The winner of American Idol is...
Laine Hardy is the new American Idol.
The ABC singing competition crowned its 17th winner Sunday night, where the final three vying for the title were Hardy, Alejandro Aranda, and Madison VanDenburg, who was eliminated halfway through the broadcast.
“My mind went totally blank,” Hardy told reporters after the show about the moment host Ryan Seacrest said his name. “I couldn’t believe it. It’s unbelievable. It feels unreal right now. My mind is going in like five-thousand different directions.”
In the live, three-hour finale, Hardy won over the crowd with his performances of Marc Broussard’s “Home,” “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” by Hank Williams,” and Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me“; he also joined country star Jon Pardi on a medley of “Night Shift” and “Dirt On My Boots.” During his hometown visit to Livingston, La., Hardy was met with a hero’s welcome at the Governor’s Mansion, as well as a parade and concert where he entertained a huge crowd of locals. But not before spending time with his family, which proved to be very emotional.
Pomona, Calif. native Aranda seemed to be a favorite in American Idol‘s CBS Television City studio home. He wowed the audience and judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan with his original songs “Millennial Love,” “Blesser,” and an encore performance of “Out Loud,” which won him a ticket to Hollywood in his original audition; he was also backed up by an orchestra on another original song, “Ten Years.”
Seacrest declared that “a star was born” after VanDenburg’s first performance of the night, Lady Gaga’s Oscar-winning song “Shallow,” following that up with her take on original American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway.” After Dan + Shay performed “All To Myself,” she joined them for their hit single “Speechless,” which she sang during her audition.
“At first I was really devastated and sad, but I took some time to myself and I was like, Top 3? Why am I crying?! That’s so cool,” VanDenburg told reports, later adding that seeing former Idol runner-up Adam Lambert — who performed his new song “New Eyes,” and was then joined by Top 10 contestant Dimitrius Graham on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” — backstage was an unexpected comfort. “I realized, Why am I stressing? He came in second, he didn’t win, and he’s literally on top right now.”
The rest of the Top 10 — Laci Kaye Booth, Walker Burroughs, Wade Cota, Graham, Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, Alyssa Raghu, and Uche — also returned to perform in the show-opening number “Dancing on the Ceiling” with Richie and later with Kool & The Gang on a medley of that band’s hits. After teaming up with Daddy Yankee for a colorful (and hairy!) performance of “Con Calma,” Perry was joined by Harmon for a powerful duet of her ballad “Unconditional.” And Bryan took the stage to sing “Knockin’ Boots,” as well as “Every Breath You Take” with Top 5 contestant Laci Kaye Booth.
Former Idol winner Carrie Underwood sang her new single “Southbound,” and another country star, Kane Brown, performed his hit “Good As You,” later joined by Raghu for “Lost in the Middle of Nowhere.”
Montell Jordan got the crowd on its feet when he performed his hit “This Is How We Do It” (joined by contestants Margie Mays and Austin Michael), a callback to early in the season when Perry danced (complete with flossing and the worm) during Idol hopeful Jake Puliti‘s audition.
And Top 10 contestants Walker Burroughs and Wade Cota joined Weezer for a medley of “Africa,” “Take On Me,” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
For more on tonight’s finale, check out our full recap here.