On Wednesday night, Kree Harrison and Candice Glover competed on the final performance show of "American Idol" Season 12, in a battle of what Ryan Seacrest rather uncreatively called "Country vs. Soul." (Really, Ryan? That's all you could come up with? Season 8's "Guy-Next-Door vs. Guyliner" had a better ring to it.)
Historically, this was the first girl-vs.-girl "Idol" finale showdown since Fantasia Barrino and Diana DeGarmo in Season 3. Was it as exciting as that finale? Well, Season 3 was nine long years ago, so my memory is fuzzier than one of Nicki Minaj's wigs…but in a word, no. No, it was not.
There were a lot of ballads, an oddly placed guest performance by Carly Rae Jepsen of some song that was not "Call Me Maybe," and two coronation songs that weren't even as good as "No Boundaries." It was only in the episode's final fleeting minutes, when Candice delivered her stunning final performance, that a true champion seemed to emerge.
Anyway, enough of my whining. Let's get to the recapping. So on Wednesday, Kree and Candice sang three songs each: One selected by "Idol" mastermind Simon Fuller, one coronation song, and one reprise of a memorable Season 12 performance. Kree won the coin-toss, but bizarrely opted to perform first, perhaps knowing that Candice would be a tough act to follow.
But, as RuPaul might say on another, arguably more entertaining talent show…may the best woman win!
SIMON FULLER'S PICKS:
Kree Harrison, "Angel" - Sarah Simmons on "The Voice" had a wow moment with this Sarah McLachlan weeper just a couple weeks ago. Would Kree be able to compare? And more importantly, would singing a downer song many TV-watchers associate in their minds with about-to-be-euthanized stray puppies and kitties hurt her chances? This wasn't exactly a powerhouse performance, and it wasn't a country song per se (doesn't that Brit Simon Fuller know any country songs?), but it was nice. But it was just that: Nice. Will nice girls finish first? Maybe. Kree certainly has a devoted fanbase. However, this performance had me hoping that Candice would bring the fire soon.
Candice Glover, "Chasing Pavements" - Adele? Seriously? Did we really need to hear another Adele cover, on any of these singing shows? Probably not…but if I had to hear one, I am glad it was by Candice. She certainly had the chops to take on one of the greatest female pop/soul vocalists of our generation. Clearly Fuller knew that Candice could handle it. And that last note was everything. But still. I wanted that raw, "Come Together"-esque excitement from my Candy Girl. I wanted more.
"I'm not sure either of these songs were the right song I would have chosen for them, because they're a little sleepy," said Randy Jackson, before rightfully calling round one for Candice. What was this? Randy making sense on his last judging show ever? The mind boggled. Where was this Dawg-logic during the past 11 seasons?
Kree Harrison, "All Cried Out" - Sadly, this was not the Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam song. Nor was it a rallying cry of triumph, a "I Believe a Moment Like This is My Now Because I'm Flying Without Wings Inside Your Heaven"-type of coronation single. It was a sad song. About crying. Yes, it tapped into Kree's heartache and her tragic backstory, so she sang it beautifully — this was way better than her first performance. But it didn't feel like a victory song. It didn't feel like a song that should be accompanied by confetti showers and congratulatory group hugs. And the fact that Kree wasn't singing the song at the end of the show, but anticlimactically in the middle, only made it less exciting.
Candice Glover, "I Am Beautiful" – This song tapped into Candice's whole overwrought story arc about female empowerment, growing in confidence, being happy with herself, etc. Meh. It too was dull. It was actually duller than "All Cried Out." Nice sentiment, more in line with what "Idol" coronation songs are supposed to be all about, and of course Candice's performance was note-perfect…but suffice to say, "I Am Beautiful" will not be beating the radio-play and quadruple-million sales records set by last year's Phillip Phillips coronation song, "Home." It probably wouldn't even outsell Jessica Sanchez's "Change Nothing." And I'd be surprised if it got on the radio at all. A talent like Candice deserved a better song than this. Come to think of it, so did Kree.
After the girls' would-be coronation performances, Nicki praised Kree's "composure" and "understatedness." Um, this was supposed to be a victory song! This was not the time to be understated. Nicki still called this round for Candice (I agreed, even though Kree's actual song was stronger), but Keith Urban called it for Kree.
Kree Harrison, "Up to the Mountain" - This Patty Griffin ballad would have been Crystal Bowersox's coronation single if she'd won Season 9 (the weird season when the finalists didn't get original songs, and Lee DeWyze wound up with a U2 cover). It was a good song for Kree's quiet strength and syrupy, stack-o'-waffles voice, and I understood why she chose it. It was in her wheelhouse — or her Kreelhouse, as it were. But then Nicki raved, "That energy is so uplifting!" Um, what energy? This was typical low-key Kree. Was it enough of a last impression to take her all the way to the winner's circle? I say no, but we'll see what America has to say once the votes are counted.
Candice Glover, "I (Who Have Nothing)"- FINALLY! Finally, some fire! Some theater! Candice slayed this. This was up there with Haley Reinhart's Season 10 version. Candice was giving me some Shirley Bassey realness, and she was so brilliant, I didn't even mind that she wasn't reprising "Lovesong" (my favorite Season 12 Candice performance) instead. And Candice got the total Mariah-style diva treatment: dry-ice fog, dramatic a cappella intro, sequined mini-dress, salon blowout, and a four-way standing ovation from the judges. This was Candice's real winning song. Can "I (Who Have Nothing)" be her coronation single instead, please — when she hopefully wins?
At the end of this round, it was abundantly obvious that the judges were rooting for Candice. "You're such a powerhouse! It was like a planet exploding to life," said Keith. Nicki called her a "superstar." And Randy, in his last "Idol" critique ever (sniff), hollered: "That girl can plum, flat-out sing! This is how you do it. You've just shot this night to a whole other level, and that's what I'd been waiting on." Me too, Randy. Me too.
So now, it's prediction time. Who's going to win this thing Thursday night? I think it will — and should — be Candice. "Idol" will have nothing if the "I (Who Have Nothing)" lady doesn't win. But if either girl has a shot of making it in the real world after Season 12 is over, they're going to need songs with a bit more oomph than the ones they sang this Wednesday.