37 Memorable 'American Idol' Contestants: Then & Now

It was a three-hour extravaganza with tons of guest stars including Carrie Underwood, Dan + Shay, Adam Lambert, Andra Day, Weezer and more!

It all comes down to this one final night of competition on "American Idol," and for the first time ever, the voting continued even into this last episode.

Lionel Richie kicked off the festivities with an energetic performance of "Dancing on the Ceiling," joined briefly at the end by the entire Top 10, returning to help celebrate the crowning of the new "American Idol."

Lionel sounded great and at least half of those kids looked they were excited to be up there performing with him and not at all mad that they're still not in the running. Okay, they may have more class than that, but there was a definite lack of enthusiasm from some of them.

But tonight, it's all about Laine Hardy, Madison VanDenburg and Alejandro Aranda. Only one can win ... and one won't even make it to the end. After each performs twice, the voting was halted and the third place finisher was booted immediately. Then, final voting carried through to the end with one final round of singing for the Top 2.

While everyone was solid and even had some show-best performances, only Alejandra brought enough originality with his two originals to make Katy Perry trash the very legacy of the show she was hosting. "Some would say in the past 'American Idol' -- you know, it's been a bit of a karaoke show. Not anymore," she said in praise of his courage, as two former winners sat in the audience and performed during the finale.

Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.


Laine Hardy

"Home," Marc Broussard

Laine was very cool and confident on this vocal and the song did settle well into his pocket nad personal style. We'd still like to see a little more natural stage presence, but he's making his 1950s behind-the-mic approach work for him well enough. This was one of his stronger performances right when he needed it but can it compete to heartfelt? He is pretty, and that does make a difference in this televised competition.

Madison VanDenburg

"Shallow," "A Star Is Born"

Can Madison connect? She never really does, so that was her biggest challenge going into this one. Maybe it was the nerves of the night, but Madison was actually feeling this performance and she projected that to the audience. This is what we've been wanting from her all season, so it's not a bad time to show this new layer to herself as an artist. Her voice remains stellar and she chewed up this track like it was nothing.

Alejandro Aranda

"Millennial Love," Alejandro Aranda

Would have liked another verse on that, because Alejandro is quite an impressive lyricist and the chorus was the weakest part of those lyrics. Still, it had a nice rhythm and haunting quality to it throughout. It was a true artist's piece -- and the courage to go original in the finale -- which only worries in that it might have been a little sleepy for voters. The in-studio audience, though, could not stop shrieking.


Madison VanDenburg

"Breakaway," Kelly Clarkson

She took that comparison head on, but only showed that she's not as strong on the lower end as Kelly is. Kelly's voice is gorgeous at every pitch, but Madison soars primarily in her full voice and higher register. It's a shame this was her second song, as she really made a statement in the first round for winning. Then she kind of blew it altogether with this one, flopping the lower register and then missing a huge note toward the end. This was a bit of a mess.

Laine Hardy

"Jambalaya (On the Bayou)," Hank Williams

Not quite as strong as his first track, but these older songs sometimes need a little something extra on them to stand out to modern ears. It was a competent performance, but lacking in excitement. And Laine doesn't add any excitement to it with his stage presence. That said, it was a classically good performance ... but was it enough?

Alejandro Aranda

"Tonight," Alejandro Aranda

Yet again, Alejandro went with an original and it was his most commercial track yet. That could be a single tomorrow. Alejandro took this show by storm from day one, and to finish on two originals is an incredible statement that he is so confident in who he is as an artist. And he's absolutely incredible. That was his most polished performance yet vocally, and one of his strongest songs. And it might have just won him "American Idol."


Carrie Underwood

"Southbound," Carrie Underwood

Carrie showed what some seasoning can do to even the best "American Idol" contestant. It's all about confidence, character and control. She owned every bit of that performance and it was more than just her physicality. You could hear it in her voice and see it in her face even when she was standing still. It's just knowing that this is your moment and owning it fully. Oh, and she looked and sounded stunning.

