'American Idol' Finale Recap: Maddie & Caleb Are a Couple, and One of Them Wins (Critic's Take)

We made it through the wilderness, everyone. Somehow we made it through. (Bucketloads of wine helped.) And now the gloriously absurd American Idol season finale has brought the ABC reboot to a loud, glittery end.

Judge Lionel Richie got the whole ostentatious circus on its way with a performance of his 1983 smash “All Night Long” that featured this year’s Top 10 on backing vocals, a huge brass section and Lionel rocking a sparkly blue jacket. Most of the audience held up their cell phones and swayed along. When I saw what appeared to be someone being “that guy” and waving an iPad around, I wanted to jump through my TV screen and strangle him.

Not to be outdone with attention-grabbing, Katy Perry sauntered up to the judges’ table wearing a dress surrounded by purple and black feathers. It reminded me of the time Sandra Bernhard appeared on Late Night With David Letterman wearing somewhat similar attire, and Dave quipped, “I love it when Mighty Joe Young drops by” — a reference, mind you, no one but a few 87 year-olds and myself would even get.

From there the performances kept tumbling across the screen like underwear in a dryer. We had Nick Jonas doing “Anywhere,” his new collaboration with DJ Mustard. This song is painfully lacking a hook or a chorus, a fatal flaw that becomes obvious when Nick segues from that snoozer into his far superior 2014 smash “Jealous.” Idol top 10 finalist Jurnee returned from the brink to briefly turn the tune into a duet.

Good ol’ Luke Bryan was up next with his new single “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset,” which is everything you’d imagine a song called “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” to be. That thankfully out of the way, the Idol judge next performed “Most People Are Good” as a duet with Top 3 contestant Gabby Barrett.

There’s was a rockin’ moment where Gary Clark Jr. was joined by fallen Top 10 dudes Dennis Lorenzo and Cade Foehner on “Bright Lights.” Dennis successfully reminded us that he really should have stuck around a lot longer this season. Sigh.

Ryan Seacrest then shilled ABC’s upcoming run of The Bachelorette and Katy got on her knees and declared her love for the show’s titular object of affection. As if this wasn't tragic enough, Luke literally dragged Katy across the floor back to her seat. Just drink lots of wine, y’all.

Meanwhile, Maddie Poppe is currently kicking the butts of fellow Top 3-ers Caleb Lee Hutchinson and Gabby with her single “Going Going Gone” on iTunes. So which megastar was she paired up with for a duet? Kermit The Frog, thank you very much.

Noah Davis (you know — “Wig!”) showed up so Lionel and Ryan could present him with his very own alpaca. Then Darius Rucker and Caleb belted out Darius’ multi-platinum cover of “Wagon Wheel.” But when Jimmy Kimmel hits the stage, it’s the pinnacle of the night. (Except for when the winner is announced, of course.)

Kimmel wheeled a giant time capsule out that he jokes was buried by producers of the previous incarnation of Idol. From it, he pulled various gag objects, like one of Simon Cowell’s pint-sized V-neck tees, Ryan’s frosted tips from Season one, the cut-off bits of Adam Lambert’s fingerless gloves and a From Justin To Kelly DVD. Next he held up the hair of Season 6 contestant Sanjaya, before Sanjaya himself hopped out and said something about eating Clay Aiken inside the time capsule. Wine. Lots of wine.

Bebe Rexha, previously seen as a mentor several weeks back, did a sweet rendition of her current Top 10 hit “If It’s Meant To Be” with Caleb, Maddie and Gabby. And then just like that, Pittsburgh country starlet Gabby was eliminated. If you had asked me before Maddie made the Top 3 who would win this season, I would have said hands-down either Caleb or Gabby. But Maddie has consistently put the “curve” in curveball.

Idol producers decided to haul out country-fried teen Layla Spring and her Mini-Me sister, Dixie, so they could warble LeAnn Rimes’ version of “Blue.” This was capped off with Rimes herself “surprising” the pair by joining them on stage. I’m not sure little Dixie really knew what was happening, because she just started waving to the audience like she’s the Queen Mum stepping out in front of her adoring public for Prince Harry’s big day. Careful, though, young one — the spotlight’s glare is a wicked facade. You’re only six, but you’ll learn, my child. Oh, you’ll learn.

The inevitable pair-up of Katy Perry and Catie Turner happened next, and it was fantastic. They did a stripped-down version of Perry’s 2011 chart-topper “Part Of Me,” which is an excellent choice! Who cares if it reminds Katy of her ex-husband? Does anyone really need to hear “Firework” again? Or “I Kissed A Girl”? Or “Roar”? Heck no. “Part Of Me” is an underused pop gem from the Katy katalogue, and I give a wine-soaked stamp of approval to this performance. P.S. You really can’t tell Katy and Catie’s voices apart at all. Spooky.

Was it over now? Nope. Gospel goddess Yolanda Adams descended from the heavens to join Michael J. Woodard for a lovely “What The World Needs Now.” And then, ahead of Caleb and Maddie’s sugar-sweet medley of “Over The Rainbow” and “What A Wonderful World,” Caleb dropped the bombshell of the night: Maddie is his girlfriend!

Folks, I kid you not — upon this revelation, I projectile-spit $7 cabernet onto the ceiling, jumped up from the couch, fell backwards into the drapes, spun around four times until the curtain rod ripped off the wall, crashed through the window and landed six flights down in a dumpster full of trash. Maddie and Caleb are a couple! And what is Idol doing now that their secret is out? Sending them to Hawaii, of course, where, according to the past week’s headlines, lava is eating cars and trees where they stand on a daily basis. Romance!

While still trying to process this, Patti LaBelle and Ada Vox marched out and took us all to wig church with soul shrieks, diva stomps and “Lady Marmalade.” Caleb and Maddie are a couple!

Okay, finally this Fellini-esque dog and pony act was about to end. Ryan announced that the winner will secure a contract with Hollywood Records. And that winner is: MADDIE POPPE!

That’s right, it’s not some dude with a guitar for once. It’s Maddie Poppe! Through tears and laughter, she half-attempted to sing “Going Going Gone” while former contestants and the judges joined her on stage.

Maddie Poppe has won American Idol. Her new single “Going Going Gone” is out now. And Caleb and Maddie are a couple! I’ll probably be walking up to strangers on the sidewalk all summer long and saying this with awe. Or maybe I’ll just down one more glass and forget the whole thing.


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