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American Idol Recap: The Final Face-off

AMERICAN IDOL: The Final 2: L-R: Candice Glover and Kree Harrison. CR: Michael Becker / FOX. Copyright: FOX. Candice and Kree, head to head in American Idol. Dare to care!

So this is it! After a long journey that took four months and forever at the same time, we are at our end. Two singers remain — one who charged out of the gate and then got lethargic, and one who tried out twice before and then came back with a new attitude and a sensible Contempo Casuals wardrobe — and I truly have no idea who I’m rooting for. More than ever, the final two are evenly matched, both in talent and in personality. This could go either way. “Me caring” is neither of the ways.

But I am immediately glued to my television, as tonight’s show opens with another delicious example of how nobody in the production is paying attention to what they’re doing. A pan of the audience at LOS ANGELES’S LEGENDARY NOKIA THEATER reveals a packed house, and then the cameraman zooms in for a close-up of ... Rob Schneider. Are you absolutely certain, at this stage of your life, in a week when every news outlet is filing its “Idol Is Dead” story, that Rob Schneider — soon to be entirely left out of Grown Ups 2 — is the celebrity you want to reveal? He’s rocking a tasteful Kangol, and I’m sure he’s a very nice person, but if Rob Schneider is your entire audience celebrity montage, maybe don’t do an audience celebrity montage.

The girls come out, and each one tells us how important this is and how much they want it and how little they can believe it, and Kree calls the place a the-AY-ter, because she’s the only country girl left, and she knows better than to let you forget it. 

Speaking of which: Wait, wait, wait. Kree Harrison was on The Rosie O’Donnell Show a bunch of times? Once with a very young JoJo, who makes the most bewildering mouth noises I have ever heard. Does this make me like her more or less? Does it make her whole thing seem more polished and less authentic, or does it prove that she’s put in her time? Why, even when faced with the terrifying cheer of a turn-of-the-century Rosie O’Donnell, can I not decide how I feel about anything? I blame Idol. Idol has pummeled the passion clean out of me.

There are three rounds tonight, the first of which is Songs Chosen by Simon Fuller. I don’t know that he’s a guy I’d listen to at this particular time in television history, but what do I know? He chooses Sarah MacLachlan’s “Angel” for Kree, because maybe he’s too busy to understand how inextricably linked with sad-eyed death-row puppies that song has become. Kree escapes the lethal injection by folk-countrying the song up a bit, a treatment the song takes on rather well. 

Candice’s assignment is Adele’s “Chasing Pavements,” just in case you weren’t absolutely clear as to what kind of artist 19 Entertainment would like to turn her into. It’s not the most imaginative choice, given that Candice’s standout from the season was Adele’s arrangement of “Lovesong,” and it’s too British a jam for her to interpret, so she kind of sings it phonetically, like Celine Dion used to have to do. But it’s a nice, understated performance, which is a thing I never thought I’d say about Candice Glover.

Corporate fun time! With our friends at Coca-Cola, we chose the lyrics for Carly Rae Jepsen’s new song! Our first line is “flyin’ kites with boy wonder”! We are maybe not qualified to be lyric choosers! Apparently the lyrics — and several elements of the live performance — were chosen from a short list of options on Coke’s website, which we stitched together into a disjointed, itchy quilt like Apollo the God of Music intended. As someone who was alive in 1995 when this kind of clunkball corporate interactive jackassery started to rear its head, I feel qualified to say: Coke, you need to step up your social media game.

Round two requires the gals to sing their potential winner’s singles! This is the point where last year, if Phillip hadn’t had it locked up already — which he did, so there’s almost no point in addressing it — he would have taken the title. “Home” was the catchiest, most relevant Idol winner’s single ever, and in a year, it has become the all-time biggest single by any Idol contestant. We know Idol will at least try to learn from its failures — slipping ratings compelled them to court Mariah Carey — and I am legitimately excited to see what these guys have learned from success.

Well, the producers of American Idol cannot resist punching me in the dick one last time. Both songs are wet-noodle ballads, more “Do I Make You Proud” than “Home,” immediately forgettable, lackadaisically sung. I’m starting to think that this season of Idol is some kind of Bialystock & Bloom situation.

Kree gets a country ballad called “All Cried Out” that doesn’t make much of an impression but gives her more chances to shine than she’s had in weeks. Lyrics-wise, there is much talk about “putting these memories to bed,” which might reference her sad backstory just a little too tidily, but I’ll allow it.

Candice Glover’s winner’s song is called “I Am Beautiful,” an anti-bullying self-esteem mid-tempo jammy-jam with just the tiniest drop of piety; the chorus either goes “he says I am beautiful” or “He says I am beautiful,” depending on whether you’re looking for it. Smart moves are being made here, in the lyrics department. Again, she sings it well, but there’s very little song to hold onto.

Round three allows the final two to return to their favorite performance of the season, because symbolically there is nothing more accurate than ending the final performance show with something we’ve seen before. Kree wisely revisits Patty Griffin’s “Up on the Mountain.” Patty Griffin is actually a good template for Kree: She doesn’t oversing, she doesn’t rely on runs, but there is no doubt the woman has soul. This is her best performance of the night.

Candice’s final performance is “I Who Have Nothing,” the first verse of which she boldly sings a cappella. As ever, her focus is more on vocal gymnastics than on emotionally delivering the song, and she ends on one serious bum note, and overall I think it’s a poor choice. Her vocals are incredibly powerful, but we already knew that; this would have been a great night for her to inject a performance with some personality, which she never has and still doesn’t.

You know what’s funny? The judges don’t give individual critiques until round three, and until then, I don’t even notice they haven’t been there. They toss bland, forgettable praise toward the stage, as ever. Randy Jackson, Idol judge for twelve long seasons, chooses as his all-time final critique “This girl can sing,” as if it’s surprising that the final two singers out of tens of thousands who entered a singing competition can carry a tune. Untold millions well spent, Fox.

Tomorrow, the whole thing ends with a big, dumb two-hour results show full of special guest appearances and powerhouse live performances all building to the tense moment we’ve been inching toward for months, in which the winner’s name is revealed and America finally says, as one: “Huh. Good for her.”

Photo: Michael Becker / FOX