At long last, the final two contestants faced off on American Idol. Each performed three songs last night: one song they'd performed earlier this season, one chosen by the show's creator, Simon Fuller, and then the new American Idol single, this time co-written by judge Kara DioGuardi. Viewers would get four hours to vote after the show, which is twice as much as on normal weeks. An audience of 7,000 watched in the studio.
Adam Lambert and Kris Allen
The cold opening featured video of finalists Adam Lambert and Kris Allen, going all the way back to audition week. Even then, it's amazing how confident they seemed, how ready they were for what was to come.
Since it was the finale night, judges Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell were both wearing suits. Characteristically, Randy's was trendier, mixing and matching several patterns, while Simon's was basic black. The women were dressed up, too, with Kara DioGuardi in a little black dress and Paula Abdul in emerald green satin.
Host Ryan Seacrest announced that Kris had won the coin toss and chosen to go second. I'm actually happy that he got that opportunity, which made the contest as fair as possible, since Adam is considered the front-runner. This means that everything would be based, ultimately, on their performances.
Ryan announced that tomorrow night would be the grand finale, and they were predicting it to go long. Therefore, he warned, those who were planning to record the show on their DVR should keep that in mind. I suppose that means setting it to record the show afterwards, as well.
It's interesting that FOX no longer seems willing to give American Idol extra time, like they had in the past. I remember that the finale was often scheduled to take up an hour and a half, as were some of the competition shows. For some reason, FOX has been standing firm on the schedule, perhaps because they finally have some strong dramas and don't want to sabotage them.
First up was Adam, whose performance was preceded by a story about him when he was little. His parents said he used to yell for an hour every night, which his father joked might have trained his voice. Adam admitted to having been "hyperactive, bouncing off the walls." He added that's "not much different than I am now."
For his repeat performance, he chose to do "Mad World," which had won him critical praise the first time because of his subdued, tender vocals. This time, he upped the drama, rising up a lift to make his initial appearance at the top of the stairs, wearing a long coat, half gloves, and a glittery shirt, looking very Goth. As dry ice covered the stage with smoke, he glided slowly down the stairs. Even as he walked, his voice was so pure I found myself writing, "He has terrific breath control." This time around, he changed up the song a little bit, adding a higher note in the bridge, which I found beautiful. He was definitely acting more than the first time, which might turn off people who dislike his theatricality. I thought it was a brilliant move, though, because he didn't just rest on the laurels of the first performance but found a way to bring more to the performance.
Randy said he loved that Adam was showing his sensitive side. About this particular performance, he said he loved the long coat. He gave Adam an A+. Kara said she was happy that he chose that performance. She said that the first time he did that song, she knew "not only were you an extraordinary singer but an incredible artist." That performance, she said, had changed the game for every other performer in the competition. She said that he "rocked it again tonight." A cutaway showed actor Anthony Hopkins in the audience. Paula called Adam "astonishingly handsome" and said she was "unbelievably proud of you." She told him to bask in it: "This is your moment." While the first time he performed it, she said it was subdued, this time she noted he gave it a "theatrical taste." Simon said, "I always thought this [song] was your best performance." For some reason, maybe because of the coat, he found this version "a little over theatrical." He said it reminded him of Phantom of the Opera. Randy jumped in, suggesting instead, Twilight.
Adam joked that he'd enjoyed "playing dress-up."
In his video before his performance, Kris's parents revealed that they used to pay him to sing for them. More recently, he gave his mother coupons, which she can redeem to have him sing for her. Aw, that's sweet.
For his previously-performed song, Kris did "Ain't No Sunshine," accompanying himself on piano, with the band providing extra backing. He wore a white T-shirt and a black vest, seemingly channeling former competitor Matt Giraud. Since Kris was seated for the entire performance, the producers made every effort to make his performance more dynamic, using creative camera angles, such as shooting from on stage, showing the audience, or using a sweeping camera shot from above, or a shot from the perspective of the band. This was one of Kris's strongest vocals: simple yet emotional, building throughout the song. The last note, on the higher end of his range, was good, too.
Randy said what he loves about Kris is that it's clearly "exactly what kind of artist you are, what kind of record you'll make." He called it "one of your best performances ever." Kara said, "If you can't feel a Kris Allen performance and he doesn't move you, there's something wrong with you." She praised him for creating an intimate bond with everyone in the audience. Paula gushed, "You awaken the spirit in all of us." She called his efforts to "Allen-ize" songs the "true marking of a great artist." Simon wasted no words: "I'll be honest with you. When your name was announced last week, I wasn't sure whether America had made the right choice. I absolutely take all that back now after that performance."
Ryan asked Simon to declare who had won round one, and Simon called it for Kris.
The next round was the song chosen by Simon Fuller. For Adam, he selected Sam Cooke's "A Change is Going to Come." Wearing a shiny silver suit with a white button-down and turquoise tie, and joined on-stage by members of the band, he did a bluesy version of the song, filled with emotion. This was a good song choice for him, because it allowed him to appeal to the mainstream, showing off his vocals without a lot of flash. When he hit the second verse, I found myself asking, "How does he hit those high notes?" His performance reminded me of some of the great soul singers: mesmerizing and powerful. At the close of the song, he gave props to the musicians, gesturing to them, but they had already beat a hasty retreat off-stage in time for the judging.
Randy noted this is a great R&B classic from Sam Cooke. He said the performance showed the real reason Adam was in the finals: "you can sing your face off." He added, "That was unbelievable." Kara said, "That might have been your best performance and interpretation." She liked the combination of hitting the high notes and pulling back. Paula said, "That was the best I've ever heard you sing. Ever, ever, ever!" She called it unbelievable and added, "You look like a superstar up there." She predicted, "Whatever happens with this Idol journey, I know with every fiber of my being you are going to be iconic." Simon joked that Paula appeared to be sitting on the fence. Then he declared simply, "You are 100 percent back in the game. Congratulations."
