'American Idol' Finale: The End of an Era

It's over. After all of that pain and struggle, all that we have endured, it's done. Randy Jackson has left the show. Ha, mean. I'm just kidding, Randy. But yes, the twelfth American Idol competition came to a close last night, a surprisingly rousing and spirited finale to a season that's been anything but.

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It's over. After all of that pain and struggle, all that we have endured, it's done. Randy Jackson has left the show. Ha, mean. I'm just kidding, Randy. But yes, the twelfth American Idol competition came to a close last night, a surprisingly rousing and spirited finale to a season that's been anything but. There were crazy musical performances, celebrity appearances, little comedy videos, and then of course Ryan crowned our new queen. It didn't have the weight of, say, Fantasia winning or even Kris Allen. But there was still something stirring about it, what can I say. Anyway, the episode.

One of the funnest/depressingest things about the Idol finale is that all the top ten or twelve jerks come back to do some performing. They've all been locked together in a dark room since they were voted off, and now they've been let out, and boy are they eager. Mostly they are excited to get one more night in front of the cameras, one last chance to imprint themselves in America's hearts and minds, before the cameras move on to other people and they are left standing there in the lonely, unobserved world. So they are always all keyed up, flashing big desperate smiles, eyes wide with enthusiasm masking panic. This year was especially bleak, because there weren't any beloved old faces coming back to say hello. It was just this bunch of dopes, Curtis and Lazaro and whatsherface. "Oh, them?" America said as they came stumbling out last night. "No, that's OK, we're good." It's not their fault, I guess. It's those mean old producers who picked them.

Obviously the most insane part of the evening was Mariah Carey's "performance." I'm not putting it in scare quotes in a sarcastic way, implying that she was so bad that it could hardly be called music. I'm putting it in quotes because I honestly have no idea what that was. Was it a performance? Was she having an episode? I'm just not sure I've ever seen someone do what it was that she did last night, so I'm not sure what to call it. Mariah Carey's piece. Her piece last night. It was very strange. It was her standing on a circle, surrounded by screaming audience members, singing brief and weirdly cut snippets of all of her hits from the '80s til now. Well, not singing. I mean she was clearly lip-syncing. And not doing a good job of it. Which almost made it seem deliberate? Like that was a part of the act? It was surreal. Was it live? I couldn't tell if it was live or pretaped or being broadcast from the underworld or what was happening. Whatever it was, I'm sure it made Nicki Minaj very, very happy. Exceedingly happy. Extraordinarily happy. I'll bet Nicki Minaj liked that piece quite a bit. The rest of us are still trying to figure out what we watched. What did we watch? What was that?

Angie Mills got a lot of stage time last night, and got to perform with two celebrities. First she banged around on the piano while our beloved Adam Lambert screamed at her from a few feet away. They dueted on that "Titanium" song that some people seem to think is dramatic and deep, and then Adam was pushed away so Angie could have a romp with Jessie J. It was nice of Jessie to stop by, busy as she is shooting her Susan Powter biopic. I mean, that is what the hair was about, right? I can't think of any other possible explanation other than a Susan Powter biopic. Stop the Insanity! starring Jessie J. Get into it. After the performance Ryan came over and asked Angie all these questions about what it was like to perform with Jessie J, and poor Adam Lambert just stood off to the side, shifting awkwardly in his orthopedic platform shoes. The Glamberts are not gonna like that one, I can tell you that much.

Keith Urban sang a song. Um, did you guys all know that he sings in a Southern accent when he sings? Not Southern Queensland Australia, where he is from, but Southern United States? Because if you all knew that and did not tell me, I am mad at you. Because it is very funny that a New Zealand-born, Australia-raised person sings country music with a Southern accent! That is very funny to me. I don't know why. It's not that it sounds bad, it's just... silly. It's silly. Is that a thing that happens in Australian country music? Maybe so. Anyway, it was a jolly little surprise for me last night. Ya gotta take 'em where you can get 'em, I guess. While on the topic of country music, Janelle sang with the Band Perry, and I'm sorry, but that one Perry's hair is just... Do you think he and Angie Mills exchanged tips? Like, "Oh, yeah, I stick mine in the toaster oven for a few minutes every morning" or "I find that if you run a cheese grater over it for a while that really helps." It's just insane, that Perry's hair. And of course Angie's hair. We must never forget Angie's hair, if we are to remember anything, it is that.

