water,” just to remind everyone what is possible when you get your start on this stage.
I wish that when I opened my mouth and screamed words, it sounded this good. And she gets to look like that, too? Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
Falling? Or Battles?
If you hadn’t noticed, all the headings in this article are coronation songs from the previous 14 seasons. And while it’s purely by chance that there are exactly the same number of sections as seasons, it’s a happy coincidence for sure. And now, we’ve got one final song title to add to the list.
Will it be Trent Harmon’s “Falling”? Or La’Porsha Renae’s “Battles”? The moment of truth has finally arrived, and Kieran dims the lights one final time before they’re turned off for good and (likely) placed in Ryan’s bedroom to be lowered just prior to a conquest. Someone has to give Kieran a job, right?
Cue the confetti and streamers, because the final American Idol is…
He’s a blubbering mess as he embraces La’Porsha, saying over and over that “God is real.” He know he has a God-given gift, but that wasn’t enough for him. He worked so hard and continually pushed himself, and La’Porsha helped him achieve this goal.
He holds back tears and smiles as he launches into “Falling,” and he honestly does better than most who have been in this situation. He’s as professional and polished as can be, with more vocal talent than I could ever hope to have in anything, a truly worthy winner.
Are you happy with the way things played out? Or were you hoping La’Porsha would be a female bookend to Kelly Clarkson? And which performances were your favorite?
As I said at the top of this post, thanks to all those who read and commented not only this season, but all seasons since I and those before me started covering American Idol. It has been my privilege, and I hope I was at least a bit entertaining.
The scene resembles New Year’s Eve in Times Square, and it’s difficult to see anyone on stage through all the swirling pieces of paper. Ryan takes a deep breath and closes out the show with one final “Good night, America…
(Images courtesy of FOX)