AMERICAN IDOL Finale Recap: Two Heavyweights Slug it Out on Enjoyable Finale (updated w/ photos)
Well, we've been through quite a lot together this season. From emotionally manipulative format changes (courtesy of new EP Per Blankens) to tone-deaf contestants making the Top-6 to way too many mid-performance cutaways to Jennifer Lopez, but when all is said and done, very few can legitimately argue that the voting public didn't get it right in selecting the season's best to face off in Tuesday's epic finale.
In Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene, we have the season's only two performers that consistently gave credible, entertaining performances, and also had a professional command of the stage. As you would expect these two heavyweights delivered a knockout of a competition finale. While I always hate the recycled song choices, and don't get me started on the generally nauseating coronation songs, this was a very enjoyable way to close the competition part of the season.
So, without further ado, on to the show (I will be back with pictures of each performance as soon as FOX makes them available):
A white-tuxed Ryan Seacrest welcomed us to the Nokia Theatre and Caleb and Jena came out for a brief introduction. It was interesting because Caleb seemed to lap up the new, bigger stage, while the younger Jena had a bit of a deer-in-headlights look on her face.
Ryan runs down what we will be hearing, the first round is songs chosen by AMERICAN (and POP before it) IDOL creator Simon Fuller. The second will be the contestants' picks of any song they have performed already this season, and the final round will be the singles that each will release if they win tomorrow night. Ok, on to the performances...
IDOL CREATOR, SIMON FULLER PICKS
"Dog Days Are Over" by Florence and the Machines
Three-Word Review: Took a Second
Jena's nerves were clearly evident in the song's opening moments, but it didn't take her long to ease into her comfort zone. I'm not sure that the song did much to showcase her vocal talents, but she owned what the song gave her, and, perhaps more importantly, show owned every single square inch of the stage. If you took the amount of genuine interactions that all of the other contestants have had with the audience this season and multiplied them by 10, they still wouldn't equal the number that Jena had just tonight. She is so comfortable on stage, and it showed in this performance, something an IDOL champ must have.
"Dream On" by Aerosmith
Three-Word Review: Channeling Steven Tyler
Well hot damn, I guess Caleb's vocal hemorrhage has healed fairly well over the past six days. It seemed that he was protecting himself through much of the song, but when Caleb went up to those legendary high notes at the end of the song, it was clear that his voice is 100% healthy. It might not have been great from start to finish, but man did that finish make up for the early wobbles.
Round One Scoring: Caleb Johnson on points
FINALIST'S RE-COVER PICK
"Can't Help Falling in Love" by Elvis Presley
Three-Word Review: Still My Favorite
This performance didn't measure up to two weeks ago, but only because it wasn't a complete shock this time around. Instead, this time I was able to pay closer attention to her performance and her technique. For this song her mouth was positioned much more forward than normal, creating a clearer and brighter tone. I also loved that she was able to get behind the piano for one of her three songs tonight. I still believe that this will go down as one of the best performances in IDOL history.
Interesting that Keith Urban "sub-judged" (yes, I just made that up) THE VOICE's Christina Grimmie, who performed the song (with far less success) last night.
"Maybe I'm Amazed" by Paul McCartney
Three-Word Review: Maybe I'm Not
What made this song so impactful for Caleb the first time around was how low-key and personal he kept it. Unfortunately, this time, he tried to make it more of a show piece, and it just didn't land emotionally like it did a few weeks ago. For all that Caleb has done well this season, he still hasn't learned the art of subtlety.
Round Two Scoring: Jena Irene by TKO (and it is at this point that Harry Connick Jr. decided to steal my boxing metaphor)
WINNER'S SINGLE/CORINATION SONG
"We Are One"
Three-Word Review: No Tears Here...
Like with most of IDOL's coronation songs, I was underwhelmed for the first ¾ of it, through no fault of Jena's. However, that last quarter, after Jena thanked America, she seemed to have a genuine outpouring of emotion and delivered an incredibly moving vocal. Perhaps it is because she was saved by the judges during Wildcard Week and has now made it to the brink of winning, but I feel an unusual amount of pride in the performance of someone that I have never met before.
"As Long As You Still Love Me"
Three-Word Review: Marky Mark Cast-off
Unfortunately for Caleb, his single just didn't have the appeal that Jena's did (and that's saying something). Again, not his fault, but to close the show with a song that sounded like a rejected track from the Mark Wahlberg-Jennifer Aniston clunker ROCK STAR is not a good sign.
Round Three Scoring: Jena Irene on points
A very cool touch to close the show, the Top-10 (minus a sick MK Nobilette) sang the Kelly Clarkson hit "Breakaway." Jena effectively sang lead, and, despite a wonky start, might have actually earned a few extra votes by carrying her own on a Clarkson ditty.
Worst Song of the Night
Caleb Johnson "Maybe I'm Amazed"
Best Song of the Night
Jena Irene "Can't Help Falling in Love"
So, you know whom I think should win; what about you? You Team Caleb or Team Jena? Let me know what you thought of the finale in the comments below or on Twitter @BWWMatt.