On this insanely fast-paced season of American Idol, we are at the final night of performances. With Maddie Poppe, Gabby Barrett, and Caleb Lee Hutchinson left standing, it seemed like it might be Gabby Barrett’s competition to win, but America, let me tell you: Things can change. With one performance dedicated to their singles (we’ve come a long way since “A Moment Like This” y’all), one dedicated to a past performance, and one dedicated to their hometown, we get Keith Whitley. We get Fleetwood Mac. We get Journey. We get A SHOW. Let’s discuss.
Caleb Lee Hutchinson, “Johnny Cash Heart”
Oh boy. This is such a good song for Caleb, but tonight is a proof point of what happens when someone makes it to top three who might not be ready for it. Caleb is not a bad singer, but you could just seem him drowning amid arguably the easiest song to master of the three. After a false start, “Johnny Cash Heart” is a sweet kind of song that I feel like I’ve definitely heard before, but also Caleb is a sweet little Midwestern Arian prince. Even with a little slip at the beginning, the cute blonde guy with dog tags from his great uncle may very well get the votes to win because America is like your zaney wino aunt. She does what she wants, and that’s all you can count on.
Gabby Barrett, “Rivers Deep”
They have honestly set these guys up so well with music. Though “Rivers Deep” seems to bounce between a gospel-country sing-a-long chorus (what it should be) and a jazzy pop verse (eh, not so much), Gabby sings the hell out of it. And yes, she has a flowy train and sparkle pants, but she’s no Carrie Underwood. Or Miranda Lambert. And that’s a compliment. Can you imagine getting a song a week ago and then being expected to show up on stage and make it your own signature song? I can barely get an article written at work in a week without questioning myself. Was Gabby a seasoned pro tonight? Maybe not. But she was a hell of a lot closer than she’s ever been before, and I think tonight might be justification for Gabby to win, hands-down.
Maddie Poppe, “Going, Going Gone”
Look at this little cutie wootie Beetlejuice! Between “Rivers Deep” and “Going Going Gone,” there’s bound to be a solid single here. I think “Going” kind of edges out “Rivers,” and Maddie does it justice. Like the previous two, she’s clearly nervous, but again, they’re giving these kids songs they don’t even know! I threw up twice with parent anxiety on this end. Maddie was handily the most in control of her performance, and she needed that win because I don’t think that Idol‘s voting base is going to love Maddie like they should. Girl should win. She’s a tiny little Alison Krauss/Carole King combo that could exist in the music industry for a while, if she’s given the opportunity.
Caleb Lee Hutchinson, “Don’t Close Your Eyes”
Keith Whitley is the exact choice that Caleb Lee needed to make. 1980s country music was peak country music, especially for men. The arrangement feels a bit slower, but surprisingly, I think that Caleb Lee aptly used the opportunity to be heartfelt and romantic and performative in a way that finally makes sense for him. Like, am I a Caleb Lee fan now? Is my name Carol, from Arkansas? Am I drinking sauvignon blanc and throwing 10 votes to him? I don’t know! He seemed so comfortable, and it was just this perfectly thoughtful song choice, and I think that Caleb is back in it.
Gabby Barrett, “Little Red Wagon”
Oh, well, we’re doing this again. This is likely a smart choice because Gabby needs a solid performance number under her belt tonight. The final song can make up for any vocal shortcomings that “Little Red Wagon” doesn’t offer. She turned out another ripper, even though I don’t think that it was quite as dynamic as her first time singing it. But she pulled out her sparkle boots and her Carrie Underwood legs and gave America what it wanted: sass and excitement, even if it was at the risk of a solid vocal.
Maddie Poppe, “Don’t Ever Let Your Children Grow Up”
Yes, queen. Look at Maddie showing up in the finals with an original song like, “This is what I do, amateurs.” For someone like Maddie, this makes all the sense in the world because a singer-songwriter like her can only benefit from this platform by launching your own music in front of millions. She’s insanely comfortable because she went for something that she knew like the back of her own hand, and it shows. If anyone has stayed true to their own form tonight, it’s Maddie Poppe, and she’s playing tonight for the long game.
Harper Grace, Jonny Brenns, Michelle Sussett, Catie Turner, “Original Songs”
“Yard Sale” is a solid top three original bop from this season. I love that there’s been so many (good) originals this season. “Blue Jeans” from Jonny isn’t as strong of one, but Jonny Brenns was so good. I just don’t think the spark ever made it to his explosive. As far as Michelle, I still think “I’m a Dreamer” is the heaviest hand that American Idol has ever had. Low-key political activism this season, followed by said-contestant being promptly excused, has been one of the most hilarious themes of this season. And with Catie? I’m still screaming “SHE WAS ROBBED” after three glasses of wine on Saturday night, and my neighbors are like, “Justin, you have to stop screaming about American Idol when you’re drunk and alone.”
Caleb Lee Hutchinson, “Folsom Prison Blues”
For his final performance, Caleb did a perfectly serviceable job on one of Johnny’s biggest hits. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d put it at an 8, which is exciting, because if we’re going off of voting patterns and the kind of people who win Idol, I think he really only needed a 7 to have a good chance to win. It’s handily his loosest performance to date, and it’s the kind of run that he needed at this point. Would I call him my favorite? No. But would I be surprised if he won? Absolutely not.
Gabby Barrett, “Don’t Stop Believin'”
DECISIONS. On a night where playing safe is as dangerous as taking a risk, there’s something particularly dangerous of taking on something like Journey. Yes, Steve Perry gave you a standing ovation, but y’all. This is my assessment: Gabby had a song with incredible vocal moments, but she had no control of that vehicle. I’m not one to argue with Steve Perry, but on a night where Gabby could have honestly skated to the title with three solid performances, she offered up three decent ones.
Maddie Poppe, “Landslide”
Well. If there’s justice in the reality singing show competition world, Maddie Poppe just won. I’m not qualified to critique a professional, so, go vote.