Despite my happiness with the show's end result, last night's finale consisted of about 102 minutes of wretched excess, with maybe 25 minutes of genuinely solid or funny entertainment. But people keep slogging through the schlock-fest year after year, so who can blame Nigel and his cohorts for extending the show? Clearly it was the ticket for celebrities like Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin, Dean Cain (who must be Superman, because he actually was appearing on Don't Trust the B-- in Apartment 23 that night), Jane Lynch (a regular), and my beloved Mary Murphy. (Woo hoo! So You Think You Can Dance starts tonight!)
The show set a world record, apparently, with 132 million votes being cast Tuesday night. (I'm guilty of a number of text and phone votes myself...) Could you imagine if we allowed teens and tweens to vote for President, either by text or internet? We'd have a record number of votes...and we'd elect presidents who could play the guitar. Everybody wins!! (Sorry, President Obama, singing Al Green just doesn't cut it anymore.)
We opened with the top 12 (sans Jessica and Phillip) performing Bruno Mars' Runaway Baby, a far less entertaining version than Joshua's Top 7 performance during the season. It was good to see Elise, Erika, Colton, Skylar, and Hollie back on the stage (and that's as far as I'll go), although Joshua probably should steer clear of trying a split next time. Jessica and Phillip were introduced next, and in the tradition of previous finales, both wore all white, although Phillip went with the white henley t-shirt this time.
My joke in a recap a few weeks ago about someone on the production team owing John Fogerty money (because CCR songs were performed two successive weeks) might be more real than I thought, because here he was, performing with Phillip! The duo revisited Have You Ever Seen the Rain, which Phillip sang a few weeks ago, and then broke into a rollicking version of Bad Moon Rising, which Carrie Underwood was seen rocking out to in the audience.
Joshua was up next, singing Elton John's Take Me to the Pilot, a song which mostly consists of the lyrics "Take me to the pilot, lead me to the chamber, take me to the pilot, I am but a stranger, nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah..." Then he introduced "one of the biggest inspirations of my life," namely, Season 3 winner Fantasia. I don't know what frightened me more, her skintight, sequined catsuit with leg cutouts or her Morticia Addams wig, but the two of them singing this song with their own special brand of holleration was a little much after a few minutes. When the leg of Fantasia's catsuit got caught on a chair (the two took to roaming the audience and shrieking), they cut to commercial. (My favorite part of this number was the frightened look on Scotty McCreery's face when Fantasia came near him.)
The top 12 ladies sang a Chaka Khan (Chaka Khan!) medley next. Erika and Elise did a funky job with Ain't Nobody, followed by a less successful rendition of Through the Fire from Shannon and Skylar (a twang doesn't work here), and then Hollie and Jessica teamed up for a verse of I'm Every Woman before Ms. Khan herself descended from the stairs wearing her own sequined catsuit. (Fantasia, keep the picture of Chaka Khan on your mirror the next time you plan to leave the house in the outfit you wore last night.) I've noticed that much of I'm Every Woman also is just a lot of vocal emoting, and the cacophony of voices didn't quite help, nor did Ms. Khan's treating the girls like they were backup singers.
Ford finished its season-long product placement with a tribute music video (remember when Phillip used to be in the Ford Music Videos?) and then Ford and Ryan went all Oprah, with "You get a car! And you get a car!" (Cars were given to Jessica and Phillip's music mentors, and then each of them also received a new car.)
Rihanna crawled out of a laser light show straight from the barely seen Tron sequel to sing Where Have You Been?, sporting dreadlocks that made her resemble last year's contestant, Naima Adedaipo. Wouldn't it be nice if we just had performers connected to the show in some way, or at least performing with contestants? For me (for you), this was unnecessary, despite Randy's pandering standing ovation.
Next up, Skylar sang Turn on the Radio with her idol, Reba McEntire. This was a fun performance and their voices blended well together. Reba looks pretty fantastic and looked happy to be there. Ooh, look, it's last year's runner-up, Lauren Alaina, who actually performed this song last season! It's so nice to see everyone coming home. Jessica got a solo opportunity next, reprising (down to the dress she wore) one of her signature performances from this season, I Will Always Love You. Stellar as always.
The top 12 guys (minus Phillip) treated us to a Neil Diamond medley next. It was slightly amusing to hear Heejun's broken English singing America, but the rest of the medley was lackluster, even if Joshua tried to rouse the crowd by shrieking through I'm A Believer. And then the legend himself, Mr. Neil Diamond, descended the stairs (s-l-o-w-l-y, but he is 71) to (as a Facebook friend put it) speak Sweet Caroline, with the guys singing the chorus, complete with the Fenway Park "so good, so good, so good" punctuations.
