You guys, it is finally time to do this. After nearly 45 minutes of show stretched over four-and-a-half months, tonight we choose our twelfth American Idol. Is everybody ready? Is anybody here? Hello? Oh, it’s just you and me left? Great; more wine and Pop-Tarts for us, then.
After the judges descend the stairs in two separate camps — because God forbid we act like grown-ups for eleven seconds, just this once — the show begins with season twelve’s top-ten singing The Wanted’s “Glad You Came.” That’s where we stand at the end of this disastrous season: The judges aren’t speaking, and ten people with no sex appeal and very little confidence are lip-synching 2011’s greatest date-rape club banger. Still, it’s nice to see swishy ol’ Paul, unctuous Curtis, computer-generated Devin, and very sweaty Lazaro again. I want these guys to succeed. I want them to be big stars in a country I never have to visit. (And then there’s Burnell Taylor, who I truly enjoyed and sincerely wish the absolute best. Can he sing the hook on a Y.N. Rich Kids track and give my life a purpose?)
As always in the finale, the top five will duet with established stars, in what are essentially auditions for their post-Idol careers. Up first, Janelle Arthur with The Band Perry, who are trying to sell headbanging to a fiddle solo as a legitimate thing. There is sass to spare in this performance, plus some serious Bay City Rollers hair on the two boys in the group. And there is pyro. There is so much pyro tonight.
There is also so much attempted comedy, beginning with a package about how the five boys of the top ten didn’t succeed because they were sabotaged. Tonally, it’s all over the place; there’s a jab at one of Curtis’s jackets, and then they clown Lazaro for singing all the wrong notes in “Close to You,” and it all ends with Jordin Sparks recommending that the boys go audition for The Voice. It’s toothless and clueless, silly and nasty all at once, especially when you consider that American Idol really did sandbag the boys this year just by choosing this five.
And then we go to the boys’ performance, which is all doo-wop songs and makes me think they could tour together as one of those “Under the Streetlamp” fifties tribute groups you see on PBS on Saturday nights. And then Frankie Valli comes out and is so auto-tuned he sounds like a castrated robot who’s been forced by an evil genius to sing out of his nose.
Tonight, you can tell that the American Idol production is not happy with Mariah Carey. Surely she expected to be given the final performance of the night, but instead she gets the 30-minutes-in, post-Valli slot. And boy oh boy, her medley is weird right out of the gate: You know how sometimes an artist will be backlit behind a scrim, so you get a silhouette of them, and then the scrim rises and they are revealed and the fun begins? Mariah does something like that, except it is a silhouette of a different person entirely. (Also, the fun never begins.) I am not kidding about any of this: It opens with the last ten seconds of “Vision of Love,” then goes to the end of “Make It Happen,” the middle of “My All,” the bridge of “Hero,” a chunk of “We Belong Together,” and the second verse of “#Beautiful.” It makes anti-sense. It un-coheres. Also she is not bothering to pretend she’s not lip-synching. She doesn’t so much phone in her performance as she does text it in, and the text is just 30 emojis of ice-cream cones.
More duets! I actually like these; the finalists seem looser than they ever did during the performance shows, and the duet partners seem to be chosen with some degree of care. Emeli Sande sings “Next to Me” with Amber, and it is lovely, even if it goes on exactly one minute too long.
Then it’s time to relive our favorite Ford Mission Moments! What are your favorite Ford Mission Moments? Did you like it when they put a decal of cowboy boots on a Ford Fiesta? Or are you more of a “when they found Matthew Morrison in a barber shop” kind of a person? There’s no need to choose: Both are here, plus so many more, relived in what seems like real time. Oh, hey, would you also like to watch Candice and Kree give two strangers a midsize car that they will eventually have to pay taxes on, and would you like to spend forever doing it? Great, great, great. This is fun.
The next performance is from Psy, who gives a pretty decent object lesson in 2013 pop stardom. If the top ten play their cards right, they, too, could be featured in commercials for Wonderful Pistachios while kids ironically dance to their hits. Aim high, top ten. Aim Gangnam High.
