If only blowouts in basketball had this many distractions to make you forget that one of the teams was clearly going home empty-handed.
In case you weren’t one of the “American Idol” fans who helped submit a record 74 million votes in Tuesday’s final show — one in which semifinalist Blake Lewis was praised for being entertaining, but not so much for the singing — 17-year-old judges’ darling Jordin Sparks took home the prize in one of the least suspenseful “Idol” finales in the show’s history.
Unlike past years when it felt like a game up until the final reveal, Wednesday night’s (May 23) two-hour-plus results show seemed more like an exercise in postponing the inevitable, packed with goofy fake awards, celebrity sing-alongs, medleys and — strangely — not that much face time for the actual finalists.
But when host Ryan Seacrest finally read the results, almost 10 minutes past the show’s allotted two-hour running time, both Blake and Jordin did their best to act surprised. Using her patented nervous/humbled look, the towering Jordin accepted a bearhug from Blake as she fumbled for words to express her joy. “I can’t thank you [enough] for keeping me around,” she said, her voice cracking. “Thank you so much for everything.”
As her parents beamed from the audience and her mother burst into tears, Jordin struggled to control the waterworks while she sang the schmaltzy, songwriter-contest-winning power ballad “This Is My Now,” the camera zeroing in on her folks when she belted the lines, “I am living in the moment/ As I look around, I can’t believe the love I see.” With, yes, sparks pouring down from the rafters behind her, Jordin’s voice finally cracked with emotion as she ended the song with the obligatory finalist group hug.
Hours before all that emotion, though, the program got off to an awkward start with Blake and Jordin dueting on the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,” during which Blake looked like he was forcing some of the excitement in the opening lines “Well she was just 17/ You know what I mean,” providing yet another in the seemingly endless reminders that (gasp!) Jordin is only 17 years old.
Among the other diversions on hand during the two-hour countdown to the predictable coronation was a draggy ballad beamed in live from a Gwen Stefani concert, the first “Idol” finale performance in five years from season-one winner Kelly Clarkson, who belted out a very Pat Benatar-like rendition of her hit “Never Again,” and a reprise of Carrie Underwood’s cover of the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand by You.”
Aside from Stefani, the rest of the special guests on the show felt like they should have been on “American Idol 1973,” with the top six guys rocking white suits to sing a medley of Motown and doo-wop tunes with Smokey Robinson, the ladies teaming up with Gladys Knight, and one of this year’s mentors, Tony Bennett, making up for a performance he missed out on earlier due to illness by singing “For Once in My Life,” from his Duets album, all by himself.
Adding to the clock killing was a hookup between third-place finisher Melinda Doolittle and her former bosses, gospel greats BeBe and CeCe Winans as well as a new song, “Heaven Knows,” from last year’s winner, Taylor Hicks, that felt like an outtake from the “Blues Brothers” soundtrack, complete with harmonica solo and a crushed velvet jacket. Most confounding was a droopy rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings” from Bette Midler, whom host Ryan Seacrest announced was taking over in Las Vegas for another one of those favorites of teenage “Idol” fans across the country, Celine Dion.
The peak of the filler was a tribute to Sanjaya — who stole the spotlight on the red carpet earlier (see “Sanjaya, Carrie Underwood Still Stealing Spotlight — On ‘American Idol’ Finale Red Carpet” ) — that ended with him performing a horribly off-key cover of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” with an assist from Aerosmith’s Joe Perry. And yes, he ran out into the crowd to greet the crying girl, Ashley Ferl, who did her best bawl for the cameras.
Blake provided one of the most entertaining bits of the night when he went mic-to-mic with beatboxing legend Doug E. Fresh, more than standing his ground with the master of the technique and once again proving that his stagecraft more than makes up for any vocal weakness (see “Doug E. Fresh, ‘Police Academy’ Star Size Up ‘Idol’ Finalist Blake Lewis’ Beatboxing” ). Jordin had her chance to get some shine a bit later when she sang a powerful duet of the Motown classic “You’re All I Need to Get By” with season-two winner Ruben Studdard.
Only slightly stranger was the inexplicable show-ending, clock-chewing Beatles medley, which featured Perry ripping riffs to Kelly Clarkson’s Janis Joplin-esque take on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” followed by Hicks’ train-wreck rendition of “A Day in the Life” and Studdard belting “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Once again, Underwood saved the day with a graceful, soaring cover of “She’s Leaving Home,” backed by the female finalists. The whole mess ended with the top 10 taking turns on “With a Little Help From My Friends,” which left no time to announce a winner during the two hours scheduled for the finale.
And though it had next to nothing to do with the “Idol” finale, Green Day’s brooding cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” — from an upcoming Darfur charity album titled Instant Karma — was unquestionably the highlight of the first 90 minutes.
Though it lacked some of the drama of previous “Idol” finales, in the end, the youngest “Idol” in the show’s history justifiably won the day with her consistency, professionalism and, yes, a spark that gave her the edge over the entertaining but gimmicky 25-year-old Lewis.