So here’s the thing about Phillip Phillips’s potential winner single “Home.” Last night, it reminded me of two different songs (aside from the Edward Sharpe song that is also called “Home,” and every track from the Mumford & Sons album): a song whose verses go “Ho! Hey!” and another song with a chorus that goes “I belong to you, you belong to me, you’re my sweetheart.” Well, it turns out those two songs are the same song, it’s called “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers, and the intro package to tonight’s finale is set to it. Even the music supervisors of American Idol have stopped trying to pretend Phillip won’t run away with this.
The proper show begins with a giant, unnecessary group number, as the top thirteen (minus Phillip and Jessica and also Gentle Recidivist Jermaine Jones) take on Bruno Mars’s “Runaway.” Everyone is in white, everyone is playing to the camera like this is their last shot, which in many cases it is. Even Deandre Brackensick is there, which is weird, because I forgot that he was a person. When they pair off, we are reminded of Joshua and Hollie’s friendship; of Colton and Skylar’s relationship, which none of us believed in the first place; of the fact that Heejun and Erika ever breathed the same air. Welcome back, everyone. Who are most of you? And then, as some professional dancers come out, Joshua attempts a split and somehow falls down three separate times.
Also, there’s a shot of Lisa Rinna and if you can look at her and do anything but wonder whether she’s wearing adult diapers, you are a stronger person than I.
Ryan brings out Phillip and Jessica, who are both in the same white as the other finalists. Whoever made the call on Phillip’s V-neck depth, I salute you; we have received the exact right amount of downy-chest-hair exposure this season. Ryan asks whether they got any sleep, and Jessica says she managed to get a couple of hours, but “they were the best sleep.” Phillip counters that he got about nine and a half to ten hours, and the crowd loses their shit. And there’s the difference between those two; Jessica is trying so hard to do everything just right, while Phillip just lets it hang out and the world is drawn to him.
Listen: He got on my nerves for a bit, but I’ve come back around to Phillip. I’m glad he and I have been fighting over the last couple of weeks; our relationship is stronger for it. He kicks off the Idols Performing With Legends portion of the show by doing a CCR medley with John Fogerty, or as you know him, “JoAnne Worley on Casual Friday,” or as your children know him, “Rachel Maddow’s lumberjack grandmother.” Their tones mesh perfectly, but there is a point in “Bad Moon Rising” at which Fogerty very clearly sings “there’s a bathroom on the right.” It is double-meta.
Did you think we’d get through the show without revisiting this season’s mentally ill auditioners? Well, think again, because they’re back in a malcontent supercut: every lazy-eyed, spandex-panted wannabe, every chunky Steven Tyler buttock-toucher, even poor dizzy Phong Vu pulling on the wrong door; they all get one last moment in the opposite of sunshine. It’s still gross. To Phong Vu: Sorry for everything, Dave Holmes.
Joshua sings Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot,” and right away he introduces “the biggest inspiration in [his] life, Fantasia Barrino.” Out she comes, in some kind of catsuit and Cher-wig combo, like a superhero whose power is singing in a way that gives you vocal nodes. You know how sometimes powerhouse singers will sing most of a song, and then they improvise toward the end? Here’s how much of “Take Me to the Pilot” Joshua and Fantasia get through before they start improvising: “Ta.” Most of you will not get this reference, and that’s why I’m glad you’re at your computer so you can look it up: It is very Cephus and Reesie.
Oh, but the catsuiterwauling is not over. The ladies of the top thirteen gather to sing a Chaka Khan medley, and in the spirit of sisterhood, they let Shannon Magrane get some good lines in. And Chaka herself joins them to sing a few lines in literal head-to-toe Spanx, like a very well-crafted balloon animal.
Then Rihanna comes and sings her new song and pats her vagina a million times.
Skylar Laine is back, singing a duet with Reba, who is playing the role of the Ghost of Future Surgical Procedures. Look upon her, Skylar!
Jessica reprises her pitch-perfect “I Will Always Love You,” which might have been a better idea Tuesday night, when people could still vote. And we’re so deep into this show’s pattern of bringing out the original artists, I start to wonder how they’re going to do it here. Hologram Whitney? Bobbi Kris? Harvey Levin? Nope: just Jessica. The Idol finale accidentally gets tasteful for a minute.
