This is it! The grand finale, the end of the road, fight night. Have five months of "Idol" bootcamp turned Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox into potential music industry superstars? Has Simon Cowell Svengali'd his way into making America pick his winner of choice? Before the taping of the finale started, they announced there would be no coronation song this year - instead Lee and Crystal would perform covers that will be turned into their first singles released to market. This small change redeems a lot of this season, frankly.
And full disclosure: while last week I had the less-than-ideal circumstance of watching the East Coast feed of the show on my computer, this week I had the more-than-ideal circumstance of seeing the taping in person at the Nokia. Flame away in the comments that I'm spoiled. I am.
1) Lee DeWyze, "The Boxer" by Simon & Garfunkel
Lee got off to a rough start. His voice sounded raspy in a tired sort of way instead of in a Daughtry sort of way. Compare this performance to the clip we saw last week of him performing this song in Chicago - that was a much more heartfelt and earnest rendition. This time around he seemed like he just wanted to get off the stage in one piece. At times he seemed overpowered by the orchestra and he feel back into that facial tic where he seems dazed by the cameras. The judges try to buck him up, and you can tell the audience is rooting for him to pull it together. Snap out of it, man!
2) Crystal Bowersox, "Me and Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin
To use an overused term from past "American Idol" seasons, this song is in Crystal's wheelhouse. What I never picked up on TV was how well Crystal projects into the crowd. She sings to the rafters, people. And unlike Lee, she seems really exhilarated by the atmosphere of the evening. Simon warned her last week that she would need to step it up to stop the (judge propelled) momentum for Lee. I think she's doing it.
3) Lee DeWyze, "Everybody Hurts" by R.E.M.
I was quite happy with Executive Producer Simon Fuller's pick for Lee - we rarely got to hear his upper register this season. I think they've painted him so much into the Nickelback box that he wasn't encouraged to try any songs without some gravel to him. Lee seemed moderately more comfortable with this performance and for the first time it struck me: he's more at ease when there are other people on stage with him. I thought the bagpiper and the choir were there purely for show - but now I wonder if they were also used as a way to settle Lee's nerves?
4) Crystal Bowersox, "Black Velvet" by Alannah Myles
Crystal does a hell of a lot more with this song that I ever do at karaoke. After teetering down the stairs in her heels, she gained her composure and really brought some heart to the ending of the song. The judges seem to be going out of their way to remedy their "meh" reactions to her singing for the past few weeks - do they fear they've pimped Lee a little too much, since it's now obvious that he hasn't really shaken his nerves after all?
5) Lee DeWyze, "Beautiful Day" by U2
Last week I said that I'm assuming the contestants and judges are engaging in some strategy at this point and not just going out there and singing their hearts out. The smartest thing Crystal may have done this entire competition was opting to go last tonight after winning the coin toss. I really think it would have been another cakewalk for Lee if he had finished on this song, which is just so jubilant and momentous (and yes, U2 is my favorite band.) While this wasn't Lee's best performance, I'm sure that if you get him in the studio and put him in a situation where there aren't 7,000 people staring at him, this could be one hell of a single.
6) Crystal Bowersox, "Up to the Mountain" by Patty Griffin
I think I actually yelped in the theater when they brought out a chair for Crystal to sit on for her final performance. She's going to follow "Beautiful Day" with something mellow? Oh no. While Crystal's vocals were lovely, this song just doesn't have the same kind of recognizable impact that Lee's did, and I think she may lose votes because of it. Folk tunes about civil rights heroes - even a song previously covered by Kelly Clarkson - don't scream "hit" out of the gate. What's great about Crystal - and has been admirable about her this entire season - is that I'm sure she knows that, and she doesn't care.
So who's gonna go? Two years ago I saw the finale and thought for sure David Archuleta was going to win. With all those little girls and their tiny fast-texting fingers, how could he lose? Last year after attending I thought Adam Lambert was taking the title. Sure, he was polarizing, but he was such an entertainer - the perfect match of TV showman and awesome singer. Shows what I know.
Thanks so much for reading me this season, everybody. The past couple of months wouldn't have been nearly as much fun without your comments, your emails and your Tweets. You're more than a'ight - you rock.
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