Regardless of your contestant allegiance heading into the American Idol Top 3 results-show telecast, there were reasons to celebrate by the time the credits stopped rolling and the season finale of [cue imitation of Fox voiceover guy] Bohhhhhhhnzzzz [end imitation of Fox voiceover guy] began.
Fans of country music, the vitality of youth, plaid shirts, denim jackets, sparkly cowboy boots, the Make a Wish for Nigel Lythgoe Foundation, and the act of locking them doors and turning the lights down low had to be psyched to learn that the Season 10 finale will be a battle between 17-year-old Scotty McCreery and 16-year-old Lauren Alaina, the youngest teen-vs.-teen finale in the history of the franchise. (Fantasia and Diana De Garmo were 19 and 16 respectively when they squared off back in Season 3.)
Folks who get their thrills from railing against the horrors of the major-label music machine had plenty of outrage to feast on after abysmal performances by Italian trio Il Volo and some kind of flightless bird with a twitch in her tailfeather and a limited grasp of the English language.
And finally, Haley Reinhart supporters (like myself) got as close to a happy ending as I suppose we could’ve realistically expected. Yes, the plucky underdog who spent four of the first seven weeks of the Season 10 finals mucking around in the Bottom Three will end her Idol run having taken the stage and singing (often brilliantly) in all 13 weeks of the live-performance rounds (if you count next Wednesday’s finale, that is). Like a salmon swimming upstream and dodging the vicious claws of grizzly bear Randy Jackson and the gallons of pollutants dumped by toxic she-beast Jennifer Lopez, Haley made what has to be the most sensational (and artistically satisfying) come-from-behind run in Idol history. I’d also argue she scored more “Idol Moments” than any other contestant this season: “Bennie and the Jets,” “Moanin’,” “You and I,” “House of the Rising Sun,” “I (Who Have Nothing),” “What Is and What Should Never Be,” and “Rhiannon.”
And in what felt like a love note to the fans who watched her grow from awkward, slurry cannon fodder to a poised and confident musical risk-taker, Haley turned what could’ve been a tearful exit performance into a moment of pure triumph.
It took a second for Haley to register the blow of hearing Ryan Seacrest crown Scotty and Lauren as the Top 2 vote-getters among the 95 million ballots cast; her initial facial expression was that of a woman who’d just been struck in the gut with a two-by-four (while gleeful malevolence flashed oh-so-briefly in J.Lo’s eyes). But The Growler quickly shook off her disappointment, grabbed the mic, and tore the lid off Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” with such pitch-perfect gusto that I honestly forgot there were still two finalists up on the stage, waiting for Mr. Host Man to reiterate the details of their matchup for next Tuesday night.
I loved the riff Haley inserted into that “Bennie! Bennie and the j-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-ehts” after she leaned backward and shimmied down the steps toward the judges. I loved how she changed up the lyrics on the fly to include the judges’ names (“Oh Randy and J.Lo have you seen ‘em yet? Oh but they’re so spaced out. Buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-Bennie and Ste-ven.”) I loved how she worked her way out into the audience and had herself a little hootenanny with the rest of season 10′s fallen finalists. And best of all was the way Haley held on to her final note, then gave an impromptu monologue while Ray Chew and his band jammed on: “Oh baby you’ll be seein’ me! This ain’t the end of this! This ain’t the end of this thing! Shin-dig! See ya later!” Haley then rushed into the arms of her dad, who’d jammed so brilliantly with her the night prior on Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be,” hugged her mom, and then blew kisses and repeatedly gave the “eyes on you” hand gesture into the camera. Dare I say Haley’s final “Bennie” equaled Allison Iraheta’s “Cry Baby” as the most rousing and celebratory exit performance in Idol history?
The catharsis of Haley’s final performance was absolutely necessary, seeing how Nigel Lythgoe & Co. did absolutely nothing during Thursday night’s telecast to create any suspense about the inevitability of the Lauren-Scotty ’11 ticket. (What? Make America doubt in the veracity of his storyboard?) Heck, Haley’s ouster was foreshadowed in the opening minutes of the show, when Jimmy Iovine declared that she only had a shot at the finals if the public gave her perfect 10s for all three of her Wednesday-night performances, and then added, “I have a clear prediction for the finale: There’ll be a guy in it.”