OK, let's get down to business, shall we? We don't really need to talk about Aretha broadcasting in from space or Jennifer Lopez doing gymnastics rings, do we? Well, I guess we just did, so let's get to the results. Ryan summoned our two gals, dazed-seeming Candice and Kree, and, as ever, he told mysterious Kieran to dim the lights. The audience hissed with expectation. Kree and Candice, who are apparently quite close, huddled together, each whispering words of reassurance and encouragement to the other, Ryan looking distracted and, I must say, a little tired, flashy and winning in his tux as he was. He delayed it as long as he could, and then he read from the card, the weight of all these months, all this work, filling the air with tension and hope and finality: "The winner is... Candice, duh, OK, everyone go home." Yup, that was all. That's all that happened. Candice won. No surprise. I kinda thought Kree's country vote might be strong enough, but nah. It was Candice. Sure thing. That makes sense. I mean, she was clearly the best singer all season long, who's going to argue with that? Like, who else should have won, Aubrey Cleland? No. Come on. Don't be ridiculous. This was Candice's from the get-go, end of story. Ryan threw the results card over his shoulder and said, "OK everyone, let's get outta here so Sven can clean up."

And then, as always, there was the after party. Ryan couldn't have it at his house this year because he did not trust Tim around all those guests, so they went to some hotel on Sunset, one with a sprawling view of the city, with a glowing pool and the hushed luxury that is so omnipresent in Los Angeles. It was a subdued affair, honoring a subdued season. Though Randy was in high spirits, rattling with the odd adrenalin of leaving a job, hooting out old stories to anyone who would listen, everyone smiling politely at him, this loud guy saying nothing. Ryan wondered if he would miss him, this last tie to the old Idol days. Now Ryan would be alone. The sole survivor, the final girl. There was some sadness in that, Ryan supposed, but then again it's Randy. Annoying Randy. Ah well. Ryan figured he'd sit and have a drink with him later, for now all he wanted to do was look out at the view and think about home. To worry about home.

Elsewhere, people mingled. Lazaro and Devin kept by each other's side the whole night, people noticing a sudden new closeness, wondering if maybe... Angie homed in on the celebrities, trying to have casual, whatevs conversation with any remotely famous person she could, which at this party meant Jordin Sparks. Jordin mostly checked her phone and said "Uh huh, uh huh," so used to this by now, while Angie prattled on about how glad she was that the show was done so she could do her real music, saying "I did the show as, like, a joke, it's so random that I even auditioned," already trying to distance herself from her peers. Oh Angie. You may go back home to Beverly, but in some ways I don't think you'll ever leave Los Angeles. Candice and Kree politely made the rounds, accepting congratulations and hugs where appropriate, both of them tired and still a little awestruck, not quite sure how their lives could be as different as they were all of a sudden, still reeling at all that can happen in just a few months. Candice worried she'd feel that unsteadiness forever, of the ground constantly moving under her feet. Kree wondered when it would end, how abruptly, Kree knowing a thing or two about things ending. But both tried to push those thoughts out of their heads for the night, neither skimping on the wine, both laughing and getting bubblier as the night wore on. They were charming, Ryan thought. Humble. But they won't do much of anything. Not in this town. Not in this world.

The party didn't go too late, people said their goodbyes and made their way home after just a few hours. Kree and Candice leaving arm in arm, Janelle helping Angie as they stumbled to their limo. Most people didn't notice, but Paul Jolley got in an elevator with Adam Lambert and that's where his night went. Everyone just sort of dispersed, leaving Ryan and Randy at the bar, having a weary, chuckling conversation about life and the past. "Been a good road, dawg. Been a good road," Randy said, clapping Ryan on the back. Ryan nodded his head, swirled his bourbon and ice around in the glass. "That it has." Randy pushed back from the bar, "Well, I gotta get going, big day tomorrow, big day. I got things, I got things, I'm busy." Ryan knew Randy was just going home to cry in his bathrobe, but he let him have the lie. They parted ways and that was that. Ryan wondered when he would see him again.

When he walked into his house, Ryan heard noises in the kitchen. Which was odd. Tim only rarely came downstairs, and he certainly didn't eat anything that would be in the kitchen. "Tim?" he called. "Tim?" The noises continued, so Ryan grabbed an umbrella from the stand and made his way toward the kitchen. When he turned the lights on he saw that it wasn't Tim at all. It was, of all people, Zoanette. She was halfway through the window above the sink. "Ryan baby!" she called when she saw him. "Help me out!" Ryan walked over, grabbed her hands and gave her a yank and she came tumbling onto the counter and then the floor. She quickly righted herself, laughing and saying "Phew!" Ryan stared at her. "Zoanette? What are you doing here? How do you even know where I live? It's really not safe to be here." But Zoanette just smiled at him, giggled. "I'm here because it's not safe, baby. I'm here to help you with your problem. Your problem... upstairs." Ryan was startled. She knew about Tim. Somehow Zoanette knew about Tim and Colton and all of that terror. "No, no," Ryan said, backing away, "I had someone come in here to fix that problem and she only made things worse, much worse." Zoanette waved that away, scoffing "I don't care what that fool faerie girl did. This is different magic. I'm a different kind of magic. Now show me your problem." Ryan figured that she probably wasn't going to leave his house unless he let her help him, so he sighed and said "Fine, it's your funeral. Mine too probably. Let's go."

