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American Idol Finale Recap: Paul F. Tompkins Loves That It’s Over So Big

Well, this is it. Once more unto the breach, dear friends. The bloated, cynical, dull, avaricious breach. THIS. Is American Idol!

Ryan enthuses that last night’s performances garnered over 122 million votes. He elaborates that over the course of the season they'd racked up nearly “three-quarters of a billion [votes], enough for every man, woman, and child living in America.” Wow. When you put it like that, it seems like even more of a waste of time.

The judges are introduced for the final time. Randy is wearing a faux-tuxedo that looks like it’s made of supermarket sheet cake. J.Lo is dressed in something sparkly and nude-looking. Steven Tyler is dressed like the Bionic Woman. Scotty and Lauren enter, both attired in white, looking like they’re in a Grand Old Opry production of Logan’s Run. On big screens, we see thousands of people gathered at rallies in … places close to the final two’s hometowns. I guess that feels good, right? When your hometown rally has an overflow section that’s the nearest major city?

Then top thirteen have returned! They kick it off by singing Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” The music starts, the girls strike a pose, just sassin’ it up like no one’s business, the music builds, and then the girls just stand there as the boys start singing off-camera. The camera eventually finds the dudes (I’m sure the half-dozen guys probably all decided to hit different marks from rehearsal, it’s their fault) and we see that everyone is dressed in white. White versions of the kind of stuff they’d usually be wearing. Only white. The effect is like they’re all dead and they’re in heaven … or IS IT HELL? Ha! Did I scare you with my Twilight Zonery? Sorry. I must admit, this is the best group number of the entire season. They’re all singing in unison, no awkward harmonies, minimal choreography that they all seem to be handling just fine, and everybody looks terrific. Really. Oh, and did you know Stefano was in the top thirteen? He must have been, because he’s here now! It feels like the choice of “Born This Way” is Idol’s subliminal, reluctant admission that homosexuality exists. There are clearly many gay Idol viewers (not to mention contestants), but the only thing that comes close to an acknowledgement of gay life is the occasional self-targeting innuendo from Ryan.

More performing. James is back to sing with Judas Priest. I guess it’s better than having to watch these two elements separately. I wish I could combine more things I don’t care for into the same time frame. Could someone set up a DMV inside an airport? As I watch everyone lumber through this museum piece, my thoughts turn to the huge swath of dirtbags across America who have been Priest’s most hard-core fans, the ones who have just finally made their peace with Rob Halford coming out, only to see their favorite band appear on the most un-metal show on television. Sorry, guys. First you lose Dio, and now this. So, back to the song. It has turned into a medley. Come on, now this is just being selfish. It ends with pyrotechnics and a truly unexciting cutaway to a corner where something just happened a second ago, aw, you missed it.

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Then Ryan introduces a clip package and leads us to believe we are going to see an assemblage of Randy’s best moments. It consists of two types of moments: moments where Randy asks what is going on with this show, and moments where Randy declares that people are in it to win it. That’s it. There really isn’t much to this guy. What you see is what you get. Oh, and he was in Journey one afternoon.

Ryan tells us Jacob will now perform “I Smile” with gospel singer Kirk Franklin. Kirk is dressed like Brother Mouzone from The Wire and kicks things off at the piano. Jacob enters, dressed in a suit and prancing onto the stage in a saucy way that suggests a switcheroo wherein Madea is dressed up in a Tyler Perry costume. Kirk Franklin calls legend Gladys Knight to the stage! Gladys comes on and Gladys can still get it done. Kirk issues some clunky calls to action to assist victims of the recent tornadoes, all while Gladys and Jacob continue to sing about smiling. A full battalion of backup singers is mobilized, and as Kirk calls out to Mississippi and Missouri, approximately 100 people on stage sing, “You look so much better when you smile.” This is like the ultimate version of women being told to smile as they pass a construction site.

Back from the break, we launch right into a musical number. Casey, in a suit, seated on a couch, starts singing Queen’s “Fat-Bottomed Girls.” He then stands and kicks the couch aside, revealing a reclining Jack Black in a matching suit! Jack jumps up and joins Casey on the tune, and it’s fun until they get to the chorus, and the harmonies don’t … quite … work. But there is no time to mourn that chorus, because Casey and Jack are now bringing life to my worst nightmare: a scat-off. Knowing that it’s not entirely serious takes some of the sting away; I’ve always been grateful to Jack Black for demonstrating, tacitly, how ridiculous scat-singing is. Some women with non-fat bottoms ride some bikes onto the stage, and it ends.

