The 'American Idol' Finale: Kings, Queens, and Pawns

Well, dear friends, we have finally reached the end. Another season of hoax game show American Idol has reached its confetti conclusion and we are all the richer for it. Or we are at least not poorer. We are hopefully financially the same.

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Well, dear friends, we have finally reached the end. Another season of hoax game show American Idol has reached its confetti conclusion and we are all the richer for it. Or we are at least not poorer. We are hopefully financially the same. Yeah.

It's hard to feel too enthusiastic or be praising of this season because, oof, twas such a fart of a season. Don't get me wrong, we've had our fun. We've laughed and cried (we've mostly cried when our DVRs forgot to record the show because Time Warner is a demon suck-god and so we were forced to watch the finale in the form of cobbled together YouTube clips, hypothetically speaking) and we've probably hurled at some point. That is to say we have felt things. This was not some zombie stumble through a five month stretch of songs and eliminations, it wasn't a completely lifeless drag across the calendar. We did things. We experienced things. We have not Idoled in vain.

That said, last night's episode was like the pin prick test to see if paralyzed limbs are actually paralyzed. Can you feel this, tired, numb audience? Does this register? And some of it did. Some of it provoked the limbs into spasms. A few things. Here and there.

The finale is always fun/sad because they bring back all the finalists and the kids get to gleam and sparkle on stage for one last night. They'll all return to the horrors of obscurity soon enough, so it's nice that they get one last evening of feeling famous, of feeling the warmth of the lights, of hearing the screams of anonymous voices until it all goes silent forever. Well, OK, sure, most of them will be on tour together (it must reeeeally suck for the two that aren't going on tour — "Well, that was fun... Have a good summer, guys") but that's different. That's in crumbling arenas in crumbling towns, that's the drip drip drip of water from pipes and the fuzz of bad electrical wiring and echoing corridors in the bowels of old minor league baseball stadiums. That's not a terribly exciting summer. This here, this last jamboree jam, this is the real deal. Everything new and sleek and whizzing, Ryan all crisp in his tuxedo, their dressing rooms stuffed with flowers and food. It's the good life. It's one last trip to heaven.

As is befitting of heaven, and is Idol tradition, the twelve finalists (well, minus Phil and J. Sanch) performed a number clad all in white. Yes, this is what they do, dress them up as if for a baptism. Sure there's a gradient of whites, from cream-colored cloths to sparkling diamonds, but the intended effect is clear. These kids are to look heaven sent, ambassador angels from God's great glee club, here to warm you with their warbles. Last night's white outfit performance was a Bruno Mars song, and it was so peppy and dancey that it was kind of depressing. Certain folks, looking in your direction Mr. Dixon, are just not built for funky times dancing and whatnot. But they all plastered smiles on nonetheless and powered through it, sweat congealing in their plastic creases, limbs creaking and tired.

They would perform together again, in a strange segment that was meant to be a joke about Randy, wearing choir robes and singing from a telephone book. Yeah, they were doing a riff on singing the phonebook, which I guess was cute or something, but mostly just felt like a time waster. Rihanna's backstage waiting to go on and she's looking out at a video of a bunch of nobodies standing there in raggedy choir robes singing from an object that barely exists anymore. ("You could sing my contacts list on my phone." "You could sing Google." Sigh. Doesn't have the same ring. Hah. Ring. Like a phone.) I'd imagine Rihanna doesn't quite get that. "The hell are they doing? What am I doing here? Danny, what am I doing here?" and one of her handlers has to scramble and remind her that Battleship didn't exactly do what they'd hoped and that this could be a good way to distract from that. So Rihanna nods her head while on some weird Randy Jackson-based joke involving telephone books and C. Dixon in a choir robe unfolds on the big screen and the world makes a weary frown.

But yes, Rihanna did perform. She was carted out in some glowing cube and then did her little dubsteppy song "Where Have You Been" and did some fun dances, and we like her, yeah? Rihanna's good people, I think. I'm glad she's around. I'm also glad that J.Lo is around, even though I make fun of her music career because it is so ridiculous and does more damage than good, I think. In that spirit she performed a couple numbers last night, once again not making a total ass of herself but not exactly impressing either. Oh well. Oh well too to Steven Tyler and Aerosmith screaming out a performance. That's sort of a tired old show at this point, I think. At least this massive mainstream Aerosmith stuff is. I'd go watch them play a small club in Boston. Aerosmith does the Middle East or something. But horking up the hitz on American Idol's shellacked stage has become increasingly unbecoming of them. "Walk This Way"? Nah, I'm headed that way, thanks.

