After months of competition, it all comes down to this: Either Candice Glover or Kree Harrison will be the next American Idol champion. It's the first girl vs. girl finale since Season Three and both women will surely end up adding to Idol's reputation for creating stars, except, of course when they don't. (We're looking at you Blake Lewis and you, too, Justin Guarini.)
Although the competition between Kree and Candice is neck and neck, Kree made one bad decision: She won the coin toss and chose to go first. No one chooses to go first, especially not on Idol, where the final spot is usually reserved for the most memorable performance of the night. Plus, voting fans have short memories and the last song has better sticking power.
Last night's hour-long performance finale was divided into three rounds. The first-round song choices were made by Idol creator Simon Fuller, who gave Kree the pondering "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan, a.k.a. the song indelibly intertwined with sad puppy images, while Candice got Adele's "Chasing Pavements." It seemed to stack the deck in Candice's favor early on, because while "Chasing Pavements" is more difficult to sing, it has a much bigger pay-off. Kree's song was a tearjerker, and Candice made you want to get up and cheer. In the finale, you always want to cheer. Randy Jackson gave the first round to Candice, because she "made choices" in her song and was able to show off more of her lower register. Randy seemed to be feeling sassy as he finishes his 12-season Idol tenure, saying he thought both the song choices his boss made were boring.
For the second round, the finalists performed the song that will be their single if they win. These songs have risen in importance since Phillip Phillips' coronation single "Home," became a mega-hit and the biggest-selling Idol single of all time. Kree's song is, of course, a slow tempo ballad called "All Cried Out" that sounds like a Carrie Underwood tune, which is undoubtedly the sweet spot she was going for. Candice's single is an uplifting track called "I Am Beautiful," which is appropriate because much of Candice's story arc on the show involved self-esteem. The song was perfectly tailored to her vocal range and style and she performed it expertly. While neither song is as good as "Home," they will rack up plenty of downloads.
While Kree and Candice sang for the championship, former Canadian Idol contestant Carly Rae Jepsen popped by to perform her new Coke-sponsored single "Take a Picture."
For the final round, the finalists got to choose their favorite song of the season. Kree chose a repeat performance of Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain," backed with a gospel choir. After two rounds of solid, if not particularly memorable performances, Kree finally got the crowd on her side and the judges on their feet with her final number. At the end of the song, Keith Urban yelled, "Oh come on, that was beautiful, baby!" The judges all agreed that it was Kree's strongest performance of the night. But Candice's take on Shirley Bassey's "I (Who Have Nothing)" was the night's winner. It was strong, powerful and fun to watch. As Randy noted in what might be the final critique of his Idol career, "That's a winning performance. It's about singing and, baby, you've got it all."
But will having it all be enough to take the Idol crown? We will find out soon enough.
Previously: Angie Miller Cut, Alicia Keys Performs