American Idol finale recap: And the winner of season 19 is...
It's finale time on American Idol, which means not only do we get to find out who's going to take the season 19 title, but we also get a whole slew of performances from Idols and pros alike (and together!), like so many pyrotechnic moments (Idol loves a good firework), and tears. So many tears! Let's talk business first: To kick things off, finalists Chayce Beckham, Grace Kinstler, and Willie Spence will all be singing in two rounds, The Judges' Pick and Hometown Songs (both self-explanatory, right?). After those two rounds, one of the three will be cut and the Top 2 will have one more round of competition to win some live votes. Let's go through those three rounds of competition before we get to some of the performance highlights, okay?
Round One: Judges' Pick
Grace Kinstler, "All By Myself" — Celine Dion
Well, it's not the most exciting or inspired pick for a power vocalist in a singing competition — especially after seeing how at ease Grace was assisting in that Macklemore opening number — but it certainly lets Grace remind us what she does best. She makes those huge Celine notes seem effortless and imbues the whole thing with a lot of emotion. Katy, who says she picked this song for Grace, is gobsmacked after watching her take the song a step higher than Celine even does. Katy thinks the song displays "vulnerable power," and that's also exactly how she would describe what Grace does up there on stage each week.
Willie Spence, "Georgia on My Mind" — Ray Charles
You can tell the judges were really trying to give these contestants songs that have real moments for them, and Willie takes that opportunity and runs with it. The back half of this song, especially, is gorgeous. The judges are on their feet immediately, and Luke, who's been transported to Georgia by way of song, commends Willie for delivering every single time he's performed from the audition on. Lionel praises Willie for the way he builds the drama within his performances, and Katy tells him that "the sky is the limit" for him moving forward. I mean, I don't think we're going to get any bad critiques tonight regardless of what happens, but this is an exceptionally good one.
Chayce Beckham, "Blackbird" — the Beatles
While Grace and Willie can hit those big power notes any time they want to show off, Chayce's ability to shine comes from his artistry. This song doesn't really give him much room to wow us or connect emotionally, which he typically does so well, but it's another solid vocal. Lionel loves his rasp (no duhhh guys) and Katy calls "Blackbird" "a classic small but mighty song" and thinks that is where Chayce excels. Regardless of how this stacks up against the other finalists, Chayce is happy because Luke says he's finally earned a bass fishing trip with Mr. Bryan himself. That's the real prize, I guess!
Round Two: Hometown Songs
Grace Kinstler, "I Have Nothing" — Whitney Houston
Grace gets a nice hero's welcome back in Chicago and Lakewood, Ill., but perhaps the most affecting part of her time at home is her just sitting in her room reading some of her late father's notes. The whole montage is so moving, and then it goes directly into Grace opening this Whitney song in freaking a capella — it's a striking moment for her. Obviously, she nails this song too, and it might be one of the few performances where she lets some of her real emotion breakthrough. Katy says she "sang her heart out," Lionel tells her that she has "outdone [her]self," and Luke wanted to stand up on his desk because a normal standing ovation isn't enough for what he just watched.
Willie Spence, "A Change is Gonna Come" — Sam Cooke
So many tears in these hometown packages! Willie's mom is just weeping when her son returns to Douglas, Ga., a small town where people are out in the streets supporting their guy. Willie also goes back to the room where that viral "Diamonds" video was recorded back in 2017, and it's a cool full-circle moment. Even more than the first-round song, this pick is so perfect for Willie at this moment. The guy knows what works for his voice! Luke Bryan really sums it up nicely, saying that when it comes to that song, "We've heard it done a few times on this show but we ain't ever heard it done like that."
Chayce Beckham, "Fire Away" — Chris Stapleton
Agh, now Chayce is crying! He's overwhelmed by his full-circle homecoming after going through so much with his battle with addiction and everything his family and friends have helped him through. We love a comeback story, don't we? This song is a much better fit than "Blackbird" and allows Chayce to show a little more edge and emotion. There's a lot of passion in this performance, and his rasp is used to full effect. Luke Bryan seems particularly moved by seeing how much Chayce's confidence has grown since they first met him to now, and even that moment in the hometown package in which Chayce says that he's proud of himself is telling about how big this journey has been for the Apple Valley, Calif., kid.
