Lee and Crystal await results from Ryan Seacrest
The show was a celebrity-studded, two-hour showcase which was more of a tribute to exiting judge Simon Cowell than a celebration of the two finalists. The show began, though, with clips from the previous night's performance and from Lee Dewyze and Crystal Bowersox's journey on Idol.
As the camera swept over the audience, I spotted previous winners Taylor Hicks and Jordin Sparks in the audience.
Ryan checked in with Toledo, Ohio, for Crystal fans at the Huntington Center, at an event hosted by an overwhelmed Janell Wheeler. A crowd in Mount Prospect, Illinois, awaited the results at The Village Green, cheering for Lee.
With the first performance of the night, the Top 12 sang together Alice Cooper's "School's Out," wearing versions of a burgundy school uniform. A chorus of young people in Alice Cooper makeup came down the stairs just before Casey James introduced Alice Cooper, who rose on a platform at the top of the stairs, clad in leather, brandishing a cane. He schooled them all on attitude, even if his voice sounded very hoarse and raspy. Orianthi played a mean guitar. [VIDEO OF ALICE COOPER]
Next, last year's winner, Kris Allen, performed his new single, "The Truth." At first, it didn't sound like he'd been miked, but the sound problems were quickly resolved. It was a very pop song and didn't sound very much like the songs his fans liked when he was competing on the show. He greeted his audience in the front row, grabbing hands. There's still a lot of love for Kris. [VIDEO OF KRIS ALLEN]
On Simon's last night, Ryan announced they'd be paying tribute to him. Simon (hinting something or plugging a product?) gave him an Altoid, which promopted Ryan to go off script momentarily: "A tribute to the man who's made so many fresh breaths come true -- dreams come true." The montage featured Simon watching auditions and responding.
The first of a series of special performances featuring the Top 10 involved Siobhan Magnus and Aaron Kelly performing the Bee Gees song "How Deep is Your Love?" They were joined onstage by Barry Gibb and another Bee Gee. Siobhan and Aaron actually sang together really well, and the performance with the Gibb brothers works. At the end, everyone exchanged hugs. One question to the producers, though: I understand Aaron Kelly for this but why Siobhan? It's a little tame for her. [VIDEO OF BEE GEES]
Then, fourth-place finisher Michael Lynche did "Taking It To the Streets," performing it with Michael McDonald, the original artist, who still sounds the same as back in the day. He got a little soulful with it to match Mike's delivery. Big Mike was still very posey, even singing out "all right" at the end and concluding by giving Michael McDonald a shoulder bump. [VIDEO OF MICHAEL MCDONALD]
In another surprise for Simon, comedian Dane Cook performed a song based on Simon's greatest insults. Simon looked skeptical through most of it but finally smiled. At the end some of the most famous rejects joined Dane Cook onstage, including Tatiana Del Toro, Renaldo Lapuz (known for his white pimp suit and his original song, "We're Brothers Forever"), and Ian Bernardo, who stole the mike in what appears to be an unrehearsed move. The other also-rans started fighting over it as the show went to commercial.
The Top 6 girls, Lacey Brown, Didi Benami, Katie Stevens, Paige Miles, Siobhan, and Crystal did a Christina Aguilera medley, starting with "I Am Beautiful," some of it on the second stage. The arrangement seemed a little weak, mainly just repeating the chorus. Then they moved into the song "Fighter." Paige chose that moment to show America she really can sing. Katie introduced "the incredible Christina Aguilera," who came down the stairs, surrounded by pyrotechnics, and finished the song with a great sustained note. [VIDEO OF CHRISTINA AGUILERA MEDLEY]
Violin music segued her into her new single, "You Lost Me," which Christina performed by herself, standing on a little booster surrounded by what looked like tumbled light bulbs on the floor. She looked a lot like Marlene Dietrich with '40s hair, false eyelashes, wearing a black boustier and black, sparkly tights. Very moving song. [VIDEO OF CHRISTINA]
Ryan tossed it to Ricky Gervais, a friend of Simon Cowell's, to say good-bye. He did a funny roast, with one of the best lines being "You're the king maker (and you only take 80 percent of their wages)."
Lee then kicked off a Hall & Oates medley, starting with "I Can't Go for That." Andrew Garcia and the rest of the Top 6 guys joined him. It was a nice groove, and Lee sounded really good on it. Then Casey led into the song "Mankiller." Lee introduced Daryl Hall and John Oates. Daryl now has a beard and John has shaved his big, fluffy moustache (shocking!). [VIDEO OF HALL & OATES MEDLEY]
Hall and Oates performed "You Make My Dreams Come True" with the guys on background vocals. Despite looking a little scruffy, Daryl still sounded good. [VIDEO OF HALL & OATES]
Another glimpse of Toledo, where Janell Wheeler was surrounded by fans. You could barely hear her, even though she was miked.
Before Crystal performed, Ryan said hi to Crystal's dad, awaiting the results in the audience. She sang "Isn't it Ironic?" wearing a dress in ivory and black with a flowered skirt, black leggings, and brown cowboy boots. Alanis Morissette joined her onstage, and they alternated lines on "You Ought to Know." Not surprisingly, Crystal changed a line to "would she go down with you to the theater" (read it over again and figure out which word was changed). The two took turns singing, strutting across the stage. At one point, Crystal had to jump over a mike chord to keep from getting tripped! (Did Alanis refuse to use a wireless mike?) She held her own with Alanis, especially with some great harmonies. They hugged at the end. [VIDEO OF ALANIS MORISSETTE]
Carrie Underwood performed "Undo It" in a black top with silver futuristic bolero jacket, black leather leggings, and high-heeled boots. This was more of a pop song than her typically country singles. Oh, that's why: she co-wrote with Kara DioGuardi. [VIDEO OF CARRIE]
In a videotaped package, season 8 winner Kris Allen surprised Lee and Crystal each with a new Ford Fiesta, personalized to suit them. Crystal's had sunflowers on it, while Lee's had red plaid on the hood (what? No bag pipe?) For this week's Ford commercial, Lee and Crystal sang "My Wish" as scenes of the season's Ford commercials played behind them. [VIDEO OF FORD COMMERCIAL]
Third-place finisher Casey kicked off the Poison song "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," switching from acoustic to electric when Bret Michaels, recently recovered from a life-threatening brain aneurysm, came out, all smiles. He was walking much better than on the Celebrity Apprentice finale. Yay! He sounded great. What an amazing, heartwarming moment. Casey and Bret got the audience clapping along and finished off at the very end with some dueling guitars before giving each other a high five. [VIDEO OF BRET MICHAELS]
For his performance, Lee got to do a medley of hits from the band named after the city where he auditioned, Chicago. With Chicago, of course. No dramatic entry this time, as they played with him from the beginning. Lee fell off pitch at one point, but the lead singer wasn't doing much better! The whole performance was a bit of a mess, honestly. I wonder when the last time was that this band played together? [VIDEO OF CHICAGO]
Another glimpse of the Lee fans in Mt. Prospect with former Idol contestant Matt Rogers, who was all fired up. This was followed by another cute video package about Simon.
General Larry Platt, the Atlanta civil rights legend who is now better known for his original song, "Pants on the Ground," performed a remixed version with coordinated dancers. At the end, he was joined by America's previous favorite Idol wannabe, William Hung. The dancers, predictably, pulled their pants down at the end of the song. Just ridiculous! [VIDEO OF GENERAL LARRY PLATT]
In another video package, former Idol judge Paula Abdul reminisced about her time on the show with Simon, calling the judges "America's favorite dysfunctional family." At the close of the package, she appeared on stage in a bubblegum-pink dress with a bubble skirt. The judges give her a standing O. She gave a monologue about Simon, starting off with a really weak joke about how they'd supposedly had a love child together, which is why she left the show. After some very sweet accolades, she ended with "American Idol will not be the same without you but as only I can tell you, it will go on" (yes, for about one more season, most likely). [VIDEO OF PAULA]
Another montage, this one over the Frank Sinatra song "My Way," featuring highlights of Simon's career on Idol, was followed by a special tribute performance by Idol winners Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood, Jordin Sparks, Taylor Hicks, and Kris Allen. (David Cook reportedly had to miss it for a charity performance in Kansas City). Other contestants from over the years joined them onstage as Paula sat on Simon's lap to watch. I spotted Elliott Yamin, Bo Bice, Justine Guarini, David Archuleta, Matt Giraud, among many others. Adam Lambert reportedly had to miss due to laryngitis (although some speculate he would have skipped it anyway). [VIDEO OF IDOLS TRIBUTE]
Ryan invited Simon onto the stage to say his good-byes. Simon said he didn't think he'd be so emotional. He thanked everyone for the support, the fun and the sense of humor. To America, he said, "You guys are the judge of this show, and you've done an incredible job over the years." He said he'll honestly miss Ryan (a nod to all their sparring over the years). He also thanked the production team and finished by hugging Ryan, then Paula.
The Top 12 performed one more song, Janet Jackson's new single, "Nothing." Janet Jackson joined them, her hair cut really short, wearing a dramatic black gown with red lining. She sounded a lot like Michael on this song. Very beautiful. Then, she sequed into "Nasty Boys," which Janet performed alone with dancers, getting huge applause from the audience. [VIDEO OF JANET JACKSON]
Then, Ryan announced that "tonight is about Crystal and Lee" (not Simon?). He showed a montage about their journey on the show. [VIDEO ABOUT CRYSTAL AND LEE]
Lee and Crystal took the second stage and kicked off the Beatles song "With a Little Help from My Friends." Crystal introduced Joe Cocker, "living legend." He was rocking a purple paisley jacket with a black shirt. As the top two sang with him, Lee seemed uncomfortable, just kind of standing there, but Crystal was in heaven, jamming with one of her personal idols. [VIDEO OF JOE COCKER]
By this point, the show was running long! Those with DVRs set were bound to be upset, unless they set the recording to run over.
After a commercial break, Ryan received the certified voting results from the founder and chairman of Telescope, who presented them in a golden envelope. As they waited, Lee was beside himself. Ryan announced, "After the nationwide vote, I can now tell you the winner of American Idol 2010 is Lee Dewyze." A shot of the Village Green celebrating. Crystal congratulated him, and the other contestants took the stage, Michael Lynche giving him a big hug.
In response to Ryan's question, "How does it feel?" Lee said, "I don't know. It's amazing. Thank you guys so much for everything. ... Crystal, I love you." Ryan asked him if he was stunned (like Kris had been last year), and Lee responded, "I'm just happy. Never been happier in my life."
Lee finished off the evening by singing his cover of U-2's "Beautiful Day" one last time, which will be released as his winning single. [VIDEO OF LEE'S WIN]
Time for the post-mortem. Why did Lee win? Why didn't Crystal? From very early stages of the competition, Crystal was viewed as the front-runner, just like Adam Lambert had been during season 8. The judges rarely had any criticism for her, until later in the season. But similarly, they rarely had a bad word for Lee, either. Both contestants seemed down-to-earth and nice, grateful for their experiences on the show. Some people feel that Crystal talked a little too much, but others found her spontaneous remarks charming (much like previous winner Fantasia Barrino made viewers fall in love with her for her good-natured remarks from the stage).
Vocally, the two are very different. Technically, Crystal was more consistent, rarely faltering for pitch like Lee tended to do when he was nervous. But the judges were right that Lee has a very commercial-sounding voice, which he demonstrated best on, of all nights, Frank Sinatra night. Although he was positioned by the judges as this year's "rocker," he was more of a Top 40 pop-rock guy, exactly the sort of person who's more likely to appeal to a broad range of viewers (from tweens who find him cute to pop fans who want to buy his album).
As Rolling Stone predicted weeks ago, Crystal was just a little too different for a mainstream audience. From her dreds to her hippie garb to her penchant for singing bluesy, gospel-inflected songs, she doesn't fit the Top 40 mold. Yes, she's a terrific singer, but some voters might not have felt as connected to her as to "guy-next-door" Lee Dewyze.
Crystal should take it as a victory, though, that the votes were as close as they were. Despite the fact that Lee's fan base (some of whom were presumably younger) was more likely to vote intensively for the entire voting period, Crystal came within a hair of winning. And as previous runners-up like Clay Aiken and Adam Lambert can attest, it's still possible to forge a great career and get a lot of album sales after placing second.
Lee's fans are overjoyed to see him win, so let them have their victory party. As for Crystal, I predict she'll do just fine.
If any of the video links are removed, try going to the official American Idol site and looking through their "performances" links. Some of them might be available there.
No matter how well you sing, it still comes down to how America votes.