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Andrew is a staff writer at the “The Hudsucker”. He is a 30 year old lawyer living in Ottawa. Besides legal jargon, his brain capacity is taken up by reality show trivia, video game walk-throughs and room escape strategies. Andrew is also happily in a long-term, long-distance relationship. Follow him on Twitter as @sublymonal.

3 Standout Moments From the ‘American Idol’ Performance Finale

It has been a whirlwind ride in what will become the American Idol franchise’s shortest season. The auditions began just over two months ago and introduced us to talent like Caleb Lee Hutchinson, Gabby Barrett and Maddie Poppe, who would go on to become the final three contestants vying for the show’s crown on Monday night.

Each of them performed three times before the night was through: first, their Idol single; second, a reprise from any point in the competition; and third, a song dedicated to their hometown to close the night. But before tonight, when one of them becomes the next American Idol, let’s review who made the best impression Sunday and all this season.

Round 1: Idol Singles

CALEB LEE HUTCHINSON

Country singer Caleb Lee Hutchison has improved week upon week all season (Credit: ABC/Eric McCandless)

For round one, each contestant sang the song they would release to radio should they win. For Caleb, that was a ballad entitled “Johnny Cash Heart.” Judge Katy Perry was right to point out that the young contestant seemed to lack connection to the song. The song itself is quite lovely and suits Caleb’s voice well, but without the emotion behind it, it fell flat.

Country singer Gabby sang an upbeat, inspirational ballad entitled “Rivers Deep.” The song was probably the most radio-friendly of the three and blended her gospel roots with her country sound. Yet again, the judges critiqued her for falling victim to nerves and letting it stifle both her performance and vocals in parts.

Last up in Round 1 was Maddie Poppe, who sang “Going, Going, Gone,” an acoustic number reminiscent of winner Phillip Phillips’ single “Home.” One cannot fault Maddie for gravitating towards that sound. But while her performance was technically the best of the three, the song stretched her voice in unpleasant ways at times that signaled she ought to have chosen something more delicate.

At the end of round one, Katy Perry declared all three performances a “disaster” in an attempt to motivate the trio of finalists to bring more emotion and skill to their performances in Rounds 2 and 3.

Round 2: Reprisals

For his reprisal, Caleb chose Keith Whitley’s emotional ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” which he sang back in Hollywood Week. The song choice certainly played to his vocal strengths and allowed him to connect in a way that was missing in his first performance. The judges also declared it a vast improvement from Round 1 for him.

GABBY BARRETT

Pittsburgh’s own Gabby Barrett has shown she can sing anything from country to gospel and R&B to rock (Credit: ABC/Eric McCandless)

For her reprisal, Gabby chose Miranda Lambert’s “Little Red Wagon,” which she sang after making the Top 10 just a few weeks ago. Gabby certainly stepped up her showmanship in Round 2, but the performance still didn’t feel true to her. Gabby herself brought up the fact that she often gets critiqued for trying to be Carrie Underwood and this performance did nothing to counter that assumption but rather, reinforced it.

Katy Perry said Maddie took a bit of a risk with her reprisal, singing her original song “Don’t Ever Let Your Children Grow Up,” which she performed for the judges in Hollywood Week. But the decision seemed far from a risk since. Singing an original song seemed to bolster Maddie’s comfort level and emotional connection, while helping her deliver the best performance of the night thus far.

Before Round 3, Idol fans were also treat to originals from four eliminated contestants: Harper Grace, Jonny Brenns, Michelle Sussett, and Catie Turner. Their performances were definitely an improvement upon the last time they were on the Idol stage, especially Brenns’ whose “Blue Jeans” highlighted the sweetness of his voice, and Turner whose “21st Century Machine” was the reason America fell in love with her in the first place.

Round 3: Hometown Dedications

As has been the case all season, Caleb seemed to improve with every round. For his final performance, he chose to sing Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” which he has been performing during his own shows for years and it showed. As was the case with Maddie last round, the judges took note of how loose and comfortable Caleb felt now that he shook off the nerves that plagued him in Round 1.

For her final performance, Gabby dedicated Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” to her hometown of Pittsburgh. The rock ballad, although well-known, was an odd choice for someone whose strengths lie in R&B and Gospel music and who wants to break into the country scene. Despite getting into the performance with an air guitar solo, it felt like a confusing note to end Gabby’s otherwise strong run on the show.

MADDIE POPPE

Maddie Poppe’s talent and emotional connection as a singer-songwriter have made her one to watch (Credit: ABC/Eric McCandless)

Maddie dedicated her song choice of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” to her home state of Iowa. With just her guitar and a spotlight, Maddie’s voice evoked the same dreaminess as Stevie Nicks herself, while also telling the story of the lyrics in such a beautiful way as she as done all season. From a strictly singer-songwriter perspective, Maddie is head and shoulders above the rest and seems to already know herself as an artist.

With their last three performances in the bag, it all comes down to what America prefers. It is difficult to know which contestant has an upper hand on the others going into Tuesday’s show, given the lack of a “Bottom 2” or “Bottom 3” this season. Will America prefer Caleb’s growth arc, delivering a stronger performance near the end of the run while simultaneously shedding 85 pounds since his audition? Or will Gabby’s blend of country, gospel, R&B and rock win the day? Or perhaps Maddie’s ability to deliver at a consistently high emotional and vocal level will push her over the edge?

Idol fans will have to tune in tonight to find out and return tomorrow for our in-depth recap!

Which contestant do you think deserves to win after their run during this season? Which contestant do you think will win after last night’s performance? Let us know in the comments below!

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