Of course, if you needed any further confirmation that Haley was a goner, the editing of the hometown visits should’ve pretty much sealed the deal.
* Haley’s rainy trek back to Chicago was played more for comic relief than tears. “Oh! This is ours? [Bleep!]” cried Haley, as she nearly walked past the stretch limousine that ferried her to her various engagements. There was also a cute, extended shtick about whether or not Haley’s burly bodyguard would get teared up along with the contestant as she hit her high school, attended her parade (with the President of Wheeling, IL), and then hit Arlington Park racetrack to jam out with her mom, dad, and sister for a crowd of 30,000. Still, I couldn’t believe Nigel Lythgoe paid off Mother Nature to ensure a rainstorm and sabotage Haley’s homecoming. Best two Haley-isms from the package? “Holy shikeys” and “Thank you for freakin’ out.”
* Scotty’s hometown visit was definitely the most emotional, and may have added another layer of inevitability to his Season 10 win. I got choked up myself watching Scotty quietly in a limousine as it pulled away from a raucous reception at his school. Plus, we got lots of tearful hugs with Scotty’s mom, a duet with “Your Man” singer Josh Turner, and a quote that drove home an important point — by golly, Scotty really is in it to win it: “I’m gonna work my tail off to win this thing and bring it home to Garner!”
* Lauren made me chuckle when she cried, “It wasn’t me! I swear!” as police sirens heralded the arrival of her limo. Of all the hometown visits, I thought Lauren’s featured the most flattering musical clip, with a booming vocal performance of “Anyway.” We also got Lauren taking in storm and tornado damage in her native Georgia, even visiting an adorable 11-year-old named Tyler Long, who’d rescued his family from the rubble of their home.
But here’s the thing: Even though I was rooting for a Scotty-Haley finale, even though I think Lauren is a talented kid who’s still a few years away from being ready for this jelly, and even though there’s a part of me that needs a shot of Pepto-Bismol to quell the storm in my stomach from seeing Uncle Nigel get the outcome he’s wanted since Episode One of the season, I’ve got to give credit to Scotty and Lauren for giving consistently solid performances for the bulk of the season. However, if there’s anything these kids take from our last two booted contestants (Haley and James Durbin), I’m hoping it’ll be a penchant for taking more artistic risks. The judges this season have relentlessly talked up the notion of staying in one’s lane, but everyone knows if you want to get places in life, you’ve got to be ready to zig, zag, and maybe even take your vehicle off road.
Anyhoo, with all that out of the way, let’s dish the evening’s limited musical performances.
Il Volo: “‘O Sole Mio”
Wait. Idol found time to foist these cheese-covered corn chips on the viewing public, but couldn’t spare five minutes this season for performances from super-talented Idol alumni like Melinda Doolittle, Carly Smithson, Casey James, David Archuleta, Kris Allen, Mandisa, Michael Johns, Elliott Yamin, Matt Giraud, Anoop Desai, Jason Castro, Brooke White, Didi Benami, Blake Lewis, or Bo Bice? Oh, and I’m knocking them down from a C- for that post-commercial posturing with Randy Jackson. Grade: D+
Nicole Whozeewhatzit and Half a Dollar: “Right There”
Honestly, girlfriend lost me with the hideous grammar of her opening line: “Me like the way that you hold my body”? Um, no. I know I’m going to sound like Old Man River here, but if this is what’s passing for a song nowadays, then Scotty, Lauren, and Haley have a tough road ahead. Grade: D
Haley’s “Bennie and the Jets” Sing-Out (See above description.) Grade: A+
Finally, I’d like to hand out an ‘F’ to whoever made the “In It to Win It” poster trumpeting Randy’s most irritating critique — without fashioning it to support any contestant in particular. Until next week…
How are you feeling about the Scotty-Lauren final two? Who are you rooting for? Who is most likely to win it all? What did you think of Haley’s ouster? Did you see it coming? Did her sing-out make you more or less of a fan? Can you imagine buying her post-Idol music? And will you watch next week’s finale? Sound off in our poll below, then hit the comments; and for all my Idol news and commentary, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!