Ryan tries to introduce the ladies of the top thirteen, but they’re not ready yet. Ladies: Am I right, guys? Tonight, at least, Ryan stalls by talking about American Idol. Finally, the ladies, dressed in different outfits in the same shade of red, launch into a Beyoncé medley. Thia seems uncomfortable with the sexy stuff in the choreography. Her discomfort makes me uncomfortable. When they all inevitably troop down to the judges' dais, everyone goes right but Thia, who goes left. I wonder if she felt she was being corrupted and needs to save herself. Turns out it’s just so she can start off the next phase of the medley, “Irreplaceable.” When it shifts again, there is a really bad transition where half of the girls try to hit the super-low note that starts “If I Were a Boy.” A sort of moan comes out of them, and it sounds like they all have lower back pain. It doesn’t get much better from there. It’s pretty uneven, verging at times on that fake “board feed” YouTube video of Beyoncé on the Today show. Just when this medley seems endless, as if Beyoncé is writing new songs that are being tacked on any time the medley’s in danger of winding down, Beyoncé herself appears. It’s weird to think that she had to wait through an endless medley of her own greatest hits before she could enter. Beyoncé sings most of “Crazy in Love,” then allows a group hug. I think it’s over.

Thinking about everything that’s happened on the show so far, I wonder how much more incredibly boring Scotty and Lauren are going to seem after all this? My guess at this juncture is 100 percent more boring.

Now it’s time for another video package. This one’s all about Steven Tyler. He is described in a legend on the bottom of the screen as a “loose cannon,” but mostly he just curses while he does his job. Still pretty tight, cannonically speaking. At the end of this, he stands and welcomes the crowd’s adulation, then gives Ryan a little cuddle. This guy’s not so bad, I guess. He wore me down.

Next, Haley sings “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” with Tony Bennett, who has reached the age of wearing glasses with deep yellow lenses. Any time I see Tony Bennett, I am reminded of what my late mother used to say any time she’d see Tony Bennett: “He was always a shouter; now he can’t sing anymore.” Oh, and whenever she’d see Dick Van Dyke, she’d say, “I can’t believe he was drunk the whole time he was doing that show.” Rest in Peace, Mom. I’m glad you didn’t live to see me write recaps of American Idol. Anyway, this is a charming moment, and Haley is clearly having fun and is very much at ease with the song and the genre, even though she flubs the lyrics a little toward the end. As everyone applauds, Ryan says “Great to see you, Tony,” as if Ryan is also in show business.

Oo, it’s time for J.Lo’s highlight package! Now, since women don’t have their own personalities, her package is all about people telling her she’s hot and Randy pretending the compliments people pay her are for him. Thank God for Randy and his special brand of filling up silence with talking!

Next, Lil Jon and the surviving members of TLC perform. How you holding up, country fans? It’s a little sad to see T-Boz and Chilli performing “Scrubs" and “Waterfalls,” just the two of them, but then all the women of color from the top thirteen come out and join them. It’s a really nice moment. And this is one of those schizophrenic-feeling Idol moves: Are they highlighting the women of color who have been a part of this season and calling attention to the people of color who have been a part of the fabric of this show, and the music industry, and our very society always? Or are they throwing them a bone, kinda? Like, “Here, you can have this.” There’s so much cynicism on this thing that it’s hard to tell if they might actually be doing something positive here and reminding everyone how diverse music is. But then again, they engineered this country top two because country sells like crazy, so I can only give them so much credit. Return to attack mode!

Scotty sings “Live Like You’re Dying” with Tim McGraw. The song is a heartfelt ode to skydiving and rock-climbing, because who knows when God will take you? So you’d better dare Him to do it. Bit of a mixed message. Scotty is clearly excited and proud to sing with Tim, and I can actually be happy for Scotty and still be bored stiff by this song. Scotty is very assured and is obviously in his comfort zone, and he looks like a professional already. Let’s just get to results right now. No? More of this? Okay. I have no say in this, right? None whatsoever, sure, that’s what I figured. It never hurts to ask. Ryan tells us Tim McGraw has been “the most-played artist on the radio for the last ten years.” I GET IT, PEOPLE LIKE COUNTRY MUSIC. Ryan urges us to join Tim on his Emotional Traffic tour. Come up with a better name first and we’ll see. I hate that name this big.

