Season 13 of “American Idol” limped to its (near) conclusion on Tuesday night (May 20), in a final showdown that capped a season where the producers finally seemed to get the judge’s panel right, but ratings dipped by more than 20 percent yet again as a forgettable group of finalists failed to win back America’s hearts and eyeballs.
The final two contestants said it all. In one corner you had odds-on favorite Caleb Johnson, the 23-year-old Asheville, North Carolina, classic rock traditionalist whose blustery, feathered-hair and jean jacket style went out with the first Bush administration. He faced off against 17-year-old Farmington Hills, Michigan, high schooler Jena Irene, the only hope left for the aging franchise to put forward a singer whose Paramore-meets-EDM style is within spitting distance of relevance on the charts.
The show consisted of three rounds: the first featuring songs picked by show creator and producer Simon Fuller, a reprise of the singer’s favorites from the season and the debut of their winner and runner-up songs.
Jena Makes The Judges Fall In Love All Over Again
Accompanied by a quintet of drummers, Irene charged out first with a powerhouse cover of Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over.” After she ended the song on her knees, Keith Urban said “the way that you own that stage is so good… that’s a sign of a real pro.”
Reprising the song that inspired Jennifer Lopez to jump up and kiss her, Irene was back behind the piano for Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” once again giving the song a widescreen, stately make-over that showcased the nuance and range in her voice.
Harry Connick Jr. could tell that Jena had heard other artists cover the song, but praised her for finding a way to make it her own. “It was absolutely beautiful, Jena,” he said.
The winner’s single is a dicey proposition at best. Irene’s tune, “We Are One,” was a bland, uplifting rock anthem with a forceful chorus about fiery eyes and disappearing walls that perfectly fit her wailing power zone. The judges thought the song was strong and it fit her style, which is about all you can ask for.
Caleb Can Dream On Tonight, It’s In The Bag
Of course Johnson sang Aerosmith’s “Dream On” backed by a string section while wearing a black tuxedo jacket with ornamental arm fringes. And, of course, he muscled his way through it and ended with a bit, throaty growl that seemingly slammed the lid shut on Jena’s chances.
“You gotta seize the moment, you gotta carpe diem, you gotta do all that and that’s what you just did,” a fired-up Lopez told him. “That may have did it right there.” As for Urban, well, Caleb had him at the first note.
Caleb stood next to a piano for an encore of Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed,” that sounded like the perfect slow dance selection for a 9th grade prom from 1979, which is kind of what it is. Johnson gave it some bluesy grit and hit the high notes, low notes and didn’t fall off the stage, which is pretty much all he had to do.
JLo and Keith thought he needed to give the tune more heart and less lung. And when Harry tabulated the votes, Jena had taken round two, putting the singers in a dead heat on the judges’ scorecards.
Someone call Sammy Hagar, because Caleb’s coronation anthem, “As Long As You Love Me,” was the kind of red parachute pants lung buster that would make the former Van Halen singer take an extra shot of his signature tequila. The bland bluesy rock tune had lyrics that were like a rock cliché haiku, ending with the chorus, “As long as you love me/You don’t always have to say I’m cool/As long as you love me, we don’t have to be together 24/7/As long as you love me, I’m in heaven.”
Reaching for a boxing metaphor from 1971 about the puncher Joe Frazier vs. the boxer Muhammad Ali that likely landed squarely with the show’s aging demo, Connick wished America good luck with their tough choice.
Join us on Wednesday to find out who will take home the crown during a finale that will feature the season’s finalists performing with Kiss, Paramore, Demi Lovato, Lady Antebellum, Lopez, Phillip Phillips, John Legend and Jason Mraz. And let us know what you thought about Tuesday night’s episode in comments below.