The American Idol Finale: A Running Diary

american_idol.jpgI can't believe it's going to be another seven months

Well, it's all come to this, the big showdown between good and evil, a girl who can sing against a guy who can rhythmically hiccup. We'll find out which one wins after two hours of glorious schmaltz, and you know what that means: another running diary.

8:00: Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks kick things off by making stupid faces at each other while Ryan Seacrest solemnly intones their names. Feel the excitement!

8:02: Randy Jackson's suit has, like, paisley cuffs and lapels. It's not quite as eye-damaging as his Michael Jackson chain-jacket from last night, but it's pretty staggering nonetheless. Simon Cowell and Seacrest exchange vaguely homoerotic barbs one last time.

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8:03: Blake and Jordin sing "I Saw Her Standing There" together, a song probably chosen entirely for the "she was just 17" line. (Jordin, you see, is just 17.) So far, this looks like an early-60s sock-hop movie. It's also Blake's second chance to disembowel a Lennon song! Yoko is caking!

8:05: Gwen Stefani, wearing some sort of mutated lingerie, sings live via satellite from a tour stop somewhere. Her bass player looks like a computer-generated effect from a Bjork video. Gwen would not make it very far if she was a contestant on American Idol.

8:11: Kelly Clarkson is here to show everyone how to do this post-Idol fame shit and to sing "Never Again." I've occasionally been watching those Idol Rewind specials that local networks incessantly show, and the transition between first-season-Idol Kelly and circa-2007 Kelly really is remarkable; they're like two completely different people. We get a gratuitous shot of Clive Davis applauding in the crowd; he still likes Kelly! We also get a gratuitous shot of Jennifer Hudson applauding in the crowd; she still likes American Idol!

8:17: Seacrest hands out fake awards to audition-show rejects. Relive the humiliation! Have some dignity, Big Bird Lady.

8:21: The top six male contestants do their best Take 6 impression, and they sound pretty good all singing in harmony, even if the real Take 6 isn't really losing much sleep over it. Smokey Robinson rolls through to show everyone what too much plastic surgery looks like. The top six guys, it turns out, are not too good at synchronized backup dancing; the Miracles aren't losing any sleep either.

8:31: I cannot overstate how excited I am about the Idol producers' upcoming search-for-America's-best-band show. Can't you just imagine the trainwreck this thing is going to be?

8:32: Wow, they actually booked Doug E. Fresh to go onstage with Blake! And he's doing "The Show"! And Blake is doing Slick Rick's call-and-response hypeman bits from the first verse! And now Blake is doing the "oh my god" scratch effect! Blake Lewis has now justified his existence; this is awesome. I haven't mentioned this yet because I hate him, but Blake is actually a totally respectable beatboxer, Human Orchestra Kenny Muhammad be damned. Blake and Doug E. also completely fumble their song-ending high-five, which is a more perfect ending than I ever could've imagined.

8:35: More condescending reject awards! Have some dignity, Guy Who Yells!

8:39: The top six girls do a weird uptempo version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," which doesn't do anyone any favors. Gladys Knight then comes out and reduces all of them to Pips. (Seriously, they all even do the "whoo! whoo!" bit from "Midnight Train to Georgia.") Melinda and LaKisha both get to sing lead for a second, and both of them look insanely excited.

8:47: Tony Bennett shows up to squash his beef from the show, and we see Simon warily applauding. Tony Bennett is fun to watch, as is the totally out-of-it Paula Abdul, who we see singing along.

8:52: More fake awards! Have some dignity, Weird Bug-Eyed Monkey-Looking Dude and Possibly Retarded Fat Guy!

8:54: Melinda, who used to sing backup for BeBe and CeCe Winans, now gets to share the stage with them. It's a nice gesture and also an interesting glimpse at what Melinda will almost certainly be doing in a year or two. They actually sort of kill it in their genteel superchurch gospel way.

