The American Idol finale Wednesday was trimmed to just one hour, allowing finalists Candice Glover and Kree Harrison three songs each, plus a performance by Carly Rae Jepsen (groan). With all that to cram in, host Ryan Seacrest wasted no time in getting to the performances — and we won't either.
Prior to the broadcast, Kree won the coin toss and elected to kick off the night, doing so with a rendition of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" (her producer's choice) that's note-perfect but subdued — maybe a little too subdued, given the fact that the judges have accused her of seeming emotionless on stage in recent weeks. We'll chalk it up to nerves, but Kree needs to step it up for her second performance if she's going to leapfrog over vocal standout Candice. Grade: B+
Candice's producer's choice number is Adele's "Chasing Pavements," and she surpasses Kree both in stage presence and technical merits, adding her own runs, vocal inflections and tonal signatures to the tune. Fun fact: "Chasing Pavements" was the song Candice performed (and forgot the lyrics to) in Season 9 in the Top 70 round, when she was eventually cut. Not this time around! Grade: A
Seacrest turns things over to the judges once the girls go backstage. Randy Jackson calls Simon Fuller's song choices for the finalists "sleepy," but gives Candice the edge in Round 1, describing Kree's performance as "lackluster."
For Round 2, Kree and Candice perform songs that could be their first single. Kree's is "All Cried Out," an acoustic country ballad that calls to mind Patsy Cline and Faith Hill at first, but later morphs into a Carrie Underwood-esque power ballad. Kree totally redeems herself in this round, and seems so comfortable with the song that it's likely she probably had a hand in writing at least a portion of it. The performance earns a standing ovation from all the judges except for Nicki Minaj. Grade: A
Candice's song is called "I Am Beautiful" and her performance is fine, but the song is just so-so. Sure, it's an inspiring message, and undoubtedly one that will be eaten up by the teenage girls who comprise much of Idol's fanbase, but compared with Kree's song, this is the weaker of the two. Still, Candice is not one to be brought down by her source material, and elevates the song into something more than it is on its own. Grade: A-
For Round 2, Minaj praises Kree's "composure," while Keith Urban calls both songs "tailor-made" for the ladies, even though Candice's skews more into the pop spectrum than she's typically used to. "It makes so much sense for her to sing it," Minaj says of Candice's song, while Urban adds: "It fits her like a Glove-r." (Sigh.) Reason No. 9 Keith is our favorite Idol judge. (See the other eight here.) Urban says Kree won Round 2, while Minaj gives the edge to Candice again.
In Round 3, the contestants revisit their favorite song of the season. Kree opts for Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain," which she did in the early rounds. And it's a great choice to leave viewers with a lasting impression, especially with a goosebump-inducing final note. The song prompts all the judges (including Minaj this time, who calls the performance "uplifting") to give her a standing ovation. "That right there is a winning kind of performance," Jackson tells her. Grade: A
As great as Kree was though, Candice may have sealed her victory with her final performance, going back to Top 10 week with Shirley Bassey's "I (Who Have Nothing)." (And, as Minaj points out, Candice's legs make their Idol debut thanks to a dress that falls just above her knee.) She opts to do the song a cappella for the first minute or so, but then breaks into a full band version that is simply stunning and leaves her family in tears and Urban at a loss for words. Minaj says she gives off the air of a "superstar." Jackson echoes his earlier sentiment and calls the song "a winning performance." Grade: A+
So what did you think? Who will be crowned the next American Idol during Thursday's results show? Weigh in below, and vote in our poll here!