‘American Idol’ Finale Recap: And Then There Was One

Thursday night’s finale of American Idol was a star-studded celebration that saw the return of the Top 10 and Jennifer Lopez. By the end of the  night, though, the real star was Candice Glover, who was named the winner of season 12 over Kree Harrison.

There were plenty of surprises in the two-hour show that proved to be surprisingly entertaining from beginning to end. It opened with an explosive performance of “Done” from fifth place finalist Janelle Arthur, who was joined on stage by The Band Perry. Not sure what Janelle has been doing in the weeks since her dismissal, but she came back with a vengeance and literally set the stage on fire. Twice.

Angie Miller followed with an amazing performance of “Titanium” with Idol alum Adam Lambert, before being joined by her own idol, Jessie J. The British beauty invited the third-place finisher to perform her single at a show overseas. Yay, Angie!

Another standout performance came from Amber Holcomb and Emeli Sande. The pair performed her hit, “Next To Me,” which proved a reminder of what a strong singer Amber is.

In one of the biggest surprises of the night, Jennifer Hudson joined Candice Glover for what can only be described as a diva showdown. The former Idol contestant-turned-Oscar winner hopef looked amazing as ever and reminded everyone that she’s still one of the greatest voices the show has ever discovered. She didn’t take it easy on her young protégé, but Candice kept up with the big-voiced beauty. Watching them onstage together to sing “Inseparable,” it was totally clear that Candice was going to take home the win.

Nicki Minaj was the only judge who didn’t take the stage on Thursday night, opting instead to stay in her seat while the other took turns performing. Keith Urban hit the stage twice, once for his single and once to perform “Where The Black Top Ends” with Kree. Randy Jackson tickled the strings during their duet.

And then there was Mariah Carey, who gave a powerful performance of her biggest hits, including her latest, “#Beautiful.” The only problem: I’m pretty sure she was lip-synching her way through the pre-taped performance.

As usual, the show was guilty of some hokey efforts as well. The top five guys perform a medley of oldies with Frankie Valli — and it just didn’t work. It went on too long and it looked like Valli was lip-synching too! What’s with the real pros taking the easy way out?

Aretha Franklin was also in the house — sort of. The Queen of Soul performed via video with the Top 5 girls doing back up. Again, this medley was way too long, and the fact that Aretha wasn’t even in the room got old a couple of seconds into the performance.

In a weird tribute to Randy Jackson, who is leaving the show after 12 seasons, we saw a montage of moments from the Dawg’s twelve-year judging stint. Were producers being cheeky with their song selection of “You Had a Bad Day”? Instead of a heartfelt “thank you” from Ryan Seacrest, the host simply reminded the only remaining original judge that the Idol door is “always open, my brother.” Hmm.

One person who didn’t seem to slack off? Former judge Jennifer Lopez. She took the stage just before the results were announced for a show-stopping rendition of her latest single, “ Live It Up,” with Pitbull. She didn’t seem to lip-synch and danced intensely in strappy stiletto sandals.

In the end, Candice melted into tears when she heard she’s the winner. Her Top 10 costars couldn’t contain their excitement, and Kree was genuinely happy for her friend. She sobbed her way through her single, “I Am Beautiful,” as she tried not to choke on the swarm of crazy confetti falling from the ceiling.

Until next season, American Idol … out!