Montell Jordan & Margie Mays & Austin Michael Robinson

"This Is How We Do It," Montell Jordan

We love how Montell updated the lyrics to reflect the show and what's going on right now. Margie Mays kind of messed up her vocals in her big shot here, while Austin Michael Robinson had fun roping Montell's dancers. It was a madcap romp with dancers dressed like Katy Perry doing the worm, but Montell sounded great.

Daddy Yankee & Katy Perry

"Con Calma (Remix)," Daddy Yankee & Snow

Kitsch was the name of the day in this high energy remix that had us going back to the '90s with Snow's "Informer." Katy's big hair and fringe pants were definitely a lot of fun, and she did a good job of giving energy without moving for so much of that ... though it was a bit too long, if we're honest. And she could have used with some hip swivels to get that fringe moving. But Daddy Yankee sounded great on a fire track.

Alejandro Aranda

"Ten Years," Alejandro Aranda

How awesome that the entire orchestra and the conductor were wearing beanies in honor of Alejandro as he reprised this powerful original song with a full orchestra, as Stevie Nicks predicted.

Adam Lambert

"New Eyes," Adam Lambert

Living proof that you don't have to win this show to go on and have a career in music, Adam Lambert has one of the biggest voices to ever grace the "Idol" stage and came up short in his season. But he's doing just fine, and still sounds as fantastic as ever. We're not sure about the new mullet, though, even if he is also serving as frontman to Queen.

Adam Lambert & Dimitrius Graham

"Bohemian Rhapsody," Queen

This may have been the most impressive performance Dimitrius has ever given on the show with one of the most difficult vocal challenges in all of music. Adam Lambert, of course, was effortless in soaring through it, but he was nailing Queen songs back on his "Idol" day and parlayed it into a career with the iconic band. That Dimitrius was right there with him says it all. Another one who should keep digging and make something of this opportunity.

Dan + Shay & Madison VanDenburg

"All to Myself"/"Speechless,"Dan + Shay

The boys went solo for their first performance, and they sounded record quality. Their harmonies are just incredible; it's easy to see why they've taken country music -- which loves a good duo -- by storm. Madison looked a little dejected when she came out to join them for "Speechless," and even let them overshadow her vocally. She just didn't seem to have much to do on the biggest night of her life, and it was a little weird.

Luke Bryan & Laci Kaye Booth

"Knockin' Boots"/"Every Breath You Take," Luke Bryan/The Police

Who knew Luke had such range and power in his voice; he never really gets to show off like this on his own country tracks. He went solo for "Knocking' Boots," but was joined by Laci on the Police classic and she sounded absolutely amazing on the opening bars. Her voice lost a bit when the tempo picked up, but she has such a unique quality to it, it would be a real shame if she didn't dig in and find a way to avoid fading away as so many "Idol" contestants do. She's something truly special.

Jon Pardi & Laine Hardy

"Dirty on My Boots"/"Night Shift," Jon Pardi

Laine spent a little too much time loving on his new chompers and smiling rather than comfortably engaging with the crowd once they came out from behind their guitars. It was clear he was not comfortable out there, but he did his best to step up to Jon Pardi's performance level. It's easy to forget that he is also very young. Oh, and did you notice this really was "Pardi with a Hardy." Is that why they paired these two for real?

Katy Perry & Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon

"Unconditionally," Katy Perry

Katy has sounded fantastic all night, and this was the perfect song and partnership to take this song to the next level. It means so much to both of them, and so much right now for Jeremiah with his personal story. On top of that, his voice just soared. This really was one of the most talented batches of finalists we've ever had on this show. This was heartfelt and absolutely stunning.

