American Idol Performance Finale Recap: It's All Over But the Crying (Oh, Yeah, and Also the Voting)

american idol finale

Can someone go to Web MD and look up whether or not it’s possible to experience the five stages of grief simultaneously?

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Even acceptance. They’re all bearing down on me like the heel of J.Lo’s Louboutins as she dips it low midway through a “performance” of “Booty.” Don’t believe me? Read on!

1. Ryan Seacrest told us we’d witnessed the final American Idol performance finale ever, that we’re voting for the final time, but it just can’t be true. I mean, the show’s still pulling in a 1.7 demo rating — and that’s damn good!


3. Look, if the entire Idoloonie Nation promised to do some good — sign up to be bone marrow donors or spend the next 26 Saturdays volunteering at a soup kitchen — maybe Fox would reconsider this whole “Farewell Season” nonsense and give us Season 16 instead! God, are you listening?

4. Nooooooooooooooo! Nooooooooooooooo! Nooooooooooooooo! Nooooooooooooooo! [All the sad, weeping emojis here.]

5. But here comes my moment of acceptance: American Idol will conclude its joyous, infuriating, deeply emotional, fun-for-the-whole-family run on Thursday — and at the very least, this season’s two best vocalists* managed to survive ’til the bitter end, and then deliver a brutal, beautiful, back-to-back vocal punch worthy of filling the halls of The House That Kelly Clarkson Built. (*Though we’ll never be fully sure about how good Jessica Cabral might’ve been.)

To my ears, it was a slight edge to Trent in Round 1, an easy win for La’Porsha in Round 2, and a toss-up of aching, otherwordly perfection versus gut-busting transcendence in Round 3 — and that leads me to believe La’Porsha will and should win (though I won’t be at all upset if it’s Trent).

Is it a copout to say that it doesn’t really matter who wins the role of Kelly Clarkson’s Bookend? You know it really doesn’t. We got as good a finale as one could hope for given the abbreviated schedule and unprecedented rush-through dictated by Fox — with a minimum of SwayBots, J.Lo reaction shots and Harry Connick Jr. Musical Terminology Lessons (coming soon to paperback from Penguin Books).

So allow me to thank you for taking the “Idol journey” with me for the last 12 seasons of recaps, and get to my letter grades for the night’s performances:

“Winner’s Single” Round
Trent Harmon — “Falling” — Grade: B+ | Was this the least-coronationy Coronation Song in Idol history? Where were the magic rainbows to slide down, the endless obstacles to clear? Trent used his lower range to infuse the track with a gruff sexuality that is uncommon in the Idolverse, then brought it home with a big, booming final chorus — complete with falsetto – that (if I’m being nitpicky) slipped off pitch just slightly in the final 15 seconds.

Dalton Rapattoni — “Strike a Match” — Grade: C+ | Maybe Dalton was thrown by the sound of Scott Borchetta using the horrifying words “showtime go-time” in a chat with Ryan right before his performance began, but I seriously could not make out 75% of the words coming out of Dalton’s mumbly mouth. That simple fact (plus some spots where he was drown out by the band) made the Season 15 rock character’s performance the musical equivalent of trying to start a fire underwater. It ultimately never ignited.

La’Porsha Renae — “Battles” — Grade: B | Unlike “Falling,” La’Porsha’s single sounded like it came off the same corny assembly line as “I Believe,” “Inside Your Heaven” and “Flying Without Wings.” Granted, the last woman standing in Season 15 is so divine she’d sound good singing “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to Ann Coulter, but as she pushed this rock up the hill, it affected her intonation, making for a final 20-30 seconds where La’Porsha wound up uncharacteristically under the note.

Simon Fuller’s Choice
Trent Harmon — Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” — Grade: B- | On paper, this seemed like a genius choice for Trent: An achy, heartbreaky ballad to counterbalance the seductive mood of “Falling.” In practice, though, Trent got so committed to fancy embellishments and overwrought riffs (including a just-missing-the-mark falsetto run) that he never really brought to life the song’s glorious melody — or made a  genuine connection to the lyrics, either.

La’Porsha Renae — Dionne Warwick’s “A House Is Not a Home” — Grade: A+ | I will not quibble about Rickey Minor & Co’s dentist-office accompaniment (oh wait, I just did), and instead focus on the way La’Posha commanded every note of this woman-left-lonely classic with surgical precision. We all know the single mom from Mississippi has immense horsepower, but she turned “House” into a study in restraint — taking the bridge down to a fluttery whisper of longing, and making melodic choices on the final refrain that were as gorgeous as they were unexpected.

Contestant’s Choice
Trent Harmon — Sia’s “Chandelier” — Grade: A+ | I’ve spent the last 15 years railing against reprises of past performances during the Idol finale — side note No. 1: remember when David Cook refused to cave to the pressure and brilliantly tackled a new jam in Season 7? — and the idea seemed even less appealing in the context of this verrrrry short farewell season. Imagine my surprise, then, when Trent took us a mere two weeks back to his Sia Songbook pick and then impossibly managed to improve on perfection. (Side note No. 2: If Scott Borchetta doesn’t think La’Porsha should sing the line “I’m a cowboy,” why is he OK with Trent playing the role of “party girl”? Uh-huh, I went there!) Pushing his voice to the tippy top of its range and phrasing the blackout-drinking anthem in a way that every word shone like a pearl on a string, Trent delivered one of the most haunting vocals in show history. If he takes home the crown, Idol historians will look back and declare “Chandelier” his fatal blow.

La’Porsha Renae — Rihanna’s “Diamonds” — Grade: A+ | You wanted a performance finale to remember? Well, Idoloonie Nation, give yourself a pat on the back for having it come down to Trent Vs. La’Porsha. Perhaps inspired by the “Dayummm, son!” awesomeness of Trent’s final shot, La’Porsha countered by delivering a vocal that had more curves than a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue — without in any way compromising the singular beauty of the song’s message. The way she turned the “I” in “I’m alive” into a seven-syllable word; the way she glided along with wings outstretched, then hit the gas for a surge of power; that unimaginable drop leading into a falsetto note on “right away.” OK, OK… I’m not supposed to be writing a master’s thesis here, but it was clear long before Harry asked the question that La’Porsha had her tiny daughter on her mind when she breathed life into the lyrics. In the final competitive performance in American Idol history, La’Porsha shone bright like a diamond — and whether or not she gets the final confetti shower, that counts as a victory in and of itself.

Your turn. Who do you want to win American Idol‘s farewell season? What were your favorite performances from Part 1 of the finale? Vote in our polls below, then watch the most recent Reality Check and hit the comments with your thoughts!

GET MORE: Finales, Polls, Reality TV, Recaps