Jena Irene or Caleb Johnson? That was the primary question looming over tonight’s American Idol Season 13 finale, but it certainly wasn’t the only one.
Other crucial debates you might’ve had with your Idol viewing club:
1. What was more abyssmal: J.Lo’s vocals or her scanty blue Chistmas-tinsel dress during her performance of her new single “First Love”? (Trick question: The International Court of Justice at The Hague determined that what comes out of J.Lo’s mouth when the beat drops does not qualify as singing! #UhHuhIWentThere)
2. Whose brilliant idea was it to drop so many giant yellow beach balls into the Nokia theater that Idol‘s camera crew couldn’t get a single unobscured shot of Paramore’s Hayley Williams or her duet partner Jena serving up the night’s hardest-hitting, most effervescent vocals? (My Twitter follower @jennmilazo theorizes it must’ve been Randy Jackson, since “the worst ideas are always his.”)
3. Did a technical glitch prevent the Idol judges from opening a specially designed Moon Door in the Nokia Theater to flush the lovely and talented Jessica Meuse to an egg-shattering ending or were they afraid that Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles might be taken out with her?
4. How did the words “Randy Jackson” and “world-class mentor” get used in the same sentence? (Fun fact: An entire Season 2 episode of Sleepy Hollow will be devoted to decoding this blasphemy.)
5. Wasn’t there any song more appropriate for grown and sexy John Legend to perform with bubbly 16-year-old Malaya Watson than “All of Me” — a ditty in which he praises his lady’s curves and imperfections? (Wait, did I just turn into Grampy McJudgerson, shouting “What about the children?”)
6. Did Jenny From the Block outsing Harry Connick Jr. on the judges’ performance of “Go Your Own Way”? Or more importantly, what kind of voodoo was used to make this happen? (Quick: Somebody make sure Thia Megia hasn’t been tied to a post on the beach as a sacrifice to the vocal gods!)
Update: My Reality Check cohost Melinda Doolittle informs me that there is actually such a thing as a microphone with built-in Auto-Tune!
Have I stalled enough in getting to results? (Not as much as Ryan Seacrest!) So let’s tackle…
The Most Memorable Moments (for Better or Worse) From the Season 13 Finale
Best Reminder of Our Top 2’s ‘Top 2 Worthiness’ | Poor Caleb and Jena had to open the show offering scripted sound bites in that ridiculous “Audition Chamber,” but once they were released into their natural setting — the Nokia Theater — they both delivered pretty flawless vocals on “We Will Rock You” (Caleb), “Just a Girl” (Jena) and “It’s Only Love” (a reprise of their Top 8 redux duet). And for once, executive producer Per Blankens didn’t muck it all up with aggressive cut-aways to J.Lo.
Biggest Emotional Conundrum | Yeah, it was great to see Season 11 champ Phillip Phillips back with an encore performance of his nifty new hit “Raging Fire,” but what was the point of pairing him with fifth-place finisher Sam Woolf if they weren’t going to bother to switch on the latter kid’s mic? In my mind, Idol finales should always pay respect to the contestants on whose backs the season was built; relegating Sam to a short snippet of “Home” felt should’ve made the production turn the shade of Randy’s flamingo-pink jacket.
Most Unexpected Song Choice | I’m not sure I’d have put Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” on my top 1,000 picks for Jessica Meuse’s duet with country star Jennifer Nettles, but the ladies combined with the ditty like graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallow — which is to say they sounded damn sweet. And as a huge fan of Jessica’s work this season, it sure was nice to watch her kill it — without getting her confidence killed by Keith and J.Lo as soon as she’d finished singing.
Worst Musical Performance | It was one thing to have C.J. Harris and Ben Briley hit some wonky notes on “The Man” — a song pretty far out of their southern-rock wheelhouses — but nobody needed a lesson in intonation from Prof. Connick Jr. more than “A-list” guest Aloe Blacc himself. I mean, if you’re gonna sing about being “the man” on a reality singing competition, you’d better sing it in tune.
Most Awkward Assignment | Who thought it was a good idea to film an entire Ford ad in which eliminated finalists Sam Woolf and Majesty Rose had to drive around Los Angeles picking up items to fulfill Caleb and Jena’s riders? #IdolUncomfortable
Worst Camera Work | Demi Lovato sounded much better on “Don’t Really Care”/”Neon Lights” than she did in her widely panned X Factor performance last fall, and the Season 13 ladies (minus an ailing M.K. Nobilette) provided solid support. Unfortunately, though, the entire camera crew and the show’s director couldn’t keep pace with seven individual singers on the stage, leaving us to endure multiple shots of the backs of the judges’ heads, awkward side views and myriad other shots that detracted from the enjoyment of this collaboration.
Best Vocal Moment | I wanted at least 10 minutes devoted to Jena’s powerful, passionate vocal on “Decode” — accompanied only by her own piano playing — but I couldn’t be too mad when she segued into an introduction of Paramore, then joined the band for a raucous, pitch-perfect rendition of “Ain’t It Fun.” No matter the outcome of the season, Jena has serious, Clarkson-level pop-star potential. Here’s hoping the folks at Interscope recognize this fact — and give her not only the contract, but also the right songs, to fulfill that promise.
Was That Another Voice Dis? | Two nights after Jake Worthington tackled Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” on NBC’s reality singing show, we had Ryan Seacrest (¡¡!!) gamely (and giddily) stumbling through his own rendition — with an equally game Marx joining him halfway through.
Most Perfect Pairing | Third-place finisher Alex Preston didn’t get much screentime tonight, but he made the most of a duet with his personal idol Jason Mraz — their voices blending beautifully on the tender acoustic jam “Love Someone.” And on a tangential note, I still wonder if the producers had carried out their initial intention of going with an original song round on Top 4 night, if the finale would’ve taken on a very different look.
Most Jacked-Up Priorities | Last I checked, Idol is supposed to be more about the contestants than the judges. [Wait, I'll pause so you can compose yourself after that bout of hysterical laughter.] And yet, right before Ryan dropped the final result, we had J.Lo, Harry, Keith and Randy joining forces on “True Colors” and “Go Your Own Way” (instead of a final Jena-Caleb moment). La Lopez, it must be said, managed to sing almost entirely in tune as she took on lead vocal duties for the former song — but let’s not pretend her voice didn’t sound as thin and frail as a newborn baby’s morning waah-waahs, either.
SEASON 13’S AMERICAN IDOL IS…
Ah well, I can’t pretend I wasn’t a little disappointed that voters chose a very solid but not particularly original throwback rocker over the teenage upstart who’d showcased skills in songwriting (“Unbreakable Me”), rearrangement (“Rolling in the Deep,” “Valerie”) and deeply emotional belting (“Creep”). But Caleb’s win suggests that — at least in the Idolsphere — there’s a craving for what Bob Seger termed “Old Time Rock and Roll,” and the ability to balance winking showmanship with muscular vocals.
In the end, though, with the votes tallied, all I can do is tip my hat to the winner, wish him the best, and hope that Intescope allows him to hurl his “winner’s single” in the Dumpster behind the Nokia. It’s hard enough out there at radio for a modern-day Idol winner, and he’ll need to be armed with more than the butter knife that is “As Long as You Love Me” if he’s going to survuve the commercial fight.
Your turn. What did you think of the Season 13 finale? Did the right person win? Take our poll below, and follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV for all my Idol- and Voice-related news, exclusives, interviews and recaps.
American Idol: 30 Best Performances of All Time