And long was the right word, as this two-hour finale just went on and on and on and on. Isn't it interesting that "Dancing With the Stars" had a finale tonight that included two rounds of actual competition and they only got an hour. All "Idol" needed to do was crown a winner and they got twice that. The rest was bloat.
To keep things interesting, Ryan Seacrest did cut it down to a Final 2 about midway through the show, so at least there were some results along the way. If I get a vote -- and you know I don't -- I'd ask that ABC switch it up next year and give "DWTS" two hours, and cut "Idol" down to just one, so we're not sitting here waiting for the results "All Night Long."
The good news is that with the combined power of parent company Disney, radio host Ryan Seacrest and "American Idol" itself, there was no shortage of big stars willing to drop by and help them fill all of that time by performing with various contestants. They also vamped with various skits, bits, video packages and other shenanigans.
Before we get to the musical performances, let's explore some of the finale's other moments. For one, we got to see that Caleb is more than just a funny guy with a spot-on Luke Bryan impression. The finalist also took some time during his journey on the show to master a Lionel Richie impression, and it is uncanny!
In another fun callback moment, former contestant Noah Davis came back for a surprise that might have been better than being crowned "American Idol" for him. In his very first audition, when asked what he would buy if he won the whole show, Noah quickly said an alpaca. And so, he was gifted one here in the season finale, and Lionel Richie still wouldn't go near it.
Later in the show, Jimmy Kimmel brought out what he claimed was a buried time capsule from the original run of the show. Inside was one of Simon Cowell's tiny black t-shirts, Ryan's frosted tips, Steven Tyler's complete run of scarves, a copy of the amazingly terrible movie "From Justin to Kelly," Sanjaya Malakar's hair and even Sanjaya himself. Seeing him was a little jarring, though. Season 6 was a long time ago. Crying Girl -- 'memba her? -- also made a cameo.
After he sang a few verses of "Anywhere" with Mustard, "Idol" finalist Jurnee returned to the stage to sing "Jealous" alongside Nick Jonas. She had moments of brilliance, but she was clearly outclassed vocally by him on this. She's still got the look, but as Lionel would say, she needs to stay in the oven a little longer and finish cooking.
Luke Bryan & Gabby Barrett - "Most People Are Good"
The country judge showed the contestants how it was done with a coolly confident performance of his new single, "Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset." This is a guy at the height of his confidence and power as an artist, and you could feel that with every subconscious decision he made up there on the stage. After watching amateurs still trying to figure themselves out for weeks on end, Luke showed us what professionalism looks like, before inviting Gabby Barrett to join him for "Most People Are Good." His influence elevated Gabby's already rather polished stage presence, as she continues to look and sound more and more like a genuine superstar each week. Her vocals were fantastic, and they harmonized so well I'm kind of hoping they record something together now.
Gary Clark Jr., Dennis Lorenzo & Cade Foehner - "Bright Lights"
Clark is easily one of the coolest dudes to ever hit the "Idol" stage, and he was partnered perfectly with the coolest contestants of this season. If Dennis had leaned into his rock edge a little more, he may have lasted a little longer, as he sounded fantastic on this performance. All three guys showed their guitar proficiency, and gave fantastic harmonies on the chorus. They took turns with the verses, and each of them had a similar rasp and growl to their voices. It was a powerful and confident performance from all three of them. Damn, the talent pool ran so deep this season on "Idol," I hope more than just these finalists finds a way to carve out a path to stardom for themselves. I'd hate to lose some of these voices forever after tonight.
Kermit the Frog & Maddie Poppe - "Rainbow Connection"
This performance made me wish we could get the classic "Muppet Show" back on the air. Maddie is such a perfect fit for the '70s sensibilities of that show, and her pairing with Kermit here just felt so natural, it was transporting us back to a time long before she was even born. And yet, that is the timeless beauty of both The Muppets and Maddie's signature style as an artist. She again sounded divine on this, slipping into and out of her ethereal falsetto with ease. Truly, she is ready for the next step in her career.
Darius Rucker & Caleb Lee Hutchinson - "Wagon Wheel"
The competition portion of the show being over must have sat really well with Caleb as he sounded absolutely fantastic on this duet. This is exactly the kind of music Caleb should be making as he makes his way into Nashville. And after that performance, it didn't matter if he won "American Idol" or not. He had such a mastery of that song that someone is going to snatch him up and put him on country radio where is buttery voice belongs. The kid is a natural!
