And so it ends.
Scotty McCreery is the new American Idol, and he should wear the crown well. I have to agree with executive producer Nygel Lythgoe when he said Scotty’s career will eventually rival that of Carrie Underwood’s.
Scotty is the special kid from a special season, one that drew 122.4 million votes for Tuesday’s final round of competition. Wednesday’s two-hour results show was a feel-good ending to a feel-good season. This was a year when the Idol ship righted itself — thanks Steven Tyler, thanks J-Lo — and cemented its position as the No. 1 show of all-time. The numbers don’t lie. America loves this cheesy program, and it’s because of stories like Scotty and Lauren, two teenagers who a few months ago were unknowns outside their southern hometowns. Now they are both worldwide phenomenons.
What many have considered the finest-ever season of American Idol, a four-month journey that began in the dead of winter, ended on a spring night in late May. I’m going to miss Idol. I always do. But I’m especially going to miss this season. So many of the contestants were impossible not to like and become involved with on a week-to-week basis.
This is always a bittersweet time, too. As exciting as it is to finally find out who the newest Idol is, it also marks the conclusion of this wonderful event that brings us together on “Idol Nation” two, three, four or more times a week. Our “family” has grown almost 400 percent this year, and for that I say “thank you!”
The memories were many this season, the talent oh-so-entertaining, and in the end, America got it right.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT PERFORMANCE GRADES
Here was the best of the performances from this year’s Idol spectacular:
1. Bono, The Edge and Reeve Carney: They gave us “Rise Above” from “Spiderman.” Great song, even greater performance.
2. Steven Tyler: We waited all season to hear him sing “Dream On.” He didn’t disappoint.
3. Tim McGraw and Scotty McCreery: Tim’s tribute to his late dad, ex-MLB pitcher “Tug,” always brings a tear to my eye. This was a perfect duet. Just perfect.
4. Lady Gaga: She debuted her latest song, “The Edge of Glory,” with the expected theatrics and wild costuming.
5. Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez: I didn’t understand a word he sang, but it didn’t matter with his wife dancing all over the place. Viva La J-Lo.
6. James Durbin with Judas Priest: Durbin’s performance was great with these veteran metalheads, but it would have been even better if some of the Judas Priest guys were about 15 years younger. It almost had the feel of Durbin and an AARP tour.
7. TLC: The two remaining members revived “Waterfalls,” which was great to hear again after all of these years.
8. Tom Jones and the Idol guys of 2011: Tom Jones is still relevant. Tony Bennett is not. The Idol guys took turns singing Jones’ hits before he appeared to “It’s Not Unusual”. Sweet.
9. Beyonce: I think she had all 7,000-plus people in the Nokia Theater perspiring by the time she was finished.
10. Carrie Underwood and Lauren Alaina: They tag-teamed “Before He Cheats.” Long live Carrie Underwood.
– Haley Reinhart and Tony Bennett: This is going to come out wrong regardless how I phrase it, but … why “waste” Haley with Tony Bennett? Producers should have allowed her to showcase more of her contemporary talents.
– Casey Abrams and Jack Black: Sure, their “Fat Bottom Girls” was not Grammy worthy, but it was great fun to watch.
– Beyonce with the Idol girls of 2011: A lot of hair flippin’ and prancin’. It was nice, though, to hear Pia and Naima again.
– Jacob Lusk and Kirk Franklin, Gladys Knight: This is where Jacob belongs — and will be. He is most comfortable in the Gospel genre. Jacob started to fade in this year’s competition when he stopped taking us to church. He took us back there Wednesday night.
SEASON 10 AWARDS
Here’s my picks for the best of the best, and in a few cases the worst of the worst:
Song of the Year: “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” by James Durbin. He showed us his tender side on this time-tested classic, much more so than when he performed “Maybe I’m Amazed.”
Performance of the Year: “Maggie May,” by Paul McDonald. It was the first week of the finals and McDonald’s rousing tribute to Rod Stewart — right down to the hand gestures — established him as an early fan favorite.
Judge of the Year: Jennifer Lopez. She was overshadowed early by Steven Tyler, who would have won this award hands down if he had not opted to quit critiquing and do nothing but fawn over each and every contestant. Tyler was still a tremendous breath of fresh air, but lost some of his credibility around midseason. Lopez, however, seemed to gain momentum as the weeks progressed.
Most improved finalist: Haley Reinhart, hands down. She graduated from annoying to contender about a month into the finals. (Wouldn’t a Haley-Durbin championship have been exciting?)
Most disappointing finalist: Jacob Lusk. He actually peaked in Hollywood Week with “God Bless the Child” was never quite recovered that level of the magic.
Most shocking eliminations: 1. Pia Toscano in ninth. 2. James Durbin in fourth. 3. James McDonald in eighth.
Most valuable mentor/contributor: Jimmy Iovine, the producer/mentor who was the one voice on the show you could always count on for honest criticism. I wouldn’t be overly surprised if his role is expanded for Season 11. As far as the guest mentors, the nod probably has to go to Lady Gaga, who despite being one of the oddest performers of our or any other generation, had sound advice for each of the Idols and took her “job” seriously. She’s just so strange, though..
Needs to change for 2012: The judges need more than one save. What’s the worst that could happen? Two contestants getting voted off the ensuing week? That’s twice the excitement. Times change, so should rules.
Needs to change for 2012, part deux: The judges need to play a role in the weekly elimination ballot. America voting is part of the appeal of the show, but after 10 years, allowing the judges play a part — like other programs — would only make a great product even greater.