This week, we got a triple dose of American Idol. On Tuesday night, there was an hour and a half long special featuring many of Idol‘s alum and judges talking about the show’s run, from Kelly Clarkson’s audition to the present day. On Wednesday night, it was followed up by the performance show where the Top 2 were revealed and sang their last three songs before the public voted for a winner.
Then, on Thursday night, the show’s star-studded finale aired, bringing back many of the Idol‘s most memorable contestants to carry us home one last time before the show crowned its final winner. So let’s talk about all that in my final recap of the series… for now.
Tuesday night’s special did a good job of shedding some light on how Idol became what it did. One thing I always speculate in these recaps is who will win and why? And I think, in a way, the special showed that the voters on Idol still cling to the same things they did back when Kelly won. The audience wants someone who surprises us, who grows from week to week, who comes from humble beginnings and blossoms into a star but which of the three contestants that we started the night with on Wednesday best exemplified those traits?
At the start of Wednesday night’s performance show, each of them sang their potential winner’s singles:
Trent‘s, entitled “Falling,” was a sexy, gritty number that was very uncharacteristic of an Idol coronation song, but that lent itself well to his soulful, bluesy leanings. It gave him a chance to sink into it with his voice and despite a few off notes that I attribute to nerves, he really sold it and showed off some of the sweet spots in his instrument. After what we’ve seen him do the last few weeks, it felt like a natural follow-up and true to his sound. Rating: B+
Dalton‘s song was called “Strike A Match” and while it had a catchy power-punk vibe to it, Dalton sounded out of breath on it. Based on the recording that’s now on iTunes, it seems like a good song for him but I had a hard time getting the message of the song from the way he sang it. That might also be attributable to nerves on the big Dolby stage. Rating: C
La’Porsha‘s track was called “Battles” and, like Trent’s, seemed to have that little R&B groove that she’s know for. I also thought the message of the song suited the arc that she’s told us about herself all season (escaping an abusive relationship and trying to make a better life for herself and her daughter). That was definitely smart, I just wish the performance had more energy on top of being sung well. Rating: B
Of the three songs, I think Trent’s and La’Porsha’s sounded the most radio-ready. Ryan then delivered results for the penultimate time and told Dalton he was headed home, a decision that I was pleasantly surprised by because it gave us arguably one of the most straight-up talented finales we’ve ever had.
For the songs chosen by executive producer Simon Fuller, Trent sang “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” by Simply Red. It was a great choice for him, but I think the choices that look good on paper aren’t the ones that he delivers best on. The element of surprise is Trent’s friend, as exemplified over the last three weeks. Still, this choice didn’t fail him because he sang it well enough and had all the emotion attached to it, but I don’t think it won him any new fans either. Rating: B+
La’Porsha‘s pick from Simon was Luther Vandross’ “A House Is Not A Home.” Again, another great pick on paper and La’Porsha delivered, but there was definitely a rough note here and there in the middle. Still, she captured the solemn emotion of the song and, like the four Idol alum who sang the song before, she was in good company and gave the best of them all a run for their money. I do think it could have been better but it’s hard to drum up the same emotion in that vast theatre. Rating: A-
For the final round, the pair got to choose the songs they wanted to reprise and in a prime example of knowing themselves better than anyone else, they chose perfectly.
Trent chose to take on Sia’s “Chandelier” again and although the first go-around was close to perfect, Trent managed to bring a new layer of emotion to his performance this time and characteristically hit every note with military precision. For the first time all night, I felt like this performance filled that massive theatre and might have won Trent a few fans among those people tuning in for the first time all season. Rating: A+
Not to be outdone, La’Porsha dusted off Rihanna’s “Diamonds” and, like Trent, managed to outdo herself again. She almost made the song inspirational and uplifting and when she came down from that high with tears in her eyes and saying she had been singing to her daughter, I wasn’t surprised in the least. La’Porsha brought new meaning and depth to that song and that gave the voters something to think about. Rating: A+
The last two performances of the night truly rewarded the Idol audience for choosing the correct Top 2 and made the decision to crown just one of them that much harder.
On Thursday night, Idol made the smartest decision it has in years by bringing back its own alumni and judges to perform. It made for an action-packed two hours and gave us some great performances, from Kelly Clarkson’s pre-recorded medley of her hits to Carrie’s emotional take on her single “Something In the Water.” We also saw the return of Season 3’s “three divas”: Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, and LaToya London who all sounded immaculate, while Season 7, 8, 9, 11 and 14’s “White Guy With Guitar” winners: David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, Phillip Phillips, and Nick Fradiani took on a medley of Bowie hits. From the opening group performance of “One Voice,” I knew it would be an emotional night, but it really was so great to see all the alumni over again and I feel like it brought many of Idol’s old fans back for another listen to their favorites.
It was perhaps, then, fitting that Kelly Clarkson’s recipe for success on the show got pulled out of the cupboard and mixed up again to give underdog Trent Harmon the win at the end of it all. It can, of course, be argued that La’Porsha deserved the title just as much, given her stellar track record all season, but Trent’s “hard work pays off” ethic really showed these last few weeks as he tried to prove that he wasn’t someone who ought to be written off. I, personally, felt extremely happy for him and even happier knowing that both he and La’Porsha have been signed to record deals with Scott Borchetta’s label Big Machine Records. Congratulations to them both and I can’t wait for original music from them!
With that, I’ll sign off for the last time… or is it? Thank you so much for sticking with me over the past few seasons. It’s been a pleasure recapping American Idol here at The Hudsucker. If you have any comments, feel free to leave them below. Hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to do this again someday…