It's the finale, so we have a guest star leading off. "Can't Hold Us" by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, eventually joined by the Final Three. As usual, Katy looks like a new person every week. We've got all sorts of other guests announced, from Fall Out Boy to Leona Lewis to Lindsey Buckingham. Like in Season 17, you can't afford to wait until you've heard all the performances to vote because they're cutting the third-place finisher midway. Which sucks because you have to commit to your votes. You can't unvote, at least on the text side. I guess theoretically it shouldn't matter? Grace Kinstler is leading off with Celine Dion's "All By Myself". Grace, Grace, Grace! This will play fine with casual voters, but to a hardcore Idol fan, this might be one of the worst songs to pick, because you're not only inviting comparisons to a past showstopper, but one belonging to arguably the most robbed contestant ever. You're not going to outsing Pia Toscano on this, and to win with that when she went out in ninth...it's not happening. Also, it wasn't great. 54...oh, hey, wait, this is judges' choice! Looks like someone's got the bus. Willie's up second with Ray Charles's "Georgia on My Mind". It also wasn't his best...a 66, maybe? I'm still hung up on the "All By Myself" busing, because I remembered after writing that that "I'll Stand By You" was actually Pia's showstopper, though she did reach 5 stars with All By Myself. Rather, LaToya London had the showstopper with that song, and after she got ousted in fourth, that group of judges assigned it to Jasmine Trias. Now that it's become the first song to ever be used to bus two separate contestants, "All By Myself" joins the infamous likes of "One" and "Love You Inside Out", both of which ruined perfect games for multiple talented contestants.
Speaking of inviting comparisons to previous contestants, Chayce Beckham has been assigned the Beatles' "Blackbird". I absolutely loved Carly Smithson's rendition of this song in Season 7. Chayce's version is not quite as good, but still better than the first two contestants. 75. Luke invites Chayce out to go bass fishing with him. Mom disagrees with me and likes Chayce the least, and says he sounded stoned. I ask what the problem with sounding stoned when singing a Beatles song is.
Blue Moon Mango Wheat, which I'd forgotten we had because it was buried behind other beers. Hometown dedications are up next. Grace is from Crystal Lake, IL, a suburb of Chicago, and is performing at U.S. Cellular Guaranteed Rate Field. Apparently as a teenager she sang the anthem there. The background music is "Fix You", which wasn't one of her better performances. Now we see her at Crystal Lake Central High School. ...Are you kidding me? "All By Myself" isn't even going to be her highest repeat factor of the night? "I Have Nothing" by Whitney Houston is the song choice, which means she gets to not even be the best of the ABC era on a song. I'd give this a 64 or so; she didn't screw up but she didn't do much for me.
Next up is Willie Spence's return to Douglas, GA. He goes to South Georgia State College. His song choice is Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come", because we're apparently not allowed to have any first-time songs in this episode. That said, while I know it has been done on this show before, there's no performance of it that's sticking out in my mind. I think maybe it was best done in Season 8, which I didn't actually watch? This episode continues to underwhelm but this is not bad. 76, I guess; I think it was the best so far, but still can't give it a 5-star rating. Luke says that "we've seen that song on this show a few times before", so maybe it has been done more recently? I don't know.
Next is Chayce Beckham's return to Apple Valley, CA. We're reminded that he crashed his car while drunk. We first see his co-workers, then his family--oh, yeah, the dog with the Chayce t-shirt! And we finally get a new song, Chris Stapleton's "Fire Away". Also, finally a five-star rating from me. 82. The judges comment on how much confidence he's gained. Chayce is about to walk off the stage when Ryan calls him back to talk to him. We get a message from Lin-Manuel Miranda, promoting his new film "In the Heights", and also to announce that each of the top three's local music programs are receiving a hefty donation. And then the director comes on stage to talk to Ryan for a bit, and then we get an extended actual preview. To be fair, I was already a little interested.
And now we get the eliminated contestants' duets. Ryan mentions that Mickey Guyton was an American Idol alum too. To be honest, who isn't these days by their definition? So many successful artists have failed to even reach the voting phase. She's teamed with Alyssa Wray, and it's better than most of Alyssa's performances this year. Now Ryan announces the top two. Willie Spence is the first to make it, and he's joined by...Chayce Beckham.
