At last night’s finale, the Final 2 of season 9 of American Idol each performed three songs: their favorite song from the season, a song chosen by producer Simon Fuller, and the song they would release as a single if they win.
The show opened with a montage showing lots of photos from the audition process, as well as video from both contestants over the course of the show. Crystal Bowersox and Lee Dewyze entered through the auditorium, greeting their fans. Crystal also stopped to hug her dad.
Since Crystal won the coin toss, she chose to go second, therefore leaving a stronger impression on the audience (hopefully).
For the first round, the finalists reprised their favorite song from the season. Lee Dewyze chose the Simon and Garfunkel song “The Boxer,” which he’d sung during Inspirational Songs week. He wore a dark jacket, white T-shirt, black riverboat shirt and dark jeans. At the beginning, it sounded like he was rushing it. It wasn’t as good as the first time, and I didn’t love it then.
Randy Jackson was not sure it was energetic or exciting and urged Lee to pick it up for his other performances. Ellen DeGeneres said she “couldn’t be prouder if I’d birthed you myself.” She actually thought it was better than when he sang it the first time. Kara DioGuardi agreed with Randy, saying he had to punch harder. Still, she found it a meaningful song and believable. Simon Cowell said that for this night, he would expect a lot more passion and excitement (not going to get that from Lee!). He said, “That was a kiss on the cheek when I want a kiss on the lips.” Then he clarified he didn’t mean a kiss from Lee.
For her reprise, Crystal Bowersox chose the Janis Joplin song “Me and Bobby McGee,” which she performed in a loose-fitting long jacket over a periwinkle dress, leather boots, and beaded necklaces. She really loosened up on stage this time, delivering much more than a jukebox performance. Like Janis, she seemed to really be feeling the music.
Randy thought it started a little slow but “At the end it was back to the Crystal we’ve known and love.” He hopes she makes a record like that. And he thought it was dope. Ellen told her, “You are so compelling onstage. You and your guitar, filling up this entire room.” She thought the performance was stunning. Kara “loved it when you first did it, loved it tonight.” Crystal, she said, had a “fire in your belly tonight.” Simon said this “brought me back to when we first fell in love with you.” He added, “We’ve got a competition tonight. That was terrific.”
In round two, Simon Fuller had chosen the REM song “Everybody Hurts” for Lee. He wore a brown leather banded jacket (which looked like a Members Only jacket) with a white shirt and dark jeans. This was a pretty standard song for him: not the most exciting performance, but pretty good.
Randy thought this was better, saying he “could feel your passion” (maybe because of the massive choir backing him up?) He noted that the song “started out pitchy” but Lee “pulled it together.” Ellen agreed that “you went off a couple of times but it’s really about the performance.” (Really?) She thought that every time he seemed to get into it, he’d then pulled back. Kara said that “what makes you great is that you’re emotionally accessible” (What? Does Lee even have emotions?) Contorting herself in order to sound like a sage if Lee wins, she then added, “It wasn’t a perfect vocal, but I love that about you.” (Uhhh…. singing competition?) Simon thought it was a really good choice of song and noted that Lee went a little bit off melody. He said, “What I feel from you is that you’re nervous. You’ve got to really understand the importance of what this night can do.” (Though I think that’s probably why Lee was so clearly nervous.)
For Crystal’s song, Simon Fuller went with “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles, a slinky sort of song which was sort of out of character for Crystal but nonetheless worked. She seemed a little uncomfortable in a V-neck black velvet dress with spaghetti straps (which was a hair too tight) and really high heels. This meant that she seemed to be second-guessing her first steps down the stairs, but she was a trooper about it. This song turned out to be great for her, very soulful. She left it all on the stage, delivering some of those big notes the judges love. What’s more, she worked with the band very well, which is one of the things that has always shown what a true professional she is.
Randy said, “This is what I fell in love with… Mama Sox is in it to win it. That was hot.” Ellen observed that, with the wardrobe changes, “It’s like a Cher concert in here.” She thought it was fantastic and gave her a standing “O.” Kara said that “tonight was the night to give it your all… and that’s what you were doing.” Simon admitted that he’d had a little bit of a problem with the song choice, “because I’m almost allergic to that song,” having heard it so often in auditions. “But you took that song and you absolutely nailed it.” He said he was very impressed.
Ryan asked Crystal how she was feeling, and she said she was shaking a little. He also asked her, “Do you see the finish line?” Crystal said, “It’s up in the back” and pointed to the audience, evincing some cheers.
