Saturday, May 29, 2021

American Idol Finale

It has now been nearly a week since I watched the finale of the 2021 season of American Idol live on Sunday night. Since then, it has been a busy and challenging week, so I am sort of feeling the need for this final wrap-up as a sense of obligation. Nonetheless, this was an impressive season for the franchise, even if the Finale had the wrong result, albeit an incredibly unsurprising one.
Let me first say that Chayce Beckham is very talented, came across as a likeable, genuine person, and absolutely had one of his finer nights of performances on Sunday. That being said, he still should have finished third among the trio. However, I was pretty convinced he would win and that Grace Kinstler would finish third and Willie Spence would be the runner-up.

So, nothing happened on Sunday to surprise me, but at every turn, the results were upside down from what they should have been. I will be doing this all from memory, so this will at least be thankfully short.

I only "judged" the performances in which the finalist, still alive in the competition at that moment, was part of a number that had all having at least one solo. So, thankfully, I did not have to judge some group numbers, such as the rooftop taped performance with Macklemore to start off the three-hour spectacular, but hey, the ceiling couldn't hold them.

Songs picked by judges:

1. Grace Kinstler- "All By Myself"

They really tried to make her go the Kelly Clarkson route here. As expected, Grace sang it excellently. This contestant is from Chicagoland where we know how to vote early and often. Of course, I did not vote this entire season because I would not even understand how to do so.

2. Willie Spence- "Georgia On My Mind"

This was an homage to his home state, although it appears his family members may have relocated to Riviera Beach, Florida. As expected, Willie sang it excellently and I was genuinely torn as to which contestant to rank higher at this point. Willie needed to hope that there would not be any fraud in the Georgia vote, along the lines of what caused both Stacey Abrams and Donald Trump to refuse to concede.

3. Chayce Beckham- "Blackbird"

He is from California where people needed to start voting just after 5 pm. It probably does not matter for him though and I am certain he was dominating in the voting for a few weeks at this point. This Beatles' song was a different kind of pick by the judges, and nowhere near the kind that shows off a big voice like Grace of Willie, but Chayce sang it very well and sounded quite professional.
I believe this was the portion of the evening when the usually unflappable Seacrest made one of his biggest ever gaffes by telling recovering alcoholic Chayce that any finishing trip with Luke Bryan would have to involve beer. How could Seacrest have missed Chayce's entire story this season.


3. Chacye
2. Willie
1. Grace


Hometown Songs:

1. Grace Kinstler- "I Have Nothing"
As soon as they said it would be Whitney Houston, I predicted this song before the break. We see Grace return to Lake County (it looks like she lived in a very large house) but she also visited whatever they are calling the home field of the Chicago White Sox today. The Sox may be in first place at the moment but perhaps this association cursed her. After all, they have not won anything since 2006, the year Taylor Hicks took the title home. If only she were a Cubs fan, maybe she could have done better. The Cubs are nearly in first place now too.
Anyways, Grace did the big ballad justice. It was interesting how she seemed to take the key down a bit at the first chorus and then soared on the second one.  

2. Willie Spence- "A Change Is Gonna Come"

As soon as they said it would be Sam Cooke, I predicted this song before the break. Willie returns to his home in small town Georgia, and that house also seems fairly big, with a lot of land around it. The crowds that show up to see Willie also appear to be larger than what Grace drew in Illinois.

Anyways, Willie did the big ballad justice and once again tonight, and for the second week in a row, i was finding it hard to determine who was better vocally between Grace and Willie.

3. Chayce Beckham- "Fire Away"

Before the break, they said it would be Chris Stapleton, and I cannot name a single one of his songs, so I have no idea. Back at home, Chayce shed more tears than either Willie or Grace did. That has sometimes counted in Idol history. His past with the drunk driving incident, just a little over a year ago, was also touched on and he had some sort of odd reunion at a junkyard with his totaled vehicle.
I do not remember at this point how this song goes, but I thought Chayce sounded pretty good. Just not as good as the others.
Same rankings as before:
3. Chayce
2. Willie
1. Grace
Time for the first elimination was here. It should have been Chayce, but I predicted it would be Grace and indeed it was. She did not seem remotely surprised. It is hard to  believe that such a purely talented vocalist, who never had anything close to an off performance could finish with the bronze. Even as she clearly had the intention of bringing vocal fire in her performances, at all other times, she came across as humble and laid-back. She may never be a huge pop star, but could make a name for herself in the Adult Contemporary world with the right material.
For the next while, there were a lot of celebrity performances and group numbers, some live and some taped. I am pretty sure the Billboard Music Awards, airing at the same time on NBC, was drawing more viewers. Some finalists returned and some were missing. We noted that Graham DeFranco, who was not even a Finalist technically, was sure getting a lot of screen time and even had a duet slot with Sheryl Crow. Did Idol feel justifiably bad about making Beane a wildcard over him or did Graham have naked photos of someone to use for blackmail? Apparently, there was some drama right before the enigmatic "Arthur Gunn" was supposed to sing with Ms. Crow, and he bailed on the show that brought him back, citing personal morals or something like that.
This development almost seems fitting this season. The talent was strong, but there were some weird things going on behind the scenes, from Luke Bryan's quick bout with Covid, to the mysterious dropping out of Wyatt Pike to the cancellation of teenager Caleb Kennedy going basically unmentioned, along with any formal recognition of the reigning winner "Just Sam", Idol's first ever Latina and openly gay title holder.

Celebrity Duets:

1. Willie Spence- "You Are The Reason"

Here, Willie sang along former X-Factor UK star and U.S. one hit-wonder from 13 years ago Leona Lewis. I remember virtually nothing from this performance but Willie sounded very good of course.

2. Chayce Beckham- "Forever After All"

Chayce was paired up with some country singer named Luke Combs whom I had never heard of and who frankly looks like a school bus driver who might possibly have a record that should not allow him to be a school bus driver.

Clearly, Idol is now pushing Chayce as a country artist. He sang his part pretty well, I think. It's been a long week.

Obvious for me ratings:
2. Chayce
1. Willie
1. Chayce Beckham- "Afterglow"
Everything feels very anti-climactic and already decided at this point. I do not even remember exactly when Chacye sang this Ed Sheeran song earlier in the season, but it definitely sounded like something he would have done. I am sure he sounded good the first time, but probably sounded a bit better even this time, accompanying himself, as always, on guitar.
2.  Willie Spence- "Stand Up"

This felt like quite a moment a few weeks ago when Willie first sang it. It was hard to forget. This time, for whatever reason, it seemed a bit muted to some extent, but still a great job of course. As this was his final performance, it has to be mentioned how talented Willie is and how much anybody should want to see him succeed as a Gospel singer or whatever else he may want to do.

Obvious rankings again:
2. Chayce
1. Willie
Who should have won American Idol (since Grace Kinstler was already cut earlier in the show): Willie Spence
Who I predicted would win American Idol: Chayce Beckham 
Who won American Idol: Chayce Beckham
So, that was that. Chayce seemed to be the least surprised and least emotional in the winning moment since perhaps Taylor Hicks back in the day. Without his guitar, he performed his original song "23", which represents the low point of his life last year. At the age of 24, he sure has gotten a great opportunity. Hopefully, whatever fame or fortune awaits him for his talent and strategic success on American Idol will keep him grounded and sober.


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