9:02: Blake and Jordin both get new Mustangs! Don't they always give free cars to the two finalists? So why are they acting surprised?

9:03: Carrie Underwood does her version of the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You," which became a hit after she sang it to starving African kids on the Idol Gives Back special six weeks ago. I totally love her version of this song. Here, she wrings maximum drama from minimum orchestration, singing it while three guys with acoustic guitars and one guy with a fiddle sit behind her. She immediately erases some of that goodwill by clapping a little bit after she finishes the song; I hate it when people do that.

9:07: Clive Davis talks about how Daughtry is wrecking shit, sort of implicitly dissing Taylor Hicks and effectively saying that it doesn't really matter who wins tonight. He also gives a sextuple-platinum plaque to Carrie Underwood. The camera finds Jeff Foxworthy and Jerry Springer in the crowd applauding. I wonder whether they intentionally chose to show the two most white-trash celebrities in the crowd clapping for the country singer. This is probably also a good place to note that David Hasselhoff is in the crowd and that Chris Sligh will probably not get a chance to make him cry.

9:15: The African Children's Choir who upstaged Josh Groban during the Idol Gives Back special now return to take the stage by themselves. I'd pay real money for a shot of Groban jealously brooding in the crowd, but it never comes.

9:18: Sanjaya gets a huge larger-than-life tongue-in-cheek intro, complete with 2001 music. He sings "You Really Got Me" with a wind machine blowing his trenchcoat back and Joe Perry from Aerosmith decomposing behind him. The crying girl is back again. This shit is not funny anymore.

9:21: Green Day show up to do their garbage-ass John Lennon cover. This is actually a sort of historic moment. American Idol has a long history of showcasing already-famous pop singers who wouldn't have done very well as contestants on the show; Gwen Stefani and Jennifer Lopez are only two of the most recent examples. But Billie Joe Armstrong may be the first already-famous pop singer to appear on Idol who would've almost certainly shown up on the auditions-show reject-reel if he'd tried out for the competition. Tonight, his eyes look utterly dead, and this song is so oppressively boring that not even Tre Cool's goofy facial expressions can save it. What hath Gilman Street wrought?

9:31: Hey, it's Taylor Hicks! And he's playing harmonica! I didn't watch this show last season, so can someone please explain to me how the fuck this guy won? Seriously, I'm not even really mad; I just think it's curious. Bridget: "This song sounds like something Huey Lewis rejected."

9:34: Jordin and Ruben Studdard sing "You're All I Need to Get By," and Jordin's Tammi is better than Ruben's Marvin. This is pretty good, but Blake and Doug E. were better; so much for good-vs.-evil.

9:41: Is Bette Midler really this show's surprise-guest-appearance superstar? They really think that's good enough? Apparently, I am Bette Midler's hero, which is nice to know. Randy and Paula slow-dance, which does not look right at all.

9:50: Kelly Clarkson and Joe Perry's desiccated corpse are back for a completely pointless Sgt. Pepper tribute. What's with all the Beatles worship tonight? Do the producers just really want us to know that they can afford to use these songs? Kelly Clarkson, it turns out, is a better singer than Paul McCartney. All the previous Idols (except Fantasia, who I guess couldn't get off work) emerge to sing songs from the album, climaxing in the bizarre and uncomfortable spectacle of Ruben Studdard singing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

10:whatever: Confession time. I got home a bit late tonight, so I'm not watching this show live; I'm seeing everything on DVR about ten minutes after it actually happens. But the show actually runs over, which means my DVR cuts off right before they reveal the goddam fucking winner of the season. Seriously, don't the producers know that some of us are watching this on DVR? They couldn't have axed the Sanjaya song or whatever so that the show would run on time and we'd actually get to see the moment that the entire season's been leading up to? Anyway, I switch over to local Fox news, and they helpfully share the results: Jordin wins, tears are shed, my faith in humanity is restored. I guess I didn't really need to hear her sing "This Is My Now" again, but come on.

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