Either way you go, America, you can't lose. Kree Harrison and Candice Glover, "American Idol's" two very talented Season 12 finalists, sang for the big win Wednesday night.
In what Ryan Seacrest called a battle between country and soul and the show's first all-female finale since season 3, each singer performed at the top of her game, tackling three songs in three rounds live before the judges, 7,000 fans crammed into the Nokia Theater, and the voters at home who would determine their fates.
In Round 1, each singer sang a song chosen by "Idol" creator Simon Fuller. Round 2 showcased the first single the singer would release, should she be crowned winner. (The song sung by last year's winner, Phillip Phillips, in the finale, "Home," went on to become the best-selling "Idol" single of all time, Seacrest reminded us.) And for Round 3, each contestant chose a song she had sung previously this season.
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Harrison had won a coin toss and with it the right to choose whether to perform first or last in all three rounds, Seacrest told us. In what may be a costly tactical error -- last is best, according to conventional "Idol" wisdom -- Harrison chose to perform first.
In Round 1, Harrison, dressed in white, performed a beautiful, haunting version of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel," sounding effortless as usual.
Glover sang Adele's "Chasing Pavements" and, with her round, bell-like tone, made it her own.
Mariah Carey said each had performed magnificently and each was at the top of her genre. Randy Jackson -- who is leaving the show and perhaps consequently (Seacrest noted) feeling free to speak his mind about the boss's choices -- felt that neither singer's song had been suitable. They were both a bit "sleepy," he said, though he gave the round to Glover. Carey piped up in defense of Harrison, calling her performance "delicate" and "subtle." "Too lackluster for me," Jackson said.
After Carly Rae Jepsen performed and we had been reminded that she'd once been a finalist on "Canadian Idol," Harrison and Glover took the stage for Round 2.
Harrison's single, "All Cried Out," allowed her to combine her easy lushness, country lilt, and gritty power and evoked her emotional backstory. It started slow, but built to a crescendo, earning a standing ovation from Jackson, Carey and Keith Urban, though not from fellow judge Nicki Minaj.
All the judges stood, however, when Glover finished her Round 2 song, a soaring anthem called "I Am Beautiful." Her vocal fireworks were far more spectacular than the projected ones exploding onscreen behind her. Urban felt each contestant's song had been "tailor-made" for her. But while he thought Glover's fit her "like a Glover," he gave the round to Harrison. Minaj, however, contended Glover had taken it.
For Round 3, Harrison reprised her version of "Up to the Mountain," backed by a gospel choir. The judges again rose to their feet. Urban toasted her "spirituality" and "soulfulness," Minaj her "beautiful voice" and "beautiful soul." Jackson called it "a winning kind of performance," her best of the night.
Glover, however, pulled out all the stops (as she does) with "I (Who Have Nothing)" and brought the house down, seeming to pour into it every bit of her desire to win this thing. The performance was arresting, exquisite, breathtaking.
"You're such a powerhouse singer, Candice," Urban said. "It's like a planet exploding to life." Minaj paid tribute to the singer's legs (oh, Nicki) and the way she commanded the stage, calling her a "superstar." Carey said she had the "innate ability to take any song and turn it into a vehicle for that amazing voice."
And Jackson, perhaps aware it was his last chance to let fly with his enthusiastic expulsions as an "Idol" judge, unleashed a flurry of them: "That girl can plumb flat-out sing" … "This is how you do it" … "a winning performance" … "a whole 'nother level" ... "That's what I've been waiting on because it's about singing, and baby, you got it all."
Oh, Randy. Maybe we will miss you after all.
Meanwhile, who are you pegging for the win? Me, I love both these singers, but I can't help rooting for Glover.