American Idol, back again for the first time on ABC, has crowned the first winner of its new era. America has spoken, and we chose Maddie Poppe. It's the correct choice; Maddie was the most complete performer throughout the competition, and one of the most distinctive Idol winners there's been. As the show ended, she tried to perform her Idol song "Going, Going, Gone" through her tears of joy.
The live grand finale was the second of two nights, and the heavy lifting was done during performance finals on Sunday, when finalists Gabby Barrett, Caleb Lee Hutchinson and Maddie Poppe made their last, best efforts to impress the judges and the voters. Monday was about celebrity performances. Judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry (with Top 7 finisher Catie Turner) performed, along with Nick Jonas and rapper Mustard with Top 7 finisher Jurnee, Gary Clark Jr. with Top 5 finisher Cade Foehner and Top 10 finisher Dennis Lorenzo, Yolanda Adams with Top 5 finisher Michael J. Woodard and Patti Labelle with Top 10 finisher Ada Vox. Previously unannounced guest star LeAnn Rimes got stuck duetting with some little kids who brought the show to a screeching halt.
The finalists got to do a series of non-competitive showcase performances. Gabby Barrett duetted with Luke Bryan on his song "I Believe Most People Are Good," Maddie Poppe duetted with Kermit the Frog on her audition song "Rainbow Connection" (which probably felt better than winning American Idol) and Caleb Lee Hutchinson plucked the banjo on "Wagon Wheel" with Darius Rucker. And all three of them joined Bebe Rexha on her country pop hit "Meant to Be." Right after that, Caleb and Maddie were revealed as the Top 2. Gabby — who TV Guide readers thought would come in second — finished third. Before the Top 2 duet, Caleb revealed that he and Maddie are dating. AWWWW! They're competitors onstage, but partners offstage. So sweet. They did a little medley of "Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World." Disney gave them a vacation to Hawaii together. But do they really wanna go together? Can their relationship survive Caleb being a runner-up to Maddie?
Even though he didn't win, Caleb won "Best Lionel Richie Impression." That was incredible. And ABC gave the "wig" kid an alpaca like he dreamed of. So he's the real winner. And Sanjaya, the kid with the hair from Season 6 in 2007, appeared during a Jimmy Kimmel bit and showed that he has a receding hairline. In the end, as always, the real victor is time.
So congratulations, Maddie, and American Idol will be back next year.