It's the screamer versus the quiet soul man. The flashy, trashy L.A. rocker against the mellow, humble small-town crooner. Call it what you like, but next week's "American Idol" finale could be one of the most exciting in the show's history. A "ding-dong," if you will, to quote judge Simon Cowell.
Following a titanic 88 million votes — and with just 1 million separating the top two finalists — Danny Gokey became the odd man out on Wednesday night when he was eliminated from the show's first-ever all-male top three.
With just minutes left in the hour, host Ryan Seacrest finally broke the tension by first announcing that Kris Allen would be in the finale, bringing a look of sheer surprise to the 23-year-old singer's face and a standing ovation from the judging panel, including Cowell, who, up until Tuesday night, repeatedly told Allen that he would never make it to the final.
And then it was Adam Lambert's turn, as the bombastic singer who has blazed a nearly flawless path through the finals buried his hands in his face and gave his bros a hug in celebration of making it to the finish line.
It was an excruciating wait for the trio, who spent nearly every minute of the hour wondering their fate. Early in the show, Gokey — the only contestant this season to never be in the bottom three — relived the up-and-down night he had on Tuesday, when the judges split on his scatting and dancing during his Paula Abdul-chosen take on Terence Trent D'Arby's "Dance Little Sister," but were unanimous in their praise for his sentimental take on Joe Cocker's "You Are So Beautiful." This being the penultimate "Idol" show, the Milwaukee native was waved over to the couches to make way for Allen's flashback.
Fans predicted that Allen, who got mixed reviews for his too-close cover of OneRepublic's "Apologize" and raves for a daring acoustic take on Kanye West's "Heartless," would go home on Wednesday night. But after he shocked the room with the stripped-down 'Ye cover, even Cowell had to admit Allen deserved a shot next week. While Allen also didn't get the good news right away, he did reveal that no matter what happened, he was already a winner, as his favorite Conway, Arkansas, restaurant, Stoby's, offered him free cheese dip for life.
Questions arose this week over whether Cowell lobbied too hard for Adam Lambert at the end of Tuesday night's show, when he warned fans to "take nothing for granted," which some saw as a sign that he was advocating they vote for Lambert.
Regardless, the Los Angeles musical-theater veteran once again got almost all thumbs up for both his sensuous take on U2's "One," and a cat-scratch run through Aerosmith's "Cryin'." He was the last finalist to not get the news right away after, like the others, he watched a montage wrapping up his trip home last week, in which he met his hometown San Diego fans.
Once the verdict finally came down, Gokey, whose tragic tale of losing his young wife, Sophia, had become one of this season's early emotional story lines, kept his composure. Looking cool and relaxed with his hand on his chin, Gokey watched his goodbye video, smiling and reprising his poignant take on "You Are So Beautiful," bringing tears to Abdul and Kara DioGaurdi's eyes as he milked the ballad for all its heartstring-pulling emotion. The three singers then shared a group hug center stage as, once again, the show ran over by several minutes, perhaps robbing some viewers of the final words of wisdom from Cowell.
Setting up next week's showdown, he said, "None of us would have predicted this, guys ... no disrespect because you were brilliant last night and just now ... by the way, Danny, congratulations. But Kris, your second song ["Heartless"] in particular made you a contender. You're in with a real shot. Adam, you know we've always liked you. This could be what we call a big ding-dong coming up next week."
The show also featured Katy Perry performing her latest single, "Waking Up In Vegas," as well as season-six winner Jordin Sparks debuting the strident R&B rocker "Battlefield," the first single from her as-yet-untitled upcoming second album, with the song's producer/co-writer, OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, joining her on piano.
As always, Perry brought a big show, taking the stage in a sexy Elvis Presley-style leotard/jumpsuit with Adam Lambert's name in rhinestones on the back and toting a bedazzled microphone with glittering cherries on it. Surrounded by Vegas showgirls in towering red headdresses waving giant white feathered fans, Perry ended the energetic performance by strutting in her glittery mini-cowboy boots as a rain of confetti covered the stage.
And so, next week Lambert and Allen will face off one more time for this year's "Idol" crown. At press time, it was not yet announced what the theme would be for the final showdown, or who the guests are on the Wednesday night finale.
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