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The “rock ‘n’ roll viking” took on “the sleeper” as Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene duked it out for the last time on American Idol.
The top two competed in front of 7,000 fans from the stage at Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre where the mood was electric with supporters for the two singers — some holding signs declaring their love for both.
“It’s a tough job for America tonight,” said judge Jennifer Lopez from her front-row seat. “I wouldn’t want to be in their position.”
Harry Connick Jr. echoed that sentiment, adding, “I do not envy the voters.”
Both finalists made their case with three songs — one chosen by executive producer and show creator Simon Fuller, one song picked by the contestants as their favorite from the season, and each singer’s coronation songs, already released on iTunes.
The show also featured a cute video of Irene asking Johnson to her high school prom. In the clip, the faux couple segue from prom picture to heated competition as Irene “realizes” that Johnson was her sworn enemy for the title.
But who will be standing in the confetti tomorrow night? And whose album might we hear as early as August 12?
For the first round, Irene, who won the traditional Idol coin toss, chose to go first, and Fuller assigned the 17-year-old the duty of performing Florence + Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over.” She came out swinging with an energetic and youthful performance, commanding the audience to get into it and owning the whole stage. Keith Urban said “the way you own that stage is so good,” but cautioned her not to let the adrenaline take over. Lopez agreed, and Connick praised her “internal tempo.”
For Johnson, Fuller assigned the rocker a phenomenal pick: Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” Johnson started in his lower register, slowly building to the glory notes and an unbelievable finish that turned the audience upside down, earning a standing ovation. The only thing missing was Steven Tyler in the judging chair. Urban praised fuller for the pick, saying “Fantastic job, man.” Lopez had high praise, saying “This is the finale. This is it. You gotta carpe diem, and that’s what you just did.”
For the second round, the contestants reprised their favorite moments. Irene smartly recreated her version of Elvis Presley‘s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Seated at the piano, she delivered the song with sincerity and passion. “You inspired someone else,” Urban said. “Your soul comes through on that song,” added Lopez.
Johnson went with his softer side, choosing to encore Paul McCartney‘s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” It was a lovely and emotional moment, but Urban advised the North Carolina singer not to get caught up in the “gymnastic aspect” and lose what the song is about. Lopez said she felt the song required “more heart and less of that powerful thing that you do.” Connick said “as great as that was, I think Jena won the second round.”
For the third and final song, both contenders performed their singles, which are already charting on iTunes. Irene’s “We Are One,” penned by season eight’s Felicia Barton, is an upbeat anthem worthy of Kelly Clarkson or Katy Perry, and she delivered it with gusto, even screaming “thank you, America” towards the end, in a sign that she’ll be so much fun on tour. Lopez said it was “good way to end the show.” Connick offered that it sounded exactly how it did in the studio, and Urban said “good job.”
Johnson was so excited to sing his single, “As Long As You Love Me,” penned by Justin Hawkins of The Darkness. A straight-up rocker, it was perfectly suited for Johnson’s huge pipes. Connick said the difference between Johnson and Irene is a “puncher against a boxer,” while Urban can’t wait to see the results tomorrow night. “You put it all out there,” said Lopez.
The show ended with the top 13 (minus M.K. Nobilette, who will miss the finale due to illness) taking the stage singing Kelly Clarkson‘s “Breakaway.”
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