Tuesday's final American Idol performance show was, as Ryan Seacrest said, "the acoustic rocker vs. the glam rocker, Conway vs. California, the guy next door vs. the guyliner." It was a battle between two musicians with different looks, different styles, and different sounds. And in the end, I'm not sure whether Kris Allen or Adam Lambert is going to come away the winner.
As Idol finales go, this one was relatively strong, with each contestant revisiting a favorite song from earlier in the competition, singing a song chosen by producer Simon Fuller, and closed with one co-written by Kara DioGuardi. (That song, by the way, seemed to hold to the standard of Idol coronation songs that must be about moving mountains and scaling obstacles and overcoming odds. How about one year, they just sing an unsappy pop song? It's a thought.) In the midst of the competition, Simon called round one for Kris, round two for Adam, and left round three up in the air — so, who will it be? Don't forget to cast your vote, and to see my take on the songs, just read more.
"Mad World" — Adam picked this for his repeat performance, this time donning a trench coat and descending the stairs in a cloud of fog. This time around, he seemed to change the melody a bit more and amp up the theatrical element — for better or for worse. It was confident and solid, especially for the night's first song. Randy gave it an A+, Kara liked seeing him return to the song that made him stand out as an artist, but Simon said it reminded him of Phantom of the Opera.
"A Change is Gonna Come" — Simon Fuller picked a song that let Adam show off his soulful side, and while I wasn't sure about it at first, there's no denying his range. It was loud and powerful when it needed to be, then softer and restrained — and was that a little bit of an Elvis lip curl I saw? "You can sing your face off," said Randy. Kara said it was Adam's best of the season, and Paula — not to be outdone — said that was the best he'd done "ever ever ever." Simon said it got him back in the game.
"No Boundaries" — Man, this is not Adam's kind of song at all. It seemed almost like he was fighting it: He wanted to get a little screamy, but the song kept saying no. He didn't seem totally comfortable, either — maybe the first and only time I've said that about him all season. Randy said it was "just a'ight" and a little pitchy, Kara said she was proud to have Adam sing her song, and Simon basically offered no critique and just said he believes they've found a worldwide star.
"Ain't No Sunshine" — I would have guessed he'd pick "Heartless" or even "Falling Slowly," but behind the piano, Kris really worked this song. He got a little bit of a beat going behind it, but when he slowed down to hit the final notes, the whole crowd fell silent. It was one of his most passionate performances — and the camera lingered on Simon's applause. Randy said that's the kind of record Kris should make, Kara said he's a moving performer, and Simon said Kris proved he belonged in the finals.
"What's Going On" — This is pretty much exactly the kind of song I can imagine Kris recording, right down to the foot stomping and clapping and washboard rhythm. That said, it wasn't particularly captivating or exciting or unique, just very relaxed. Too relaxed? Randy thought it was "a little bit light" for the finale, Kara said he's the kind of singer who should be taking on songs with social messages (?), and Simon said it was too much like "three friends in their bedroom strumming along to Marvin Gaye."
"No Boundaries" — This song was a better fit for Kris than for Adam, but even he couldn't do much with it. While the style seemed to mesh with his voice and aesthetic, he didn't have the power to make the chorus soar. If you could merge both versions of the song, maybe you'd have the ideal recording, but as it was, I didn't think either one stood out. Randy said the song suited Kris better, Kara thought the key was too high and didn't want him to be judged on that (huh?), and Simon just said it was great to see him feeling confident.
The best: Both contestants had high points, but I thought the night actually hit its peak in round one, with "Mad World" vs. "Ain't No Sunshine." (As, it turns out, so did the contestants themselves.)
The worst: Both versions of "No Boundaries." If neither of them could make that song work, I wonder whose voice, exactly, could make it good.
The winner: Based on the season as a whole, it should be Adam. But something deep down tells me it's Kris. Wednesday should be a fun night!
Photos courtesy of Fox