It’s Candice vs. Kree. But only one is still fighting.
Here is my solemn promise: The last competitive episode of every American Idol season is anticlimactic and boring, and the last actual episode of every American Idol season is shockingly, face-kickingly wonderful. Seriously. Wednesday night we watched as Candice and Kree sauntered around a Cirque du Soleil-size stage and gurgled tunes new and old for an audience that knew exactly what to expect. It wasn’t a memorable night for either performer, even though they both delivered at least one knockout performance. My takeaway from the night is this: If you came in rooting for Kree, you’re still rooting for Kree now. If you came in rooting for Candice, you’re still rooting for Candice. And I like you better. Because Candice is the rightful next American Idol.
Here it is, my final rankings of season 12. There are only two performers, and I’ve already spoiled my pick for the #1 chanteuse of the evening, but hey! There’s still time to get mean and competitive about who should win this damn thing. Call me Paul Jolley, because I’m about to get “theatrical” about this sh*t.
2. Kree Harrison: Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” Patty Griffin, “Up to the Mountain (MLK Song),” “All Cried Out”
By far, the most underrated American Idol winner is Kris Allen. I’m not saying his voice is ready to duke it out with Marian Anderson, and I’m certainly not saying he had the pleather-panted gall of Adam Lambert, but he is perhaps the canniest contestant in the show’s 12 years. Whether or not you dig his soft-serve vanilla, DMB-idolizing antics, you had to respect Kris for choosing unexpected songs and performing with them with subtle, even-sorta-cheeky sincerity. He jumped from Michael Jackson‘s “Man in the Mirror” to Garth Brooks‘ “To Make You Feel My Love” to Donna Summer‘s “She Works Hard for the Money” to Kanye West‘s “Heartless” — which is a pretty weird array for a guy lumped in with truly boring contestants like Casey James and Lee DeWyze. He used the gaping differences between each theme week to create signature performances, and that’s why Kris Allen ruled: He didn’t just want to win American Idol; he wanted to play American Idol, trump expectation, and challenge himself every single time he performed.
I bring up the “Live Like We’re Dying” songster because he succeeded exactly where Kree doesn’t, and vice versa. Kree’s voice is the same delicate pink cumulus tuft of angel hair and butterscotch we heard back in the Vegas rounds, and its crystalline qualities conceal Ford-tough reliability. But with the exception of her early rounds (and that standout version of “What the World Needs Now is Love” from a few weeks ago), Kree’s song selections have withered in originality every single week. Can you honestly point out much of a difference between her performance last night of “Angel” and her recent takes on “Whiter Shade of Pale,” “Here Comes Goodbye,” and “Have You Ever Been in Love”? She’s a technically perfect, decreasingly inspired contestant, and that’s why she’s only good enough for a Lauren Alaina-style second place finish. The talent is there. But let’s not pretend charisma, uniqueness, and nerve are dismissible ingredients.
Simon Fuller picked “Angel” for her first performance, and I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that’s the most uninspired selection he could’ve made. Oh, you think Kree’s voice is angelic, Simon? Well! Another $20 million payday for YOU! She needed a more urgent song at this stage of the game, something in the vein of the Dixie Chicks‘ “Not Ready to Make Nice” or Dolly Parton‘s “Here You Come Again” (which Carly Smithson nailed in season seven). Her coronation single “All Cried Out” did not move my preteen Latina spirit the same way the Lisa Lisa single of the same name does, but Kree handled the lilting country ballad with (wait for it!) an admirable vocal. As for her retread of “Up to the Mountain (MLK Anthem),” her version is still not as good as Crystal Bowersox‘s, so I ordered my brain to forget everything I was watching.
Kree’s sailed to the top of season 12 thanks to pure talent. But pure talent is not the same thing as gamesmanship, and that’s why I predict she’ll end up in second place.