Probably the funniest moment of the night was a segment they produced to spoof Randy's constant "You could sing the phone book" refrain through the seasons, with the contestants donning choir robes and singing phone numbers and advertisements from the fake phone book. (Loved the line, "That's a spicy bratwurst," when they were singing an advertisement.) When Joshua pretended to go over the top (in a non-Steven way), Skylar shook her head and said, "Every time!"
We spent a good deal of the telecast wondering where J.Lo was, since she wasn't sitting at the judges' table. And then we got our answer: she was going to perform for the third(!) time this season, this time two songs, Goin' In (from yet another sequel to Step Up that doesn't star Channing Tatum) and Follow the Leader. It's good at this point she doesn't care who realizes she's lip syncing. She was a little more dressed than during her last performance, sporting a baseball cap and sparkly pajama-type things. I honestly can't believe she's considering not coming back next season. Where else would she get the promotional platform she does on the show?
Ryan introduced Season 3 runner-up Diana DeGarmo (now sporting brown hair and a significant amount of plastic surgery for a nearly 25-year-old) and her real-life boyfriend, Season 5 contestant Ace Young (whose hair might be longer than Diana's), and called them up onstage. After Ryan feigned interest in their lives for 30 seconds, Ace then got down on one knee and proposed to Diana. It was a sweet, romantic proposal, and Ace even got choked up (I know he played the lead in Hair on Broadway, but I don't think he's that good of an actor), although the romance quotient was slightly diminished when he plugged his jeweler. Diana seemed very surprised and emotional, and naturally, said yes. (I wonder if Julianne Hough got angry that she wasn't the first person proposed to on American Idol. Ooh, scary thought. Almost as scary as when Ryan referred to Randy's wife. Someone married him?)
Hollie descended into dramatic fog to sing You'll Never Walk Alone, and was joined onstage by Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks, who sang that song during her season. And as the smoke cleared, Ryan reminded us that we had lost another music legend, Robin Gibb, so what better way to pay homage than to have the top 12 guys sing a Bee Gees medley? Joshua tried nobly on To Love Somebody, but the performances of How Do You Mend a Broken Heart and How Deep Is Your Love kind of, well, flatlined. (And with his jacket and his hair during this performance, Colton resembled Suze Orman.)
Jessica then had the opportunity to duet on And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going with Tony Award winner Jennifer Holliday, who originated the role of Effie in Dreamgirls. Many times during the song I worried that Jennifer was going to unhinge her jaw and swallow Jessica whole. But all of the emotion that Jennifer brought to the performance pushed Jessica's performance to greater heights. It also proved once again that Jessica is at her best when she's interpreting someone else's songs.
Just a few minutes left, kids. Jessica and Phillip sang Up Where We Belong (sung coincidentally by Carrie Underwood and Bo Bice during the Season 4 finale), and it was clear that Phillip really wasn't feeling well, because he sat on a stool during the entire performance. Then Ryan invited them both onstage, where they thanked everyone involved with the show, the fans, etc., and then Edward Boddington, the dapper founder of Telescope, which counts the votes, verified the whole 132 million figure
It was time for Ryan to announce the big news, and surprisingly, he didn't toss it to a commercial before revealing that Phillip was the winner. Ever the opportunist, Heejun rushed Phillip to congratulate him, although clearly they have a close relationship. Scotty brought up Phillip's guitar and the new trophy they've been giving out, and Phillip started to sing his first single, Home. He got through about a verse when he was overcome with emotion (not to mention the confetti), and after struggling through tears onstage, took off his guitar and walked down to hug his family. It was a tremendously moving moment, and one you knew was completely genuine.
Of course, there are a lot of grumblers out there who have lamented whether a female singer will ever be able to win this show again given the lock young men seem to have on the title. (Two men have won on the two seasons of The Voice as well.) As I said yesterday, there's no disputing Jessica's talent, and I'm sure she'll have an amazing career, but I feel like the emotion and fun and passion Phillip brought to his performances outshone the technical qualities Jessica brought to the table. I certainly hope that Phillip has more success than the last few winners, to prove to the naysayers he has more depth than a simple "White guy with guitar."
And that's a wrap. Thanks for joining me on this journey, folks. I plan to start recapping So You Think You Can Dance once everybody gets to Hollywood, so I hope you'll check those recaps out!