Before we get to the first elimination of the night, we get a great Idol/Artist pairing with Alyssa Wray and Mickey Guyton singing Guyton's hit "Black Like Me." Unsurprisingly, they sound great together. But before you can get all up in your feelings about that number, it's time to send someone home. Drama king Ryan Seacrest reveals that Willie Spence and Chayce Beckman are moving forward into the Top 2 and it's time to say goodbye to Grace Kintsler. It's not a huge surprise, but it does begin to feel very real at this moment, no?
Round Three: Favorite Moments
Chayce Beckham, "Afterglow" — Ed Sheeran
Wow, wow, wow, the other contestants get to tease Chayce in this pre-performance package, and they honestly get in a few burns. Cassandra's "every woman over the age of 35 is in love with me" was personally cutting, okay? Chayce goes on to reprise "Afterglow," which is a super smart choice on his part. It's the most emotionally connected song he's performed tonight and a nice way for him to go out. The judges don't have anything new to tell Chayce except congratulations on his Idol run.
Willie Spence, "Stand Up" — Cynthia Erivo
And now for a completely different vibe, Wille — who apparently judges chickens back home (Alyssa's "Oh, it's the gobble for me" made me laugh out loud) — gives us a reminder of his show-stopping Oscar night performance. Where Chayce excels in those intimate moments, Willie is all about the power and he brings it here once again for his final song. Katy Perry thanks Willie for not just bringing it every week vocally but for "lifting us up." All the judges agree that it's been incredible for them to watch his journey.
There are so many performances tonight, people! Most of the guys from the Top 10 — finalists Chayce and Willie are joined by Hunter Metts and Deshawn Goncalves — perform with Fall Out Boy, while the ladies of the Top 10, Grace Kinstler, Alyssa Wray, Casey Bishop, and Cassandra Coleman, get up on stage to dance it out with Chaka Khan (with an assist from Deshawn Goncalves bringing us those magic runs again). Idol has brought back Murphy to sing a medley of his originals and seems so at home on the big stage. And hey, even Tom McGovern, the jingle writer from the auditions, returns to give us a recap of season 19. Plus, Lionel Richie is joined by the Top 9 to sing a little about peace-love-and-harmony on his song, "One World."
Most of the Top 9 (with a little surprise!) is paired up with pros for a duet (we already saw Alyssa Wray with Mickey Guyton and got a quickie duet between Deshawn Goncalves and Chaka Khan): Willie Spence and Leona Lewis team up to sing "You Are the Reason" and generally just make us a little misty-eyed. In a last-minute change, Graham DeFranco, who it seems was only there to cheer on his buddies, ends up taking the stage to duet with Sheryl Crow. It had been reported earlier on Billboard that Crow would be dueting with comeback artist Arthur Gunn, who was also missing from the Top 10 Guys group performance.
To prep for his duet with fourth-place finisher Casey Bishop, Luke Bryan brings her to Whisky a Go Go, the iconic rock venue he talked to her about during one of her critiques. And then back on stage, they get to sing an iconic song — Jon Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer." It's maybe not the edgy rock Casey was bringing to the Idol stage, but it's fun! Speaking of icons, Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham is joined by Cassandra Coleman for "Go Your Own Way."
Just-ousted finalist Grace Kinstler has to take the stage so soon after being cut, and she seems to let loose a little on her duet on Alessia Cara's "Scars to Your Beautiful." Then, Chayce Beckham takes the stage with Luke Combs for "Forever After All." That's a lot of rasp on stage, people. And then, to finish up this portion of the evening, Katy Perry is joined by Hunter Metts on her song, "Thinking of You." They... should record this as a duet and release it? Have I lost all sense of place and time? Maybe, we are over two and half hours into this thing, but their voices sound great together!
Finally, after three hours and three rounds of competitive singing, we've reached the big moment. Will it be Willie Spence or Chayce Beckham taking the season 19 title? In the end, your new American Idol champ is… Chayce Beckham!
Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.