Back from the break, Ryan’s with Randy and Steven — where’s J.Lo? Has she finally been kidnapped by Pitbull!? Ryan introduces a package narrated by Joe, a guy from auditions who said he wanted to be a radio D.J. I think we're supposed to remember Joe fondly, but I feel an unease when I see him as if when we first met him he was talking about building a fence around America to keep out “job-stealers.” We review some of the most memorably awful people from the first couple weeks of this season. All of the horrible people are still all horrible in the same way. However, we are treated to another viewing of the Idol cameraman getting his camera (and sternum) crushed by a back-flipping idiot. But we are still denied the footage from the crushed camera! Why won’t they release it? The people have a right to see this no-doubt awesome footage! What is this, China Idol?

Ryan then introduces Marc Anthony, and I think I know where J.Lo is going to be very soon. Marc takes the stage with a huge band behind him, including the ageless Sheila E. on drums. Marc Anthony is actually a pretty enjoyable performer, and this number is totally unlike anything we’ve seen this season. MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez sang in Spanish a lot, but never anything fun like this. Suddenly! A mysterious dancer appears upstage with her back to the audience. Who could it possibly be? Wrong, idiot! It’s totally J.Lo! J.Lo shimmies up to Marc Anthony, turns around, and shakes her ass at the crowd. The crowd goes crazy, and for once they are right. So, okay, now here’s some more cultural and musical diversity, being crammed into this one night. Some more of this would have been nice throughout this whole long, arid season. So far, Idol has shown me three different shows this evening that I would’ve liked watching instead of the one I’ve been watching since January. Well, it’s not long now. Oh, and it was cool to see J.Lo dance without the burden of having to also sing.

Fun’s over. Time for another video package. This one’s all about getting eliminated. Stefano gets to be in it for a second. Casey and Scotty argue over whose elimination was more shocking. As they bicker, Pia shows up wearing a sash that reads, “Most Shocking” and shuts them up.

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Pia actually acquits herself nicely, skit-wise. But the person who flat-out steals this scene is the real-life Idol staffer who is trying to work as this is being shot around her. She looks miserable.

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Now the top thirteen guys are gonna medley. Stefano starts it off with ”Kiss,” and I get all excited thinking that Prince is gonna show up at the end of this medley, and maybe he’ll just play the whole rest of the show and they’ll run the results on a news ticker on the bottom of the screen. Then Paul starts singing ”She’s a Lady,” and I think, “Oh, Tom Jones. Oh well.” I would have been more excited about it being Tom Jones if they’d started with a different song. I just got my Prince expectations up, is all. James starts into “What’s New, Pussycat.” Okay, cue Tom Jones already. Nope, not yet. Scotty sits down on some steps and I hurriedly blurt out “Greengreengrassofhome!” just before he starts singing it. This is for my wife’s benefit; it’s important that she know I am smart and ahead of everyone, always. The guys all seem really into this medley, having a great time. The name Tom Jones has not been mentioned once, and I’m sure all the tweens watching this in the studio and at home are thinking, What is this shit? This might be an actual enjoyable moment for me. At the very least, I am grateful for it, a moment of honest fun and camaraderie and old songs I know. Casey hollers, “Ladies and gentlemen, Sir Tom Jones!” Sir Tom walks out. I had no idea he was a knight. He looks super Welsh, and when he opens his mouth to sing I expect coal dust to billow out. Tom Jones does not have all his former considerable power, but he can still sell a song pretty well. I wish he and Gladys would do a number. On a different show. That I was watching.

Now we’ve come to the hardest moment for me: the final Ford Music Video. This is going to be tough. Especially since the theme of this last one is “Previous Ford Music Videos.” Scotty and Lauren sing some song I am forgetting as I am listening to it as we see clips of all the other videos. Oh, there’s that one! And the other one! Zombies happened, remember? The end. Then back in the studio, we’re meeting Lauren’s principal and Scotty’s music teacher. Earlier, the kids invited them to the finale, and now, in the studio, Scotty and Lauren give the educators the keys to a pair of Ford Focuses. Then Ryan says Scotty and Lauren are entitled to the keys to any Ford vehicle they want. I bet they’ll get matching Taureses.