For Kris Allen, Simon Fuller chose Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" Again, this was a good choice for him, since it's mellow and lends itself to interpretation. Sitting on a chair, playing guitar, accompanied by musicians on bongos, percussion and bass, Kris wore a gray long-sleeved T-shirt. I really liked the lyrics, "Only love can conquer hate," which again, seemed suited to Kris. I thought the opening of the song was not so impressive, with a couple near misses in terms of pitch. He got much stronger in the middle of the song, although he popped a couple "p's," which is one of my pet peeves. He talk-sang on the line "Come on, talk to me." Overall, the performance was very relaxed and easy but a little uneven.
Randy said it was "a great song choice for this time that we're living in." Still, he found the performance "a little bit light for this big room at this point in the competition." Kara praised him for being "true to yourself from day one." She liked that Simon Fuller picked a socially-conscious song and said, "You are the kind of artist to make them think, make them feel, make them change." Paula, playing off the lyrics, said, "I know what's going on: you tore that song up and made Marvin Gaye proud." Simon also loved the song but said, "It was like three friends in their bedroom strumming along to Marvin Gaye." He criticized Kris for not grabbing hold of the song and making it his own. He thought it was "too laid back for a night like this."
Ryan asked Simon for a ruling of who won round two. Simon answered, "A million percent Adam."
After the commercial break, the top 10 were back, with everyone but Kris and Adam grouped together closely, smiling at the camera as Ryan reminded viewers of the summer tour. Someone hadn't told Scott MacIntyre which direction to look, and finally, Anoop (who had often been paired with Scott in the group dances) said something to him, and Scott faced the camera, as well. Just like Adam and Kris have apparently forged a strong friendship throughout this experience, it seems as if Anoop and Scott have bonded.
For the final round of the competition, both finalists sang this year's single, "No Boundaries," co-written by Kara. Wearing a black jacket with studs on the left shoulder, along with a black V-neck T-shirt, long silver chain, and faded jeans, Adam tackled the song first. As is typical for the coronation song, it was far from easy to sing, requiring a pretty wide vocal range. He handled the key change very well. This song sounds like a rock anthem when Adam does it. I'm sure that in the future, this is a song other hopefuls will sing when they audition for the show. The fact that Adam made the song so emotional shows that he actually paid attention to the lyrics. And this is why his acting ability is so important: he remembers that you never just sing a song: you perform it.
As Randy made his remarks, Kara was clapping and looking uncharacteristically happy (usually, I think she's concentrating on what she's about to say, which makes her look more serious). Randy said, "You can sing anything. You can sing the phone book." (I'd love to see that!) He said that it was "not one of my favorite Adam performances," and he'd found it "pitchy in parts." (Actually, I think that might have been the background singers, whose harmonies sounded really jarring to me.) Kara said that, on behalf of her co-writers, "It is amazing when someone with your level of talent sings a song like that." Adam responded, "Thanks for giving me that song." He said it was beautiful. Paula, with her eyes glistening, said, "Adjectives can't express what you've brought to this show. I'm in awe. I will be a fan forever, front in line." Simon was laughing about the lyrics initially but then caught himself, saying, "I'm not going to judge that song, but judge you. You have been one of the best, most original contestants we've ever had on this show. The whole idea about doing a show like this is you hope you've found a worldwide star. I think we've found that with you. Congratulations."
Ryan asked Adam, "Did you get the job done tonight?" Adam said yes. He said that he'd embraced the chance to do the Sam Cooke song, since he hadn't had a chance to do that earlier in the season. Ryan told him, "You are a class act." Agreed.
Then it was Kris's turn to sing "No Boundaries." He was standing on the stage in a rough-looking jacket, and his performance was more subdued. He seemed to have some trouble on the key change, and he dropped some lyrics on the first chorus. For Kris, he actually pulled out the stops, picking up the microphone stand and showing more emotion. But this song was not a good fit for him, and it is almost certainly not the type of music he'll do when he puts out his own album.
Randy said, "You should be very proud of what you've done in this competition. You are an amazing competitor. You've done amazing." He said he thought that song fit Kris's voice even better than it had Adam's. I just think it's a hard song to sing, period. Kara said that she didn't want Kris to be judged on that song, which she acknowledged was too high for him. She wanted viewers to judge him "on the fact that you're a compelling artist." She praised him for an "incredible season" and said she hopes people vote on the season. Paula said that he's "done an amazing job to end up where you are." She called this "one of the most compelling final showdowns" and wished Kris the best of luck. Simon told Kris his highlight of the night was the first song. He had some kind words, however: "Watching you tonight on this stage has been incredible, because I remember your first audition," when he showed no confidence. Simon added that Kris's mom and dad are very proud, "and you deserve to be standing on this stage tonight."
As Ryan joined Kris on stage, they temporarily grabbed each other's hand in a very warm gesture, typical of Kris. There's a reason that people like him so much. Ryan asked him, "Do you think you did enough?" Kris replied, "Who knows. Me and Adam said we're not competing: we're just coming out to give a good show tonight." That was probably the smartest thing they could have done, because they would both have been more relaxed, viewing it that way.
At the end, as Ryan was reminding people how to vote, both of them pointed at each other, asking viewers to vote for, "This guy." I can't remember a finale that was this amicable.
Finally, Carrie Underwood performed this season's good-bye song while video of the season played. I guess this means they're not bringing her back for tonight's big show?
Based on last night's performances, and based on the season, Adam deserves to win. However, I think that, whatever happens, both of them have the potential to kick off successful careers.
Nobody can sing those American Idol singles. It's a rule.