Tonight’s American Idol Season 12 performance finale began with a moment of pure F/X foolery: Candice Glover and Kree Harrison standing nose-to-nose with stern-eyed, tight-lipped, prize-fighter solemnity. Were we about to witness the unleashing of body-blows and hair-pulls, or had mischievous Uncle Nigel merely patched together two individual camera shots to promote the idea of a duel to the death for Phillip Phillips’ glittering tiara and confetti shower?
Um, of course it was the latter scenario — which became all too evident when Kree and Candice took the stage hand-in-hand, like sisters in The Hunger Games headed for a lottery draw that could change their lives forever. And if you needed a villain in the scenario, there were the SwayBots — who’d been dormant almost the entire season — invading the front rows of the Nokia Theater like so many rhythmless vermin. Candice and Kree, though, they didn’t care: They held steady to the beat, sang from their guts, and didn’t miss a single note over the course of three performances (Simon Fuller’s Pick; Coronation Single; Repeat of a Favorite Performance). Also on the plus side, the chatter from the judges was kept to a merciful minimum.
Still, as congenial as the Candice-Kree relationship may be, and as evenly matched as the ladies appeared through the course of the night, it was Ms. Glover who ended the evening with a brutal (musical) left hook that should (but might not necessarily) put her in the history books alongside Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia Barrino, Carrie Underwood and Jordin Sparks — the franchise’s four previous female winners.
Indeed, Candice’s reprisal of “I (Who Have Nothing)” — with an opening verse delivered entirely a capella — was the kind of spectacular brazenness that the otherwise lovely performance finale was missing. And it emphasized the differences between the two vocalists: Kree, the smooth glass of pinot noir that’s perfect for just about any occasion, versus Candice, the eight-course haute cuisine meal that leaves your jaw on the floor, your heart in your throat and your brain as scrambled as a freshly whisked egg.
But that’s just one man’s opinion. And speaking of which, shall we have a quick rundown of the night’s festivities? (I’ll be back overnight to update with full reviews of the final two performance, so bookmark this URL, refresh and enjoy!)
TONIGHT’S SET LIST & LETTER GRADES
Kree Harrison: Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” | I hate to say Randy was right, but since this was his final Idol performance show ever — unless his “stepping down” announcement was Part 1 of a cruel/elaborate hoax that will arrive like a lump of coal in our stockings come the holiday season — the dawg had a point that Simon Fuller’s picks for both Candice and Kree were “a little sleepy.” I mean, wouldn’t you think that, as a TV producer, Fuller would’ve attempted to give Kree a different kind of mood (i.e. something uptempo and deeply bluesy) from the other two numbers in her finale set? Plus, “Angel” just got covered on The Voice by Sarah Simmons — albeit not as effectively as Kree — last week! (So if he was just on a Lilith Leader bender, why not, say, “Building a Mystery”?) Anyhow…I digress! None of this is to say Kree didn’t deliver “Angel” with gossamer delicacy and a hauntingly straightforward approach to the melody. I liked that she didn’t mimic the angsty cry of Sarah McLachlan’s delivery — and yet managed to retain the song’s core of sadness. Yeah, I kinda wished she’d opted for a less piano-driven arrangement and amped up the steel guitar and harmonica, to put the ditty more squarely in her country pocket, but perhaps that’s just nitpickery. Grade: A-
Candice Glover: Adele’s “Chasing Pavements” | Candice, too, had to try to find a way to force some Red Bull down the gullet of a song that — while pretty enough — has a melody that never pulls out onto the highway and seriously opens up. I did enjoy hearing the muscularity of Candice’s lower register on the opening verse — no pitch problems at either end of her range, mmkay? — and she added some nice jazz inflections to the proceedigs (while managing not to be distracted by those foolios in the front row, clapping out of time with the music). All in all a good effort, but later this summer when you’re painting misty water colored memories of the way Season 12 was, I suspect this performance probably won’t make it onto the canvas. Grade: A-
Kree Harrison: Coronation Single — “All Cried Out” | First…let’s talk about the song. As far as Idol victory anthems go, this one definitely lands closer to the “Home”/”I Believe” end of the scale than “Do I Make You Proud?”/”No Boundaries.” Which is another way of saying that it shouldn’t be treated like an anthrax-filled envelope when it arrives at radio. Granted, the lyrics on the verse are a tad rote — “You know you’re gonna cross that line/ Who knows what you’re gonna find/ It’s only a matter of time” — but on the flip side, there’s an actual hook and a sense that the song was not written as a one-time-only novelty to be performed beneath a confetti shower. Plus, it suits Kree’s voice! (Not always a given in these instances; just ask Kris Allen and Adam Lambert.) That said, Kree seemed a bit dazed and not entirely connected in the first third of the performance — and didn’t really dig in till she got to the “on-ly CON-solation!” portion of the chorus. From there, it was solid and stirring — barring a handful of sharp notes that I detected on second listen — but I do wonder how Kree feels about the avalanche of depressing ditties the show’s producers have foisted on her in the last two weeks: “Here Comes Goodbye,” “Better Dig Two,” “Angel,” and “All Cried Out” sound like they ought to be gathered in an EP with a title like The Destabilitzation of KriKri or perhaps Black Friday: Serotonin Unloaded. I needed some “Ev-uh-dence” to break up the vibe, y’know? Grade: B+