For his potential winner’s single, Lee sang U-2’s “Beautiful Day.” Um, this is not an original. WTF??? I wonder if the producers changed their longtime practice because of the massive failure of last year’s original single for winner Kris Allen. Clad in a dark leather jacket with charcoal shirt, dark jeans, and red Converse sneakers, Lee fell off pitch just before the chorus. He was also kind of flat on the sustained note in the chorus and there wasn’t enough dimension to it. It compares really badly to the original, which I love. Yet, afterward, the audience of tweens was cheering like it was the most amazing thing they’d ever heard.
Randy thought it “started off a little interesting,” noting that Lee looks awkward when he tries to walk around. But “by the middle of the song… you started to get your groove back… That’s the Lee I love and remember, the guy with the strong rock voice.” Ellen asked Lee how he feels. Lee said, “I feel good. This is amazing.” Ellen liked that he’s grown on the show and thought “you were fully present for that song.” Kara thought he got swallowed up a bit in that song and “had some good moments, some not-so-good moments.” She said he’s grown the most and has “one of the most commercial voices of the season.” Simon thought he’d made the most of it. He added, “This is what this competition was designed for: somebody who needs a break. You’ve worked hard, remained a really nice person throughout.” He genuinely wished the best for Lee (but didn’t say he wants him to win.)
Ryan asked Lee for a final thought. Lee rambled, “This whole thing has been amazing. I want to be doing this for a long time: for the rest of my life, one way or another.” He also said he appreciates all the support.
For her potential winner’s single, Crystal sang the Patti Griffin song “Up to the Mountain,” playing the guitar on a stool, wearing a black one-shoulder shirt with a bling-encrusted collar and black pants. Background singers stood off to each side. Her rendition was very gospel, and it was a great song for her. Without all the accompaniment of Lee’s performance, this one demonstrated a lot more emotion and impact. Just beautiful. It reminded me of some of the songs from the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. She even went a capella on a big note near the end, which was mesmerizing.
Randy enthused, “This is what this show is about: an amazing song by an amazing singer.” He said he’s “so proud of you” and called it one of the best performances, adding it was incredible. Ellen said that the show is “always looking for someone unique” and that Crystal is “in a league of your own.” She thought she has a beautiful voice. “If you make an album, I’ll buy it. Go on tour, I’ll go. Make a salad, I’ll eat it.” Kara said that “If I’ve had one critique, it’s that sometimes your walls are up.” But tonight, Crystal was “completely emotionally invested in that song” and “really blossomed.” Before he spoke, Crystal said to Simon, “You’ve been amazing this season. I know this is your last season. Thank you for all the critique, criticism and help. On your journeys, I hope you do well.” Simon then returned the love: “I thought that was by far the best performance and the song of the night.” For his final critique, he added, “I would just like to say, that was outstanding.”
Ryan asked Crystal for her final thoughts. Crystal said, “I’m beside myself (actually, beside Ryan Seacrest).” Ha-ha. She added that she’s “Just entirely grateful for my family, my life and my son. I’m ready for anything. Now is the time.”
Then Ryan took the opportunity to say to Simon, “We really are going to miss you.” He also promised that “tomorrow, we have some surprises in store for you.”
The evening ended with a live performance by Will Young, who won the first season of Pop Idol in the U.K. He sang “Leave Right Now,” this season’s good-bye song, over a montage of auditions and memorable characters from the season.
The top 10 joined the finalists on stage, where Aaron Kelly gave Crystal a big hug and everyone near Lee stood looking awkward.
Last week, I said it was all going to come down to the performances, and I really hope I’m right, because that would mean Crystal Bowersox is taking home the Idol crown. Based on the screams from the studio audience, though, Lee enjoys an almost overwhelming amount of support from the tween contingent, who tend to vote more religiously and who probably continued to vote for the entire FOUR HOURS the voting lines were open last night. I’ll also note that this was the first time I’ve voted for a finalist (Crystal, for whom I voted as often as the phone would let me) where I had almost no problems with a busy signal. Then again, that could also be an indication of the fact that the viewership is down this season, or an indication that more people are turning to text voting for convenience.
So to sum up, if it’s based on musical skill and performance, Crystal should definitely win. But if other factors come into play (i.e. tween girls who think he’s cute), Lee could be a spoiler. Either way, I will buy Crystal’s album the second it comes out.