As of 10:10 p.m. ET last night (or thereabouts), the 12th season of American Idol is in the books, with Candice Glover, a three-time auditioner who finally made it all the way this year, crowned the winner. She's the first female winner since Jordin Sparks took the title in the Idol Middle Ages of 2007, and she's certainly the most deserving singer in this year's crop of finalists, which seemed to be assembled for the purposes of breaking the White Guy With Guitar curse that had plagued the show since David Cook won hearts and minds by bending every theme week to his will in 2008.
This was a long Idol season; there is no doubt of that. The final two performers—Candice and Kree Harrison, the Nashville Earth Mother whose energy levels fluctuated throughout the competition, causing her to turn in an equal amount of dynamite and ho-hum performances—were definitely the best out of the Top Ten, which was made up of five guys who were essentially cannon fodder, three girls who were various shades of green, and the two women who wound up on stage with Ryan Seacrest during the final minutes of last night's show. I would have been OK with either winning, even though I preferred Candice by a country mile. Kree is clearly talented and her voice's timbre can cause spine-tingling, although she made singing heartbreaking country songs seem almost too easy at times, and there were way too many instances where I felt like her eyes were devoid of expression as she sang. Candice, on the other hand, took every performance opportunity she was given absolutely seriously, switching up songs so that they suited her supple voice better, treating the stage as if it belonged to her and only her, and certainly not the other contestants, and not even the boldfaced-name judges sitting 10 feet or so away.
If anything, her performing like she belonged in the judges' pit, and not on the stage, probably firmed up her path to victory because it made viewers at home remember her; this season, the four people charged with giving the singers counsel often overshadowed their charges, and not always in a good way. Last night's two-hour finale felt like a reversal of the season, with the judges relegated for the most part to the sidelines while the finalists sang in groups and duos: Keith Urban played two songs, including one where he and Randy Jackson (and, uh, Travis Barker) backed up Kree; Mariah Carey mimed her way through a strangely choppy medley of her biggest hits while clad in a gown that made her look like she was on the way to filming a remake of Splash; and Randy Jackson, one of the few remaining links to the show's Dunkleman-and-Cowell origins, got a sendoff package that was curiously heavy on lighthearted moments from the seasons where he sat aside Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. It was set to "Bad Day," Daniel Powter's strangely joyful ode to those times when rain falls into one's life. (Go ahead and try to sing it without cracking a smile. It's really hard.) Nicki Minaj was strangely silent the whole time, the camera seeming to only cut to her when her acutely expressive face looked sour.
She's leaving, too. Which makes two of the four who are confirmed to go away; Keith Urban seems to genuinely enjoy being on the panel and I wouldn't be surprised if he came back next year. Mariah seems to enjoy it too, although her rambling style makes me think she's going to be targeted for elimination by the producers. I grew to like her more over the season, though, and I hope she stays in at least a guest-mentor capacity.
The finale was overall a hodgepodge, the sort of variety show that used to be so popular on network TV but that now is relegated to "special" status on holidays where mass audiences are presumed to not be watching TV. There were group numbers; the whole crew of finalists sang The Wanted's dreary, roofie-laced "Glad You Came," the guys sang with Frankie Valli (whose starpower overpowered them all); the ladies backed up a beamed-in Aretha Franklin. (A bummer that Idol didn't break out the holograms again.) There were comedy bits, including one about the girls "sabotaging" the guys in order to break the male-winner curse that was more uneasily funny than actually funny, since the real sabotage of the male contestants was done by the producers from day one of this season. (Although maybe Jordin Sparks helped, as the package asserted.) And there were duets. Kree and Candice sang together right before the results were announced, a lovely pairing that I hope happens again in some capacity, either on record or on stage. The pageanty Angie Miller, who probably still is in disbelief that she was voted off last week, emoted her way through "Titanium" with Adam Lambert, and was then joined by perpetual annoyance Jessie J, who invited Angie to come perform with her in the UK. (A nice gesture or a way for Jessie to extend her screen time on a top-rated American show and attempt to actually get famous here? With her, it's so hard to tell.) Janelle Arthur busted through The Band Perry's hollery, giddy-as-hell "DONE." in probably my favorite performance of the night—she looked like she was having fun on stage for the first time since maybe mid-March. Amber Holcomb was saddled with singing the Emeli Sandé song that Candice powerhoused last week, which seemed sort of unfair; surely there are a lot of other songs out there that aren't the nine performed during Top Three night? (Which included two songs by Sandé, by the way. Who are her people pals with, anyway?) And Candice sang with Jennifer Hudson and outsang Jennifer Hudson, opting for restraint on "Inseperable" while the semi-EGOT went full bore.
Speaking of Hudson: You have to wonder why the Idol producers only brought back people who didn't win to perform last night. Erasing the White Guys With Guitars from history once and for all? A message to Angie—who many have theorized was the producer's favorite, and her double-dip duets last night don't really contradict that idea—that sometimes the people who finish second or seventh make a bigger pop impact than the champ? Or just lazy booking to close out a season that, despite the winner being in the top tier of Idol victors, seemed rushed and botched way too much of the time? (Where was Jimmy Iovine this week? I know he just endowed a department at USC, but surely he could have at least dropped by the Nokia Theater?)
Ah, it doesn't really matter. Now is the time for Candice to sell some records; she certainly deserves to. The Idol braintrust finally realized that the show is the best launching pad out of all the singing competitions out there, and bumped up the release of the winner's debut accordingly; this is the first time in a while that I've been excited for an Idol victory album because of Candice's arranging ability. (Here's hoping she doesn't get smoothed out by producers, although the steeliness that sometimes emerged during her interviews makes me think she won't.) And then there's the tour and the auditions for next season—all while rumors of the show being retooled rumble in the background until next January, when we're back here again.