'American Idol' Winner Crowned

American Idol came to a close on Sunday night with a performance-filled, three-hour finale. It was down to Alejandro Aranda, Laine Hardy and Madison VanDenberg as the final three contestants. After each contestant sang twice, the bottom vote getter was eliminated. The final two then had to duke it out over the course of the three-hour episode. Judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan were on hand for feedback.

Richie got things started with a performance of “Dancing On The Ceiling.” Then Hardy got things started with a performance of “home” by Marc Broussard. The song choice leaned into his gritty sound, and he delivered a solid performance. Richie called it “nasty.”

VanDenberg followed with a performance of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born, which played to her strengths as an artist. She showcased impressive vocals and performance skills, making the song her own with an artful arrangement. Bryan said the performance was “next level.”

Next, Aranda sang an original song titled “Millennial Love.” Aranda has taken a lot of risks this season by performing original songs, and it always pays off. His songwriting skills are as impressive as his vocal abilities, and it makes for very memorable performances. It was an intensely vulnerable performance, and all three judges were blown away.

For his second performance, Hardy sang “Jambalaya” by Hank Williams. He leaned into the southern funk and had a lot of fun with the song choice. Bryan praised the song choice.

VanDenberg next sang “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson, which allowed her to deliver the big, powerful notes that have defined her journey on this show. Bryan praised her range, and Perry told her to keep working hard to achieve her dreams.

Aranda sang another original for his second performance. The song was called “Tonight,” and he also played the keyboard for this one, showcasing his vocal and instrumental abilities. It was another impressive performance that showed off his artistry. The judges called it “beautiful.”

After former Idol winner Carrie Underwood sang her new song “Southbound,” it was announced that VanDenberg was the lowest vote getter. She was eliminated, and that left Aranda and Hardy to compete for the champion title.

Montell Jordan performed “This Is How We Do It,” joined by auditioners Margie Mays and Austin Michael Robinson. Perry then joined Daddy Yankee on stage for a performance of “Con Calma.”

Aranda then returned to the stage for yet another original song. This one, called “10 Years,” was even more emotional than the others, with Aranda really showcasing the full extent of his talent, backed by a full orchestra.

Former Idol runner-up Adam Lambert sang his new song “New Eyes.” He was then joined by Dimitrius Graham for a performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

VanDenberg returned to the stage to sing “Speechless” with Dan + Shay. Then Bryan performed “Knocking Boots” as well as a duet of “Every Breath You Take” with Laci Kaye Booth. Jon Pardi and Hardy next sang a medley of “Dirt On My Boots” and “Night Shift.”

Perry sang “Unconditionally” with Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon. Wade Cota also returned to sing “Africa” with Weezer, and Walker Burroughs sang “Take On Me” with the band. Alyssa Raghu came back to sing “Lost In The Middle Of Nowhere” with country singer Kane Brown. Former contestant Shayy also sang “Rise Up” with Andra Day, and Uche sang “Hollywood Swinging” with Kool & The Gang. Other members of the final ten joined the stage.

Hardy returned to the stage one last time to sing “Bring It On Home To Me” by Sam Cooke. It was a great song choice for him, playing to his strengths and allowing him to really work the stage. Perry called him “authentic.”

For his final performance, Aranda sang another original song called “Out Loud,” which is what he sang when he auditioned for the show. It was a full circle moment for him, and it reiterated how special he is as a rare songwriter on the show.

Then it was finally time for Ryan Seacrest to crown a winner. After the nationwide vote, Laine Hardy became the next American Idol. Aranda was the runner-up.