American Idol: And Then There Was One

The final two contestants on last night’s American Idol finale couldn’t be more different. Ryan Seacrest’s intro, where he introduced them as, “the guy next door vs guyliner”, and “the acoustic rocker versus the glam rocker” barely scratches the surface of how different Adam Lambert and Kris Allen are as singers.

Last night we were treated to one of the best finales I can remember in a very long time. In a jam-packed Nokia Theater, filled to the brim with various celebrities ranging from Anthony Hopkins to all top 13 Idol contestants, both performers were on their game and ready to go. Several weeks ago, I told anyone who would listen that Adam would be the next American Idol, but after last night’s show, I’m almost ready to say it could go either way. Kris was that good.

They show was broken up into three separate rounds (and that’s how I’ll rate them):

In the first round, they each got to choose a song that they had previously done at some point in the season. While I thought that overall, this was the most powerful round of the show, I also felt that we all would have been better served if they could have chosen any song they want. I’m not sure we, or they, were done any favors by hearing the same song performed again. That being said, they both kicked ass in this round.

Adam started the show, choosing to sing his version of Mad World, by Tears for Fears. Like the first time he sang it, it was fantastic. The theatrics of the blue light and smoke that engulfed him was a nice touch. I was hoping to hear him sing Tracks of My Tears again. The first time he sang it, he literally drove Smokey Robinson to tears, but still, I wasn’t disappointed.

Kris came out, sitting behind a grand piano and re-sang his version of Bill Withers’ hit, Ain’t No Sunshine. In a word, it was brilliant. I thought the first time he sang it, it was possibly his 3rd best performance (sang during ITunes download night), trailing She Works Hard for Her Money during Disco Week, and Heartless, by Kanye West, which he sang when they could choose their own song. Last night’s performance of Ain’t No Sunshine may have moved up to his best performance to date. Kara really hit it on the head (a rare moment this season) when she said there’s something wrong with you if you can’t feel a Kris Allen performance.


In the second round, each contestant had to sing a song chosen by Idol creator, Simon Fuller. Fuller opted for the socially conscience choices and both delivered.

Adam kicked off this round with Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem, A Change Is Gonna Come and it was spectacular. There was some screeching in some parts, and no surprise that none of the judges hit him on it, but overall, even Sam Cooke would have been impressed. Paula once again gave an understated critique, what is now the norm for her, practically crying while telling Adam that she “knows with every fiber of her being that he’s going to be iconic”.

Kris hit the stage, this time with acoustic guitar in hand. Fuller chose Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On for him to sing. Like Cooke’s hit, this one also bring with it some social relevance and Kris delivered the message.

Like he has done in the past, with the aforementioned Heartless and She Works Hard for the Money, Kris turned Gaye’s R&B classic into an acoustic ballad, but like he did with the others that he transformed, he still stayed true to the meaning of the song and it lost nothing from the changes. All of the judges (except for Paula, who was still gushing with her usual hyperbole) agreed that the song was too light for the room and for the finale night. I think they were a little hard on him, considering that it was Fuller who picked out the song. Yeah, he could have livened it up a little, but what he did was typical Kris.

ROUND TWO: ADAM (but I don’t agree with Simon’s assertion that he won the round “by a million percent”.

The third and final round was interesting, and not in a good way. Both Adam and Kris had to sing the Idol coronation song, which was co-written by Kara DioGuardi. Sadly, it wasn’t very good (has there ever really been a good one), and didn’t help either of them very much. Just as sadely, we’re going to be forced to hear it again tonight from one of them while they try not to choke on all of hte confetti falling on them.

It was a very wordy, inspirational ballad called, No Boundaries that Judge #5 (my wife, Lynn) thought might have been written with Adam in mind. I thought maybe Kara had Danny Gokey in mind when she penned it, because it’s exactely the kind of song that fit in his wheelhouse, but who knows. Anyway, Adam tries his best with it, and it sounded OK, but you could hear him trying to catch his breath way too often, and there were parts that he was once again, screeching. Again, none of the judges hit him on this. Randy said he could see sing the phonebook, a phrase he’s used many times this season, and one sounds worse every time he says it. Sometimes, it’s really better to say nothing.

Kris doesn’t really do any better with the song, but I think the tempo is more his style than Adam’s. Where Adam screamed, Kris was more laid back, almost too much. In both cases, it was more a function of the song than the singers. All of the judges said the notes Kris hit were too high, but I think they could have said the same to Adam and chose not to.

During Kris’s critique, all four judges basically wrote him off. Kara hopes he will be judged on the season, not on the performance. Paula wishes him luck. Simon tells him, “You have thoroughly, thoroughly deserved to be standing on this stage tonight” (subtext for “Better luck next time”). Clearly, all of them believe that Adam will win tonight.

ROUND THREE: NEITHER (thanks to the terribly written song). Yeah, it may be a cop-out, but it’s my column, so I’ll write what I want.

Many of us may have anointed Adam as this season’s winner a long time ago, but Kris has put in several solid performances in a row. That, coupled with the fact that many of Adam’s songs sound very similar (not to say they aren’t great, just similar), may alter the final vote. Either way, tonight is going to be much, much closer than anyone would have imagined several weeks ago.