Even Kree and Candice seemed to snicker at the bombast of the finale — literally, as they suppressed giggles while posed in a "face-off" position on the stage as Ryan Seacrest kicked off the night.
The evening opened with a group number from all 10 of the finalists on The Wanted's "Glad You Came," and later the Top 5 guys performed a medley from Jersey Boys, with an appearance from Frankie Valli himself. But the Idol contestants weren't the only ones who performed. Also taking the stage during the star-studded broadcast were The Band Perry (featuring special guest Janelle Arthur), Psy, and judges Keith Urban and — surprise! — Mariah Carey, doing a (pre-taped) medley of her biggest hits. Idol favorite Emeli Sande joined Amber Holcomb for a duet of her hit "Next To Me." Angie Miller was able to help out her idol Jessie J on the British singer's hit "Domino."
Most surprising, Aretha Franklin appeared on the show via satellite from New York, to tell Candice and Kree that, no matter the results, they were both winners in her mind (but especially Candice). And the Top 5 ladies joined Aretha on a virtual group medley of hits including "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and "R.E.S.P.E.C.T."
Idol alums peppered the program as well. Adam Lambert joined Angie (back at the piano) for Sia and David Guetta's "Titanium," and Candice dueted with Jennifer Hudson on Natalie Cole's "Inseparable." And for the last guest appearance of the night, former (and possibly returning?) judge Jennifer Lopez performed with Pitbull.
The evening also included a tongue-in-cheek video of all the guys talking about their rapid-fire ousters, blaming them on "sabotage" by the ladies. Curtis Finch Jr. blamed Kree for the heinous jacket he wore on the night he being eliminated, Lazaro Arbos claims Janelle changed the notes on his sheet music before his disastrous performance of "Close To You," etc. And the alleged mastermind behind it all? Jordin Sparks, the show's last female winner. It was cute.
The Top 10 also got to give their unfiltered thoughts on the judges in another skit. The consensus? Keith is laid-back, Mariah rambles, Randy is a loud talker and says "in it to win it" too much, and Nicki Minaj has crazy fashion sense and tells it like it is. (Nothing we didn't already know.)
A tribute video to departing judge Jackson, the only original "cast member" still on the show, was surprisingly touching at points and featured actual canine "dawgs." (For those keeping score at home: Nicki Minaj, who's also reportedly leaving the show, wasn't afforded the same treatment.)
Ahead of the winner's name being read, Kree and Candice performed a duet of Shirley Bassey's "A House Is Not a Home." And then, the moment we've all been waiting for (for what feels like an eternity).
The winner of the 12th season of American Idol is ... Candice Glover, with Kree Harrison (who looked genuinely happy for her comrade) the runner-up.
A speechless, tearful Candice could only muster "Three years" when Seacrest asked her for comment, referring to her two prior attempts on the show. Candice closed out the show by singing her new single, "I Am Beautiful."
And that's all, folks! What did you think of the finale? And were you happy that Candice was named the winner? Sound off below!