What else! Oh, good grief, Skylar and Reba McEntire performed a ditty and it was just the goddarn, rootin' and tootin' best. I love that little bug, that Skylar Laine. She's so much fun. Don't you just wish she'd been in the finals? Would have been so much fun. And Reba. I mean, come on. Have you ever seen her concert version of South Pacific with Brian Stokes Mitchell and Alec Baldwin? Hot damn you need to watch that, it was on PBS a while back, because it is so good. Oh just so good. Reba McEntire is a national treasure. There I said it. I will not be watching her new sitcom about Malibu next season, at least not live. I will probably watch it On Demand. I mean who are we kidding here.

Hollie faerie-blasted a tune with Jordin Sparks that was not very interesting. The boys did a whole Monkees and Bee Gees thing that was eh. Oh god, Jessica Sanchez booted out "And I Am Telling You" with none other than Jennifer Holliday herself and good grief J. Holls still has it. That is one wacky woman, I tell ya, but god love her for it. I mean, nothing will ever beat the "Leading Ladies" performance of this song when she waves away a fart and then eats the microphone (I think I watched that video about six million times in college), but last night's was pretty good. I mean she was pretty goddamned crazy last night. And the judges! J.Lo basically turned into a jiggle monster, shuddering and shivering and jumping and clapping. She was so excited! And she wasn't wrong to be excited. It was a fun moment. Jessica tried to go note-for-note with Ms. Holliday but Holliday ended up blowing Jessica's skull off by accident, so I think Jennifer wins. Really, she always does.

Speaking of skulls being blown off, Josh-Josh Laday performed a screaming contest with his true idol Fantasia Barrino and it was magnificent. It was the two of them bobo-ing the hell around stage, hands doing good, wild things, voices going up up up up into wails, lightning and wind surrounding them. But the best thing about it, oh good glory the best thing about it, was Fantasia's whole look. She had in about six hundred feet of flat, glossy extensions that made her look like a crazy mermaid, and she was wearing a skintight sequined jumpsuit with big holes in the legs. It was amazing. It was probably what the inmates wear in the gay ward of Arkham Asylum. Really tremendous stuff. I'm so glad you're around, Fantasia. Never leave us.

There was a proposal. Yes, speaking of glossy extensions, onetime contestant and current horse hair model Ace Young ended up proposing to the girl that Fantasia beat, Diana DeGarmo, right there on the Idol stage last night. It was the most canned fakey thing ever, Ace Young is disgusting and gross and did this dramatic pause thing "Will you.... marry me" that was so awful that I hope he never gets a Broadway gig again. Diana seemed, I dunno, I guess genuinely surprised but no one in the audience really reacted the way that they'd hoped I think, because A) It was so clearly fake and gross, and B) Because who? I'm sorry who are these pancake makeup-covered people who just got engaged? They're who in the what now? Ace DeGarmo? I don't know what that is. Well, congrats you two, whoever you are. Two crazy kids getting married by Ryan Seacrest in international waters, where such things are legal, sometime this fall. Get into it.

OK. Then the sound of a gong alerted everyone that it was almost time. Jessica and Phil sang one last song together, a halting and harmony-weird "Up Where We Belong" (harmony-weird in that they were both singing harmony to no one's melody), and then Ryan brought them on stage, had the lights dimmed, and there the world waited. Huddled close, faces slack with tired anticipation, sweaty from the muggy heat, not so much from the suspense. Ryan's eyes sparkled their finale sparkle, his tuxedo looked sharp. Here we go, Ryan thought. Just a few more words and then he is free. A whole summer of nothing. Well, producing shows and hosting a radio show and an E! news thing and then all that NBC stuff, but other than that, nothing. Just pure freedom. Oh god sweet freedom. Get it over with, Seacrest, he thought. And so he did. He opened the envelope, took a large swallow, and it was Phil. It was Phil. He said "Phillip Phillips!" and the camera whirled and the lights shuddered with joy and the audience burst into a million points of noise, all of them hollering at their own frequencies. It was Phil. Phil had won. Jessica defeated. Phil, victorious.