Bebe Rexha, Caleb Lee Hutchinson, Gabby Barrett & Maddie Poppe - "Meant to Be"
I'm not sure what was going on with this performance, but everyone sounded uncertain and insecure, including Bebe. It took until the second chorus for their vocals and confidence to come together. Bebe and Caleb should have carried this as they'd already performed this together, while Gabby was pretty confident with its country vibe. A big part of the problem appeared to be technical, as the mic volumes were varied across the four and it didn't seem like they could hear themselves or one another the way they needed to. The result was the weakest performance of the night, which is a shame considering it featured our Top 3.
Layla was one of the show's most adorable contestants, perhaps only eclipsed by her tiny little sister Dixie. I absolutely loved that the show brought out LeAnn Rimes as a surprise, joining the sisters on stage. The girls never quite recovered enough to get the song fully back on track, but it didn't matter because it was just cuteness overload, the whole thing. That was genuine enthusiasm and excitement in a way that can't be scripted. For the record, Dixie did a better job of keeping it together, proving that professionalism can come at any age.
Katy Perry & Catie Turner - "Part of Me"
Catie went through Katy Perry's catalogue to come up with the song they would perform together. This performance was the culmination of a promise Katy made to her a few weeks back, and it was simply divine. Catie stripped the song down to pull all of the heart out of this anthem and then the two of them harmonized it beautifully. This may be the best Catie has ever sounded on this show. She's one of the voices I hope we don't lose after the show as she is something special, both in voice and everything else that makes her who she is.
Yolanda Adams & Michael J. Woodard - "What the World Needs Now"
What remains so fun about Michael is how effortlessly he can slip into different genres or styles of music. If he wanted a career in Christian music, he could easily find one. Broadway? We don't think he'd have any problem booking a show. Both of them sounded fantastic, and they melded beautifully together. We really think the world is wide open for Michael. He just needs to figure out what he wants to do first.
Now that is a lot of song for anyone, but I had absolutely no worries that either Ada Vox or Patti LaBelle would have any problems with all of its runs, range and layers. Patti sounded absolutely fantastic and paired beautifully in voice with Ada, though the drag queen definitely outdid her in the wardrobe department. Patti went for a sensible pantsuit, while Ada looked like a disco ball come to life. Ada is so much fun to watch, and while I know she's going to do well on the drag queen circuit, I was really hopeful that she might break that glass ceiling by becoming the first drag queen to gain mainstream success as a vocalist simply based on the merits of her voice.
Caleb Lee Hutchinson & Maddie Poppe - "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
The Top 2 gave us the most adorable reveal right before they hit the stage for an emotionally powerful performance of this Isreal Kamakawiwo'ole medley of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World." I'll save their big reveal for the next section, as it's more appropriate there. As a final surprise for the Top 2 before that big reveal, Ryan revealed they were going to enjoy a Hawaiian vacation.
Rather than just throw us to a winner, Ryan instead decided to reveal a Top 2, to drag things out a little longer. Caleb was the first to make it there, and his genuine shock was both adorable and palpable. Joining him to make a male-female final was Maddie, meaning it was time to say goodbye to Gabby and her country edge. I still think she'll be fine, though, as country music will be calling (and Cade was surely waiting with a big conciliatory hug).
What no one could have known, though, was that along the way, Caleb and Maddie had actually become a couple, meaning that they were going to be ecstatic no matter who won. It also means they did a better job of hiding it than Gabby and Cade. But it certainly made their final performance together something extra special.
"After the nationwide vote the winner of 'American Idol' is Maddie Poppe," Ryan Seacrest revealed, and she was so ecstatic she couldn't believe it. And, as has become tradition, Maddie had to sing her "Idol" single, "Going Gone Gone," after the most emotional moment of her young life. She was overcome several times along the way, but she kept fighting her way back into the song.
I still don't quite get this part of the show, as it almost never works, and it gets completely derailed as the other contestants storm the stage. What we're left with is a mad chaos of joy and confusion as the season comes to a close. But maybe that's the point, because that's certainly what Maddie's life is about to become as she begins the whirlwind of excitement that surrounds every "Idol" winner.
The big question now is if she can buck the trend of recent winners and become a bona fide recording star. I feel confident she can find her niche in the recording industry, and I stand by my prediction that both Gabbie and Caleb will find careers in country music, giving this first revival season a very good pedigree.