American Idol Finale Recap: Did the Right Singer Win Season 18?

American Idol Finale Recap

American Idol hosted its first-ever virtual finale on Sunday, crowning the winner of Season 18 from a distance of six feet… and many miles.

The first order of business was trimming the remaining seven contestants down to five, which meant the elimination of two more fan favorites. After tallying the nationwide vote based on last Sunday’s episode, Ryan Seacrest announced that Julia Gargano and Louis Knight were going staying home. This left the Top 5 — Dillon James, Jonny West, Arthur Gunn, Francisco Martin and Just Sam — to sing for America’s real-time votes.

The live performances began with a round of songs the finalists would sing to celebrate when quarantine is over. James kicked things off with a devastatingly handsome rendition of Eric Clapton’s “Change the World,” which Martin followed up with an appropriately adorable cover of Harry Styles’ “Adore You.” Sam was next, delivering a soulful take on Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger,” followed by a One Tree Hill flashback, courtesy of Gunn’s growly, gravelly performance of Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be.” West wrapped things up with a solid, Margie Mays-approved performance of Eddie Money’s “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down.”

Round 2 switched things up a bit, asking the Top 5 to perform songs they would release as their first single if they won. James began by revisiting his performance of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,” which sounded just as impressive the second time around, though I’m not sure how well the 1964 jam would fare on the charts today. Martin went considerably more contemporary, once again using Maggie Rogers’ “Alaska” to lure us into his twinkly forest wonderland.

Next, Sam wisely reached into her emotional arsenal, retrieving Andra Day’s “Rise Up,” the song that made America fall in love with her back in February. And Gunn did the least surprising thing he could have possibly done, performing yet another rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.” (Am I crazy, or has Gunn’s journey this season felt like one long Project Runway challenge where they make the designer has to create a garment that can be worn three different ways?)

I would argue that West chose the best (and perhaps riskiest) song of all, delivering a “radio-ready” performance of his original jam “Makin’ Love.” The judges ate it up, with Katy Perry even suggesting that he have Mark Ronson produce it. And she has connections!

Following a few more notable performances — including Luke Bryan serving “One Margarita,” Perry debuting her new single “Daisies” and Cynthia Erivo paying tribute to Aretha Franklin — it was time for the next results: Gunn and Sam are this season’s Top 2, which meant we had to bid an incredibly anti-climactic goodbye to Dillon JamesFrancisco Martin and Jonny West.

And the winner is… Just Sam! (Well done, Arthur Gunn.)

Your thoughts on her victory? Weigh in via our poll below, then drop a comment with more of your thoughts on Sunday’s Idol finale.