The boys of the top thirteen do a Neil Diamond medley, and it reminds me how much I admire Colton Dixon. In a time when everyone is too cool for the room, Colton is proudly exactly as cool as the room. With his refreshing affect of New Sincerity and a pants-tightness level that suggests comfort with alternative lifestyles, Colton could be the face of Christianity for the 21st century. And as if to cement his role as a transformational figure, he introduces the face of Judaism for the 20th century, Neil Diamond himself. Go’head, Colton Dixon. I officially approve of you.
Jennifer Lopez either does her new song or a medley of three of her new songs; we are in a post–Black Eyed Peas pop-music landscape right now, and I honestly can’t tell anymore.
And then the grossest thing ever happens. Ryan calls “the first Idol couple ever,” Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo, up to the stage. So, right away, you’re thinking: “Oh, this is normal. Just Ryan summoning some mid-level contestants from several years ago, as usual. No big deal.” Ace says, “This has always been home to us, so it seemed like the right place to ask a special question.” And Diana has a face like, “How would a person who’s about to be proposed to react, if she hadn’t already camera-blocked and rehearsed this moment six times today? Because that’s how I’m feeling right now.” Ace touches Diana’s face, wipes away a tear that is fictional, and says, “Diana, we have conquered Broadway, we have made our own music, and now, with the help of David Webb Jewelry, I have a way to make this last forever ... I will do anything to have the most imaginable life together ... Will ... you ... marry ... me?” These are direct quotes. Diana accepts and puts on the ring that she paid for by being a part of this goofball marketing segment. Congratulations, weirdos! We look forward to meeting your future children Fremantle, Dasani, and Ultimate Kickin’ Jalapeño Ranch.
Hollie and Jordin Sparks sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel, and it sounds like a benefit single to raise awareness for premature middle age.
Okay. When Jessica sang “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” a few weeks ago, it was clear that one way or another she’d be singing it in the finale with Jennifer Holliday. It’s just how this show works. But I don’t think anyone was prepared for what Jennifer Holliday would serve up here. How can I express the faces Jennifer makes? Gayle King as the Cowardly Lion? Tyler Perry in Madea: Straight Grinchin’? A Jim Henson Creature Shop creation that must eat Jessica Sanchez’s nose to live? You guys, it is batshit, and if someone hasn’t already turned it into the world’s first five-minute GIF, then the Internet is broken. Sound-wise, you know how every week someone on this show says, “you took us to church”? This sounds like you just broke up with church. I honestly think it took a decade off my life. And I am telling you I am fucking exhausted.
I should point out that during the big numbers, Randy Jackson gives us a facial medley of Bill Cosby’s dances from the opening sequences of The Cosby Show, and it’s the most entertaining thing he’s ever done.
There’s an Aerosmith reunion that eats up a few minutes and teaches us nothing except that Steven Tyler needs a TelePrompTer for his own lyrics and Joe Perry will absorb your powers if he touches you.
And after a thoroughly unnecessary cover of “Up Where We Belong,” it is time to crown a winner. A world-record 132 million votes were cast last night, which given the speed at which technology evolves is kind of a bullshit world record. It’s like: I currently hold the world record for being the oldest I have ever been. Anyway: 131.999 million of those votes were cast for PHILLIP PHILLIPS. Jessica takes it gracefully, and Scotty McCreery ambles out onstage to pass the White Guy With Guitar Guitar on to its new renter.
That the guitar part of “Home” starts ten seconds before Phillip starts playing this guitar is not important. Because about halfway through the song, stoic and inscrutable Phillip is so overcome with emotion that he cannot sing. Real, honest tears; none of this DeGarmo bullshit. Just before the end, he takes off the guitar, hands it to his bro Joshua and collapses into the arms of his family. And in this moment you realize: This sweet, handsome, stonery kid with a bum kidney and a cheap guitar is now a millionaire who’s about to have a hit single. You can’t help but be proud. It’s a moment that’s so sweet and inspiring, not even 19 Entertainment can fuck it up. It took them six tries, but they’ve finally cast the White Boy With Guitar role perfectly. I’m rooting for you, Phillip Phillips.
And that’s a wrap on American Idol season eleven! Thanks to everyone at Vulture for letting me do this. And many, many thanks also to all of you who’ve read, shared, and commented; you’ve made me laugh, you’ve corrected my mistakes, you’ve made this place my home. Let’s do this again sometime.