Weezer & Wade Cota & Walker Burroughs

"Africa"/"Everybody Wants to Rule the World"/"Take On Me," Toto/Tears for Fears/a-ha

This was a bit of a mess. All of these are such signature songs that have a unique flair and flavor to them, and Wade was wasted on "Africa." Walker was a little better on "Take on Me," except that he couldn't remember the words, so that's a great way to say farewell to your "American Idol" experience. Oops. And what a disservice to Wade after he came in fourth.

Kane Brown & Alyssa Raghu

"Good as You"/"Lost in the Middle of Nowhere," Kane Brown

Like the other artists before him, Kane went solo for his first song, and brought Alyssa for his second one. It felt like a mismatch on paper, but "Lost in the Middle of Nowhere" is an atypical country song with a quick groove and a bit of a hip-hop/pop vibe that sat very well with what Alyssa does. She sounded and looked great on this track, clearly making the most of this opportunity to try and stand out.

Andra Day & Shayy

"Rise Up," Andra Day

One of the more powerful initial auditions came full circle as Andra Day joined Shayy for this beautiful duet on an incredibly moving song. Both women sounded amazing, as Andra truly helped Shayy have what we call a moment.

Kool & The Gang & Top 8

"Hollywod Singin"/"Ladies Night"/"Celebration," The Kool & The Gang

Uche was right in his element with the "kool" funk of this group. It was a mixed bag with the rest of the Top 8, as some felt in their element on this track and other were clearly completely out of theirs. Kool & The Gang, on the other hand, sounded fantastic on this medley of greatest hits. They really brought the party.



As soon as the second round of singing wrapped, the votes were tallied and it was time to say goodbye to someone. And they had to leave after Carrie Underwood's fantastic performance, so that's a high to a low in less than five minutes.

Our pick, after a disastrous second round, was for Madison to get the boot. America backed our play on that one, though, because theyy clearly heard what we did.

But her journey doesn't have to end here, as Madison is tremendously talented and also tremendously young. She's still growing into her voice and talent, so there's no reason to believe it's the end of her journey if she doesn't want it to be.


Alejandro Aranda

"Out Loud," Alejandro Aranda

Alejandro reprised his initial audition performance, but it wasn't the smartest move because we've heard this song several times already throughout the season, including the children's choir singing it when he went back home. He should have found another great vocal performance from his stellar run on the show to get voters excited to support him again. We get this is probably his most popular, but it just felt like a missed opportunity.

Laine Hardy

"Bring It On Home to Me," Sam Cooke

This was easily the smartest choice Laine could have made for this final round when it's down to just him and Alejandro. It's a classic song, and his vocal grit added some new depth to it to create a beautiful vocal performance. On top of that, he got from behind the mic for a few seconds to engage with the crowd and yes, it was a bit awkward. But it was also a performance!


Okay, Alejandro had bigger moments in the first two rounds, but Laine really rocked the house in this last one. And let's face it, spectacle and excitement always gets people riled up and voting more than powerful and emotional.

The problem for Alejandro is that this is an incredibly familiar song at this point, and it might have lacked that punch needed to win "American Idol." On top of that, Laine still has that "pretty" factor that has to have been helping him along in this journey.

No matter what happens here, both have a real shot at a career, but Laine is the more traditional "American Idol" winner, whereas Alejandro carries his own vibe and clearly has his own vision as an artist.

Well, in the end it was traditional that won out, as Laine Hardy finished his redemption run on the show and quite honestly, it might be the best thing for both of them. Alejandro never really fit into this "Idol" box.

And with Alejandro's audience reaction throughout this season, he needs to get a record deal and the opportunity to record and perform his own music and be the kind of artist he is.

And while we hate to knock previous contestants, something tells us producers are banking more on this batch of contestants than last season's considering none of them were invited to sing, including last season's winner Maddie Poppe, who dropped her debut album TWO DAYS AGO. She only got to plug her album briefly.

Check out Laine's winning moment and performance of his new winner's single "Flame" below.

"American Idol" will be back for a third round next season on ABC

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