They walked upstairs, Zoanette running her hands along the walls. "Nice things you got, nice things." Then, suddenly, there was Tim, standing in the dark hallway, glowing eyes staring at them. "Ohh, another nice thing!" Zoanette barked, clapping her hands together. "Be careful," Ryan said as Zoanette walked toward Tim. "It's fine, it's fine," she said, and miraculously it was fine, Tim seemed to relax as she got closer, his breathing less heavy, his muscles less tense. "Yeah, yeah, it's OK, it's OK," Zoanette cooed, stroking Tim's hair, inspecting his face. "You're not gonna hurt old Zoanette. We're all friends, no problem, no problem. Now let's see what's going on in here." She turned his head and peered into his ear, making a clucking sound and nodding. "Yup, yup, I see it. He's in real deep, this Colton one. Real, real deep. Going to have to be a big magic." She turned to Ryan. "Now I gotta ask you an important question. Do you want big? Do you really?" Ryan sighed. He was so tired, so tired of all of this, this strange dark life, this secret, this lost lover. "Yes. Anything that will fix it. I just need it fixed." Zoanette smiled, maybe a little sadly. "OK Ryan, we'll do it. We'll do big magic."

Zoanette started to hum a strange, lilting song as she took some chalk from her pocket and drew a circle on the wall. She turned back to Ryan. "You ready?" Ryan nodded. "Yes. I'm ready." "OK baby!" Zoanette cried, as she pressed her hand to the circle on the wall and it began to glow, glowing like phosphorescence, seeming to travel up Zoanette's arm until her whole body was light. The hall was filling with light too, the brightest spot the circle on the wall. It was making a rushing, sucking sound, the circle, so loud that Ryan could barely hear Zoanette when she yelled "Look into the circle, Ryan! Into the circle!" Ryan turned and looked, squinting his eyes. "Look, Ryan, look!" Zoanette cried. And all of a sudden Ryan could see figures, people, somehow both faraway and close in the light. Why, there was Kree, and Candice. And Phil Phillips, and Crystal Bowersox. J.Lo and Ellen and Kara. He could see Adam Lambert with his spiky hair and monster boots, there was Taylor Hicks rocking around, there were Fantasia and LaToya belting out some great thing. And then Clay and Ruben and all these people, these lives that had surrounded him for the last ten years, they were all there, awash in the light, ghosts or memories or visions. He heard Zoanette one last time, yelling "I'll see you, Ryan! I'll see you!" before it got so bright that he had to close his eyes. And then everything stopped.

Silence. Then, cheering. That familiar sound of an excited crowd in an auditorium. He opened his eyes. He was backstage. How did he get backstage? And what stage was this, it looked only vaguely familiar. He felt a tap on his shoulder and he turned around expectantly, saying "Tim??" The person facing him looked confused. "Uh, no, it's Brian. Brian Dunkleman? Hellooo. What do you have, the jitters or something? First live show man, get it together." Ryan was confused, more than confused. "No, Tim..." he said but then it was gone. The name, the memory, what had he been trying to remember? "Yeah, I guess I, sorry, I just..." He trailed off as he saw someone across the way, psyching herself up to go on. "Kelly!" he yelped. "She's, she's the..." but then that was gone too. Brian looked at Ryan, a little concerned, a little annoyed. "Dude, yes. That's Kelly. And that's Justin and that's Nikki and that's Jim. We've been with them for weeks and you don't even know their names? Do you even like this job?" Ryan shook his head. "No, I mean, yes, of course. I love this job. Sorry man, just out of it there for a sec. Yeah, I'm pumped, let's do this."

Then the announcer came on, his booming voice saying "And here are your hosts..." The stage lights grew brighter as Brian gave Ryan a pat on the back, saying "Let's go man" as they strode out onto the stage. The crowd was roaring, there was an electric feeling in the air. And Ryan felt just then that this moment, this surreal and thrilling second, was the beginning of something big. Something magical. Something worthy of its name. Something swathed forever in the bright, beautiful light of possibility.

The End!

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