As she must, Candice duets with Jennifer Hudson on a song I’ve never heard called “Inseparable.” Now, obviously, both of these women are wildly talented, but in terms of dynamics, this performance has the subtlety of The Weather Girls singing the last two minutes of “One Sweet Day” in a gospel-championship scene from Joyful Noise. And what does it mean? Who are they singing to? Each other? Unseen boyfriends? These two, like so many Idol standouts before them, put interpretation second to singing every note in the goddamn book. But the crowd loves it. All of the judges do the thing where they wave their hands in front of their face and look like they’re smelling something bad. (Here’s a fun product-integration idea for next season: When a particularly stanked-out performance is happening, the judges could spritz a little Febreze into the air.)
Angie starts her solo performance the way she spent 90 percent of this season, gazing pleadingly into the camera. She and Adam Lambert — who is dressed like a beaded curtain — sing a slowed-down piano version of “Titanium” that finally makes me understand what David Guetta brings to the table. And then! Jessie J hits the stage with a blonde crew-cut for a duet of “Domino.” Jessie J is looking very Susan Powter, on this most Daniel Powter of nights. Angie’s single is available for download on iTunes. Do with that information what you will.
Judges’ montage time! Again, Mariah is up first: The top ten say she says “dahling” all the time and can rarely give standing ovations owing to skirt-tightness issues. We knew this. This is in fact all we really ever did know about Mariah. The kids continue to state the very obvious: Keith is laid back, Randy shouts. The big finish is saved for Nicki; all the top ten wear Party City wigs and talk about what an effective judge she was. Though neither one looks likely to return next season, the Idol production team would seem to favor Team Nicki. Can’t disagree.
Kree performs a Keith Urban song with him, Randy, and for some reason Travis Barker. The momentum of this show makes a strong case for a Candice victory, and though I am fond of Kree, it’s hard to argue. Kree has a great voice, but did lose a bit of her sexy-pottery-teacher spark as the season went on. Had she kept a tiny bit more wind in her sails, she might have had this thing locked down, but she faltered. In Kree, you got a glimpse of how American Idol can be toxic to a person’s soul.
What a perfect time to say good-bye to Randy Jackson. They don’t really do a montage of his greatest moments — any clip of him doing anything is by definition a montage of his greatest moments — but they do show some interview clips where he tells you how lucky he is, and you’re like I KNOW. Farewell, Randy Jackson. To me, you will always be the man who consistently made me reach for a thesaurus to find a new way to say “bellow.”
As always, Aretha Franklin will not get on that plane. But her crippling fear of flying somehow does not disqualify her from a performance; she comes to us from New York, where she does a via-satellite group number with the top five, and it’s just as thrilling as watching someone yell at a television always is.
In a season-retrospective montage, the producers show us every interesting thing that happened this season. Literally every single one. It takes three minutes.
Okay, I don’t buy the recent news story about the Idol producers scheming to replace Mariah with J. Lo mid-season. But with that story still out there in the ether, giving Jennifer the pimp performance slot in the grand finale is one final "fuck you" to Ms. Carey. Let this be a lesson to the three other people on Earth to whom this could possibly apply: Waste $15 million of NewsCorp’s money at your own risk. Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull’s new single has a spoken-word intro about seizing the day that I’m 99 percent sure J. Lo simply read off a Lululemon shopping bag. The song is fine, if you like her last three singles, and the performance is styled and staged like some kind of Crossfit slumber party.
Let’s crown a winner already. And ... it’s ... CANDICE! Though I was leaning toward Kree, I can’t be mad at this. You can’t say she doesn’t want it. It was her third time, after all (and if Steven, J. Lo, and Randy passed on her twice, I’m curious to see who this year’s judges let slip through their fingers). I still have no clue where Candice fits into today’s pop marketplace, but that’s not my problem.
None of this is my problem anymore. That’s it for American Idol season twelve. More than ever, it felt like a job. Thanks to everyone who read and shared and commented and went through this slow, sloppy circus with me. Changes are afoot for next season, and let me tell you: If they want to keep me as a viewer, these changes had better be serious and fundamental — oh, who am I kidding? I’ll see you in January.