By Chaz Lipp
The first installment of the three-part American Idol series finale was a 90-minute Idol retrospective that covered the entire run of the show. The early years are more thoroughly documented, with the later years becoming something of a blur. Someday maybe there’ll be a full-fledged documentary that gets into the real nitty gritty of the ups and downs, controversies and triumphs, of this cultural icon. But even as the retrospective began to devolve into self-congratulatory glad-handing, it provided a winningly nostalgic viewing experience. It was actually a perfect stage-setter for season 15’s final performance episode and, of course, the two-hour farewell blowout.
As for the final performance episode, Idol clearly learned a lesson after their callous dismissal of popular fan-favorite Jax last year. She didn’t get a final performance, just an abrupt announcement that she didn’t make to the top two. The top three all get to perform what would be their “winner’s single” for round one, without any judging from the judges (hey, after alternating between lazy sleepwalking and mindless cheerleading this entire season, why start now?).
Trent Harmon – “Falling” The song’s just okay, but Trent puts it across with the same conviction that has become his trademark. He’s clearly investing everything he can to elevate mediocre material and it mostly works. Grade: B+
Dalton Rapattoni – “Strike a Match” Dalton is sort of the accidental top three contestant. Someone had to be here, and on this rushed Idol season it turned out to be him. The song is actually pretty decent and Dalton does a relatively solid job with it. It doesn’t push him out of his comfort zone, which results in a competent but unremarkable performance. Grade: B-
La’Porsha Renae – “Battles” The best of the three winner’s songs, though it’s not much of a showcase for La’Porsha’s formidable vocal skills. She delivers it with a confident coolness. Nothing wrong with it, but the song doesn’t offer as much chance for passion as Trent’s does. Grade: B
Elimination time. No surprise that we say goodbye to Dalton. He peaked with an excellent reading of “Eleanor Rigby” mid-season. While he proved to be a likeable persona and eager, charismatic performer, he just isn’t in the same league as our top two.
Round Two: Simon Fuller’s Choice
Trent Harmon – “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” Classic song, but hard to hear if you’ve seen David Brent (Ricky Gervais) do his supremely cheesy version on The Office. Unfortunately, Trent’s overwrought rendition veers perilously close to the same territory. Grade: C
La’Porsha Rena – “A House Is Not a Home” La’Porsha wins this round, though not without some screechy histrionics of her own. I mean, it was still good overall but it felt like La’Porsha was trying just a little too hard to take this round. Grade: B
Round Three: Contestant’s Choice
Trent Harmon – “Chandelier” If any specific performance sealed Trent’s win, it’s this reprise of his song from Sia week. Simply put, this one will go down as one of the all-time Idol moments. It’s a spellbinder – a flawless reading of a challenging song that shows off the full range of Trent’s voice. Harry Connick Jr. says, “If you were going to do anything to make this the hardest decision in the history of Idol, you just did it.” Keith Urban said, “For some people you might have just made it an easy decision.” Jennifer Lopez, who correctly called Trent’s top two placing several weeks ago, said “You couldn’t have sung that better.” Grade: A+
La’Porsha Renae – “Diamonds” If this Sia reprise shone less brightly, it was primarily because it followed Trent’s brilliant, best-of-the-season showstopper. This was still an incredibly strong way for La’Porsha to end her competitive run and she earned her place in the top two. The judges loved it, with Keith saying “beautiful job” and Harry proclaiming it “incredible.” Grade: A-