In the final performances for Season 13 of “American Idol,” the two finalists faced off in a “rock prom” theme, taking on songs selected by creator Simon Fuller, one song they selected, and the single written for them.
- As Jena Irene competed against Caleb Johnson, host Ryan Seacrest called the competition the “battle of the Wild Card versus the Wild Child.” In a video package, Jena and Caleb, in prom finery, were all ready to pose for a prom picture when Jena realized he was her rival, and they got into a mock fight, with both of them donning black leather jackets over their finery.
- Jena won the coin toss but opted to go first. For Jena Irene’s first song, chosen by Simon Fuller, “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + The Machine, she began singing in front of a screen full of tulips and then walked past the drummers who accompanies her onstage. (Yes, it’s the finale; “Idol” is breaking out the drums.) Wearing gold leggings and a white multi-patterned top, Jena sounded very contemporary. Keith Urban said it was a great song choice, but there were a few issues with breath control. Jennifer Lopez said she wasn’t going to nitpick, that it was a good start. Harry Connick Jr. said the performance showed she’s really comfortable onstage.
- For Caleb Johnson’s first song, Simon Fuller chose the Aerosmith song “Dream On.” His voice had recovered enough for him to hit the high notes, although he faltered a little at the beginning of the song. He got a standing ovation. Jennifer said, ‘That’s the way you do it.” Harry reminded him to put the energy that he has at the end of the song in the beginning of a song, even when it’s less intense. Keith, however, liked the arc of the song. He said to Simon Fuller, “You should start some show that’s music based. Oh, wait. You did.”
- After answering a question for Ryan Seacrest on their pre-show ritual (to make fun of each other), it was on to round two, where they each selected a song they’d performed before.
- Jena Irene sang Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” playing at the piano. As always when she performs at the piano, she was emotional and tender. Harry said he likes how she does her own thing. Keith said she was so good doing this song that she inspired someone else to sing it, and that’s the mark of a true artist. (He was alluding to Christina Grimmie performing the song on NBC’s rival singing competition show, “The Voice.”) Jennifer said it gave her goosies and that her soul comes through.
- For his second song, Caleb Johnson sang Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” Much of it was beautiful, but some liberties he took near the end with the melody were really not working. Keith liked the emotional aspect of the song and reminded Caleb not to get caught up in vocal acrobatics and forget that. Jennifer agreed. She thought he was holding back. Harry compared the singers to two prize fighters. He got Keith to say that Caleb won the first round, and Harry agreed. But judges agreed that Jena had won the second.
- Ryan reminded the audience that Jena was the first female Wild Card pick to make it to this point in the season. Do you know who the male was? Clay Aiken! She sang her single, “We Are One,” wearing a very hip looking ensemble of three different black and white patterns layered together (such an ’80s retro idea, and yet looking very contemporary). It sounded very much like a summer anthem. Jennifer admitted she’d never heard the song (although it was available for download starting last week after the show). Harry said that he’d wondered what the song would sound like live and liked it, and Keith agreed.
- Caleb’s single, “As Long As You Love Me,” was stronger live than the studio version had been, partially because the band took more of a rock approach to it. He wore a really slick looking black leather blazer with a paisley pattern. He was having a little problem with pitch near the end (maybe he’s still not quite healed from his vocal cord injury), but he toughed it out. Harry said, “You were like Joe Frazier. Jena is Mohammed Ali.” Keith said it has been an amazing night and “Congrats to both of you.” Jennifer praised him for “putting it all out there” and going for it. “Good luck, America,” she finished. Hmm. Distinct lack of taking sides.
- As highlights for the season were shown, Jena and Caleb sang the Kelly Clarkson song “Breakaway,” joined by the rest of the Top 13. Nice touch.
- So who will win? I would not be surprised either way, to be honest. Caleb tends to be a strong performer, and will likely appeal to older viewers, while Jena is more contemporary and could appeal to female and younger viewers. I’m going to call this one for Jena, just because the online chatter seems to be going her way, but I would not be a bit surprised to see Caleb triumph.
“American Idol” airs at 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday this week on FOX.