Oh, now the goofy stuff. Tom McGovern, rejected auditioner who writes jingles, recaps the season in song. And then Graham DeFranco's back with Ryan, introducing the next guest--Fall Out Boy, with "My Songs Know What You Do In the Dark (Light 'Em Up)". That's not a new song! I'm not used to the established artists not using the platform to debut new songs. Oh, right, they need something accessible to the contestants--I see Chayce, Willie, and Hunter, though presumably there are more. What's the cut-off to make the list? Ryan teases that the next set includes Chaka Khan and Leona Lewis, plus a special performance from Willie.
Chaka's joined on stage by our four highest-finishing females, Grace, Casey, Cassandra, and Alyssa. I'm mad all over again seeing robbed queens Casey and Cassandra. Now another schtick, about how messed up Lionel was not being able to hug contestants during the auditions. Oh, Willie is doing Calum Scott's part of "You Are the Reason", his duet with Leona Lewis.
Graham DeFranco's back again, joining Sheryl Crow on "If It Makes You Happy". Is he secretly the reason the producers decided to allow any level of past contestant other than winners to come back? ...No, he was eliminated early enough that the last set of rules would've allowed him to come back. And they continue on into "Everyday Is a Winding Road". Ryan says Graham jumped up there at the last minute...he's like the mascot for this season, I think. Oh, right, Ryan mentioned that the judges would each be performing with finalists. Our next segment has "fan favorite" Murphy (okay, I agreed when "Murphy left too soon" was a line in Tom's song), followed by Luke Bryan teaming with Casey Bishop. Not the contestant I would've expected him to team with, but then again, Chayce hasn't been eliminated yet and all the other country singers even as far back as the Top 24 have their issues (including, apparently, Hannah.)
Yeah, we see that apparently Twitter was up in arms about Murphy's dismissal. He's singing an original called "Am I Still Mine?". It's...not great, honestly. His cover of "Painted Man" is a bit better, though. Katy and Luke both have a residency at Resorts World Las Vegas this summer...and so does Celine Dion...and Carrie Underwood! The latter has a message for this year's contestants. Actually, so does the former, but it's not the same as when it's coming from Idol's most successful alum. And Ryan announces that there's a contest to win a free trip to Vegas for these shows! And then we see Luke's trip to Whisky a Gogo with Casey. Oh, they mentioned a talk box...Luke's the one stepping out of his genre! It's Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer", because this show just can't be subtle. Of course Casey nails the song that produced the lowest WNTS rating ever for an eventual winner.
Lionel's singing "One World" along with some of the contestants. Which ones? Looks like Willie, Grace, Hunter, Alyssa, Cassandra...is that DeShawn? Oh, and there's Casey...and Chayce. So I guess that's the entire Top Ten, minus Arthur because he was part of the returner gimmick and Caleb because he got thrown out. And now another kitschy bit, with the other judges singing the wrong words to Lionel's songs. And Cassandra Coleman gets to team with Lindsey Buckingham on "Go Your Own Way". Again, it's amazing how a season can be so strong and still be so wrong.
Grace Kinstler joins with Alessia Cara on "Scars To Your Beautiful". Okay, fair enough. Unfortunately, we're back to "judges butchering each other's lyrics". At least Katy gets to add a stuffed fish to the proceedings. Luke Combs, who I've never heard of, is joined by Chayce Beckham on "Forever After All". I like Chayce better.
Katy's going to be singing with Hunter, so it's her turn to have her lyrics messed up by her fellow judges, except Luke actually manages to get the correct words to "Hot N Cold". They're singing "Thinking of You", acoustic version...Katy plays acoustic guitar?
Okay, now this is one of the good parts of the finale--roasting the final two. Chayce is up first, being mocked for his slicked-back hair and for general "country" stuff. He's singing Ed Sheeran's "Afterglow", and it's damn good. 90. Oh, wait this is a reprise round! And now Willie's reprising "Stand Up". Apparently he judges chickens back home...what's Graham doing in this segment too? Willie wins this round, I give this a 94, but it's not enough; Chayce is my pick.
And Chayce is the winner! I'd say "not surprising given the Final Three", but we had a break after eliminating the third-place finisher for Willie to make a comeback. The credits roll over his performance of his single "23".