Scotty "The Body" McCreery awkwardly came on stage and gave Phil a geetar and a strange trophy (has there been a trophy before? I do not remember a trophy) and Phil was told to sing his victory song and so he started, but he did not get very far. He was so overcome with emotion. He choked up, cried, turned away. Here he was. How strange and magnificent, how peculiar to be him just then. The pawn shop kid, handed something new and shiny and all his. There was no bartering with this, nothing traded on or redeemed. Here was this thing, for him, all for him. So he just stopped singing and the band continued to play awkwardly, even after he walked off the stage and went to hug his family. The last we saw of our Phil Phillips was his face buried in a family huddle. Confetti rained down from the rafters and Ryan stood on the stage, beaming his knowing lemur beam. Goodbye! Goodbye!

Thank you all, whoever is reading this, for trotting along with me this season. It's been fun? Ha, yes, it's been fun. I don't know that the season was all that fun, but nonetheless it's fun to make jokes about it. And it's more fun when there are people to make the jokes to, so whoever you are, I thank you for taking this long, sometimes terrible journey with me. What a time!

What a time indeed. For the second year in a row, Ryan had the finale party at his house. He just likes it better than some venue or restaurant or wherever. He likes that he can control it. Last night he liked walking around the house and seeing this odd group of kids enjoying it. Heejun doing some annoying shtick by the pool. Elise complaining to someone about her screentime by the bar. DeAndre Brackenshacken being flirted with by a cute waiter but not knowing that he was being flirted with, and not knowing, not yet at least, that he was flirting back. Ryan liked seeing Skylar strum a guitar on the couch, smiling like a ladybug, all happy and jolly. He liked seeing Shannon Migraine and whoever else reading a letter that Jermaine Jones had sent from prison.

But Ryan liked most of all watching Tim, his forever Tim Urban, back now, a little different, sure, but back. Tim gliding around the house, making sure drinks were full, greeting guests, turning his head and smiling conspiratorially at Ryan. We're in this together. It made Ryan happy. It made him so happy, he was so engrossed by the scene, that he didn't hear the doorbell ring. Didn't hear the doorman open it. Didn't hear the anguished pleading. "It's not done, it's not done," the girl saying. This familiar girl. This sister. Colton's sister, the one who never makes it. "You don't understand, it's not done, it's not done. He's not gone. You don't understand." The doorman saying she had to leave, that this was a private party, Colton's sister getting more desperate. "He thinks he finished it, but he doesn't know, oh god he doesn't know. Please, you have to tell him. It's not done! It's not done!" The security guards now coming, dragging her away, the sister yelling louder, "You don't understand! He thinks he's dead! You don't understand!"

Ryan was too busy sipping his wine and gazing at his Tim to hear any of that. The doorman figured he'd deal with it tomorrow, tell Mr. Seacrest that some crazy fan had shown up but that Jerry and the rest of the security guys had taken care of it. The doorman did notice, though he didn't think anything of it at the time, that where the girl had grabbed him on the wrist was now red and burning. She had grabbed him that tight. She had been that scared about something. Oh well. The party went on. People stumbled home.

As she left, Hollie gave Tim a strange, intimate hug and whispered something in his ear. She pulled back, winked at him. "I'm glad you're back," she said. "It wasn't the same without you." Ryan didn't know that they knew each other, but he figured they must have met at some point. She was on last season, after all. They must have crossed paths. Hollie threw one of her curious smiles at Ryan as she left and then she was gone, fleeting off into the night with a burst of faerie light.

Stragglers remained. The real drinkers. The crew. Ryan sat on the couch sipping a bourbon, and watched with a grin as people danced. Some wild tune on the stereo, loud and pumping, everyone flailing, hully gully, letting it all out. This was an ending, after all. Best to let it all go. Ryan watched them dancing and turned to focus on Tim. Tim who was back. Who had taken to locking himself up in the attic for hours at a time, doing what Ryan wasn't sure. He heard the scraping of things being moved around, heard some kind of mumbling or talking. He figured it best to give Tim his space, so he did. Tim who suddenly ate nearly raw red meat all the time, Tim who was, yes, different. Tim who barely went out in the sun anymore. Tim who didn't seem to sleep. Tim who had cut his hair into something that almost looked, well, like a mohawk. But it was OK, Ryan figured. He was back. He was back. C'mon, he was back. Let it be good. Let it be all right.

So Ryan did, he sank into the couch, sat back, watched Tim dance. His feet pounding, his arms akimbo, head shaking. Tim danced and danced and danced. He danced alone, away from the group. He danced like they did in the old times. Tim Urban danced with abandon. His eyes open, his teeth bared, his chest heaving, Tim danced. Like a god, like a spirit, like a man possessed.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.