Ryan starts talking again, introducing someone or something. He says the word “provocative,” which can only mean Lady Gaga. Happening right after the moment where the country-singing teenagers gave their teachers free American cars, it’s like the show is saying, Okay, flyovers, you can go back to hating everything that’s not you. Lady Gaga stands atop a huge Styrofoam mountain, wearing a hat that looks like a bedazzled samosa. She starts into “Edge of Glory" and reminds everyone who says she’s some lesser version of Madonna that she can actually sing. She plays some power chords on her mountaintop keyboard and does a sexy dance with a dude while she’s up there. Why not, right? You don’t get to hang out on these Styrofoam mountains every day, make the most of it. That’s what Tim McGraw says. Down in the foothills of the stage, Clarence Clemons shows up dressed as Darkman to play a sax solo that mostly can’t be heard. I don’t know if it’s bad sound in the studio or he needs a new reed or someone dumped lobster bisque in his bell. The song ends with Lady Gaga and her dancer dude falling off the cliff onto an unseen mattress. I’m assuming there was a mattress. If they didn’t make it, I’m sure you’d have heard by now.

Back from the break, we slam into a Lauren performance of Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.” Carrie Underwood comes out and joins her! A burden shared is a burdened lightened! And before you know it, the task is done.

Speaking of burdens, another goddamned video package! This one finds many of the contestants making wisecracks about how young Scotty and Lauren are. Stefano makes a trenchant point as he whines, “Wasn’t American Juniors canceled a while ago?” Casey gets off a good crack: “They’re just learning cursive.” Solid joke, Case. I like your style.

Ryan welcomes back “the unstoppable icon” Beyoncé to sing “1+1.” Beyoncé asks the audience if they'd mind if she sang to them. They respond that they’d actually like it if she did, and thank you (I am paraphrasing slightly). But really, what else can they do? She’s unstoppable! It’s a really good performance and Beyoncé sounds great and is not singing country.

Back from the break, Ryan informs us that someone whose name sounds like Reef Party will join Bono and the Edge in performing a song from the Broadway show that no one wants to see succeed, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. A Spider-Man flies on wires over and around the audience while Grieve Hardy, who looks like a pubescent James Franco, sings the same thing over and over again, periodically broken up by Bono singing something that is impossible to care about. Is there a lot of this sort of thing in the actual Broadway show? This is so dull I wonder if all those Spiders-Man were just trying to liven things up by breaking their collarbones. The song ends with the Spider-Man hanging upside down in front of J.Lo. She peels his mask down like in the movie. Will they do the famous kiss? Nope. Thus do non-moments fill time.

Back from the break, I see Steven Tyler isn’t sitting at the judges’ station. I know what’s going to happen. Yeah, Steven’s up onstage, sitting at a piano, and starts “Dream On.” After a moment or two, I realize James is not coming out to sing with him, and I am suddenly okay with this song happening. Then I think, Wasn’t James supposed to sing with Steven in the finale? Was that only if James made it to the finale as one of the final two? Did James choose to sing with Judas Priest instead of Steven? Did James’s baby ever get those diapers and that food?

Finally — finally — it’s time for results. Scotty and Lauren are both breathing heavily. Not hyperventilating, but extraventilating for sure. Here with the official results is a Britishy guy named Edward Boddington, which sounds made up, but I’ll play along. Ryan makes the request: one final light-dim.

Soon I will be free. Soon I will be free.

RESULTS: Scotty wins. Just like everyone knew he would. Everyone hugs. Scotty thanks the Lord. I discover the winner of American Idol gets a microphone trophy. Scotty sings the poorly titled “I Love You This Big.” He hugs his family and nearby Jack Black hilariously pretends to go for a hug and then acts as if Scotty snubbed him. It makes me laugh and I rewind it and watch it again. The end.

To all of you who said nice things about my recaps and spread the word to other people, thank you very much. To all of you who liked my writing enough to seek out my non–American Idol–based comedy, I will say so long for now. To everyone else, good-bye!

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You can listen to Paul F. Tompkins's podcast here, or subscribe on iTunes. He is also on Twitter as @PFTompkins.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX