For the first time since 2004, two ladies squared off for the "American Idol" crown in its penultimate episode, the final show before the results are announced and the winner of the competition's 12th season is revealed. Both finalists, Candice Glover and Kree Harrison, entered the evening virtually neck-and-neck, with little separating the two other than obvious musical differences. Ryan Seacrest proclaimed the night country vs. soul, and that it was, a battle between the country-leaning Harrison and Glover's soulful, wide-ranging voice.
FINALE PHOTOS: 'American Idol Season 12
After three rounds Wednesday evening (May 15) and over three months of preceding episodes, who won?
All things considered, both artists brought her A (or, at least, A-) game, something certainly expected on a night that carries such high stakes. Glover continued her strong string of on-point performances, while Harrison celebrated a return to form of sorts after weeks of tepid showings that left many wondering how she made it into the finale over third-place finisher Angie Miller.
But three rounds -- show creator Simon Fuller's choice, each finalist's potential winning song and a tune performed earlier in the season -- can make for a lot of back-and-forth action in terms of the overall victor. A poor performance at the start can be almost completely reversed by a show-stopping showing by the end of the night.
Might as well make the rounds and reveal who I thought was the winner of each. As always, feel free to throw out your own thoughts in the comments.
Round One: Kree Harrison - "Angel" vs. Candice Glover - "Chasing Pavements
First and foremost: MY GOD, did this first round drag! You'd think Simon Fuller, the show's creator, would have a finger on the pulse of his show enough to realize what makes good TV. Neither of the performances were bad, but they were fairly sleepy, as Randy Jackson pointed out. Why would they start the show with such ho-hum numbers? Did they want to put off any curious viewers tuning in for the first time all season to see the finale>
OK, that aside, Harrison started the evening with a countrified version of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel." During another week, maybe such as last week when the song could have been placed about mid-show, this would have been one of the most perfect song choices for Harrison all year. She's best with the toned-down ballads, and the song accented her pretty tone while a steel guitar droned on in the background. Vocally, she was faithful to McLachlan, and sometimes that's not bad.
Glover took on Adele's "Chasing Pavements," a fairly sensible choice for her given that she's most likely to go the route of the British soul singer if she ends up on the radio. The problem was that, although the song highlighted her powerful vocal, it's admittedly one of Adele's less flashy tunes, and put up against some of her other performances this season, it was almost instantly forgettable. That's not the kind of start to the evening she needed, even if her counterpart's showing was just as sleepy.
Round Two: Kree Harrison - "All Cried Out" vs. Candice Glover - "I Am Beautiful"
Last season, Phillip Phillips came out swinging with arguably the best "Idol" coronation song of all time, a tune that ended up everywhere in a matter of months and still resonates to this day.
Neither of these songs are gonna do that. Let's be real about that from the start.
Harrison's song, "All Cried Out," was a little weepy as its title might suggest, though with a big chorus that's kind of catchy, though isn't going to stick in the head in the vein of "Home." Still, the song showcased Harrison's potential in the country music world, and she was her usual self about 90 percent of the time, save for certain parts of the chorus she had to strain to hit, causing her voice to crack a bit. Might be just a little out of her range.
Now, Glover? Daaaamn. Still not up to Clarkson or Phillips, but it perfectly expressed the kind of music Glover could be doing in a few months, highlighting her strong R&B tendencies with an empowering chorus that dispels all detractors. It's the stereotypical "Idol" coronation song, but it's also one I could imagine on the radio, at least in the adult alternative format. Time will tell -- if she wins, of course.
Round Three: Kree Harrison - "Up to the Mountain" vs. Candice Glover - "I (Who Have Nothing)"
Imagine if this had been the beginning of the show -- THIS would have been a real start to an "Idol" finale. Both performers revisited their favorite songs of the season, meaning of course that no duds would be allowed. The best of the best.
Harrison came out swinging with "Up to the Mountain," a song she first performed in Hollywood. It was the song that first really turned American onto Harrison as a potential winner many months ago. Guess what? She sounded even better on a bigger stage; nerves certainly didn't seem to be an issue. Certain notes were absolutely heavenly, while all others were all hits, no misses. The Kree Harrison many fell in love with at the season's beginning was back, and just in the nick of time.
Unfortunately for Harrison, Glover had some fairly fantastic performances throughout the season as well, finally deciding on Tom Jones' "I (Who Have Nothing)." The dramatic intensity was in full force, a lone timpani accompanying Glover as she actually topped her earlier version of the song (which was a tall, tall order), with some of the runs and held notes absolutely blowing the doors off the Nokia Theater. Absolutely killer.
So, who gets the overall nod? The best of the best not only tonight, but all season?
I feel like you have to go with Candice. While Kree's first performance of the evening was slightly more endearing, Glover went hard during her last two songs, especially in the all-important coronation tune. Plus, her performances leading up to this week have always been stellar, with very minimal missteps. The same can't be said for Harrison, who finally woke up tonight, albeit a bit too late
That said, the cheers for Harrison at the beginning of the show seemed just a little bit louder than those for Glover, so anything could happen. Tune in tomorrow night to find out who takes the crown.