Candice Glover: Coronation Single — “I Am Beautiful” | There was no shortage of emotional commitment during Candice’s coronation single, not judging from the fire in her voice or the tears that welled up in her eyes as she put down the mic and waited for Ryan Seacrest to dole out her voting numbers. Granted, “I Am Beautiful” might be a little too feel-good for radio programmers currently fancying “Thrift Shop” and “I Love It” (side note: Icona Pop’s raucous delivery does make crashing one’s car into a bridge seem like a healthy lifestyle choice, no?), but I doubt anybody ever succeeded in making a hit record while catering solely to whatever giant computer makes all the programming decisions at Clear Channel. (Well, except maybe will.i.am.) Anyhow, to my ears, Candice’s self-empowerment anthem was less about choosing a supportive suitor over her ne’er-do-well beau than it was about choosing to feed her heart and soul with a more spiritual love. I mean, let’s be honest, when you really listen carefully, it’s clear you’ve got to capitalize the H in ‘his’ on the line “in His eyes I’m so worthy,” right? What’s great about Candice, though, is how she manages to make every lyric part of a musical conversation; that whole intro — “You say I sound silly when I laugh real loud/Talk about my day and you tune me out” — turned Candice into an ambassador working to wake up every man, woman and adolescent who’s ever settled for less in a relationship. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that! Grade: A-
Kree Harrison: Patty Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)” | Yowza! I’m not usually a fan of repeat performances on Idol, but Season 12 just might change my mind. Kree was flippin’ fantastic the first time she tackled Patty Griffin’s spiritual folk anthem, but there was an added urgency — and an undeniable ramping up of emotions — on the big Nokia stage and at the very end of the country gal’s “Idol journey.” It’s a testament to Kree’s command of the song (and that killer red gown) that I barely even looked at the Gospel choir that backed her on the tune — and merely focused on that salted caramel (with a glass of Malbec) tone of hers. She can go from subdued and introspective (“I could see all around me, everywhere”) to soaring and hopeful (“some days I look down, afraid, afraid I would fall”) to absolutely stirring (“and then I hear your SWEET voice!”) and you never feel the effort of Kree flipping the switch. Based on overall body of work, I’d personally give the Season 12 crown to Candice, but if Kree pulls off the upset and wins, this is the performance that sealed the deal (and will remove most of the sting from the CandiCane nation). But how come I can’t pre-order albums for the winner and runner-up? Grade: A
Candice Glover: Shirley Bassey’s “I (Who Have Nothing)” | I’m about to say something controversial: Not since David Cook said “no thanks” to a repeat performance in the Season 7 finale — and instead sealed his win with a devastating “The World I Know” — have we seen a finale move as bold and riveting as Candice performing the entire first verse of “I (Who Have Nothing)” a capella. Say what you want about Ms. Glover, but the woman knows how to take. her. sweet. time. with a melody. The whole intro was just so ridiculously sublime — “I-I-I, I who have (slight pause) no one,” she declared, making sure you knew the depths of her despair — that I thought I might need the smelling salts to stop myself from passing out and missing the rest of the performance. And once she kicked into the chorus, the stage lit up and the band kicked in, the excitement continued unabated right through to that monstrously big “SHE’LL NEVER LOVE YOU THE WAYYYY” leading into a dramatic gasp and then that almost Arabic ad lib Candice added to her final, haunting “I lo-o-o-o-ohve…you-ooh-oooh.” I know, I know, you want to call 1-800-Too-Much to report a case of a recapper going over the edge, but believe when I say you can look up this performance in the Idol filing cabinet under the letter ‘S’ — for “Shutting this S*** Down.” Click. Dialtone. Confetti shower. Grade: A++
And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of the Season 12 Performance Finale? Who should win? Who will win? Were the judges on-point with their (mercifully reduced) comments? Did anyone get a big advantage on her coronation song? Take our polls below, then sound off in the comments, and for all my Idol-related news, recaps, interviews and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!