TV Recap

Country Smile

On ''American Idol'''s most action-packed season finale ever, farm girl Carrie gets the blue ribbon, beating out Southern rocker Bo

Carrie Underwood, American Idol | CARRIE ON Underwood is America's choice
CARRIE ON Underwood is America's choice

''American Idol'': The farm girl gets the blue ribbon

Wow, am I glad I set my VCR to tape Lost so I could watch American Idol live instead. Like a McGriddle sandwich, the two-hour season finale was bizarre, yet tasty. It had syrupy goodness (I'm not her biggest fan, but Carrie's aw-shucks victory performance was kinda sweet), didn't skimp on the meat (a funny Prime Time Live spoof and some rockin' performances), and was loaded with cheese (A-Fed, Anwar, and Kenny G., together at last). Yes, folks, I was lovin' it!

The funny thing is, after the fairly lackluster final-performance show, my expectations for tonight were pretty low, and many EW.com readers felt the same way. ''The singers have been put through the ring of fire, and America will make the decision — but why saddle them with rotten songs?'' Karla asked after watching Tuesday night's show. ''Every season the biggest disappointment is having to listen to the top Idols sing absolute junk in the finals, knowing this will be their single!''

Karla was among the scads of readers who were disappointed by the songs the show's producers picked for Bo and Carrie, although Steve had an interesting suggestion: Limit the singers to one piece of Idol treacle, one song of their own choice, and for a finale, have each contestant perform a song previously sung by his or her competitor.

But after watching tonight, here's my suggestion for future Idol finales: Don't change a thing! I was a little nervous when Ryan Seacrest introduced the all-star jam by noting, ''What you are about to see is pure chemistry,'' but for once, Snarky McSnarkenstein got it right. When Carrie started singing with Rascal Flatts, I could suddenly see the point of all those message-board posters who promised she'd eventually grow into a polished performer with soul. Bo, of course, couldn't have been more of a rock god on ''Sweet Home Alabama,'' especially backed by Lynyrd Skynyrd, but what else did you expect?

Better still: the combined entertainment value of watching the remaining 10 finalists paired with established music stars. Not to say all of them were good, exactly, but they were entertaining for sure. Vonzell proved exactly why she made the final three by virtue of a positively smokin' duet with Billy Preston: Baby V looked unbelievably gorgeous, and free of competitive pressure, she gave her most relaxed, soulful performance to date. Someone sign this woman to a deal — stat!

A-Fed and Anwar proved where they belong as well — on your local easy-listening station — performing the bombastic ''I Believe I Can Fly'' exactly the way it should be: with unabashed melisma. Like fast food, both of these boys are best consumed in small quantities, but it was a total guilty pleasure putting them together with Kenny G and letting each one try to out-sing the other. I was worried Anwar might pop a blood vessel, especially with that soprano sax all up in his ear. Yikes!

Oh, and speaking of yikes... Um, Babyface? Can we talk? I'm not exactly sure what kind of deal you made with Fox executives, but whatever you're getting out of them — mad cash, your own reality show, a ''Babyface night'' on the next season of Idol — it was not worth the high price of performing with Lindsey Cardinale and Mikalah Gordon. Bad enough that neither one is capable of stringing two good notes together, but getting pawed mid-performance by a warbling Mikalah — hot off an encounter with her hotel tanning bed and a bottle of peroxide — well, it's not right. But it's okay, from a purely I-can't-believe-what's-on-my-screen point of view, anyway.

No matter which contestants you rooted for this season, it was great to see them raise their game in the presence of seasoned vets. Constantine, Nadia, and Jessica (embracing that trash-tastic vibe that could've taken her further in the competition) rocked pretty convincingly on ''Walk This Way,'' and Scott and Nikko sounded a'ight too, once George Benson took over the lead vocals on ''On Broadway.''

The show was so spot-on tonight, in fact, that it largely succeeded in its attempts at humor. Simon's incredulous ''They're all drunk'' to loopy La Toya London (note that she failed to argue with his contention), that little kid from Alabama drawling about Simon's use of ''reverse psychology,'' Matt Rogers hitting on the first lady of Oklahoma... if only every reality-show finale contained so much spontaneous hilarity.

And bonus points for the spoof of Paula's Corey Clark scandal. The payoff — Simon is having an affair with himself — didn't match the preceding footage, but watching Randy drive around with a ''journalist'' to the scene of the crime (complete with a stop-off for doughnuts) and pay a visit to a baby-T shop...priceless! And the sight of Paula gettin' jiggy behind the control panels of a recording studio left me wondering how the heck I'm going to spend my Tuesday and Wednesday nights without her off-kilter presence.

I was laughing so hard and getting so into the groove, I didn't even have time to mope (too much) about Carrie springing an upset and snatching the Idol crown off Bo's silky brown tresses. The result is sure to disappoint a lot of EW.com readers, as you seemed to favor Bo on the message boards by a (very unscientific) 65-35 split.

Still, even some Bo fans felt Carrie's show of emotion on Tuesday was enough to earn her victory. ''I've been a Carrie-basher all season, but last night she blew me away,'' wrote Laura. ''I had to pick up the phone and vote for her. And I hope she wins.''

The cleverly named Reuben Kincaid (Partridge Family fans, take note!) chimed in that Carrie had shown true evolution in the competition: ''She was inexperienced where Bo is experienced — and she really has come a long way. Bo is unwittingly cool, with his nifty garb and usage of the term 'cats,' but Carrie, I think, has more long-term potential.''

And Amanda made the argument that when it comes time to cut an album, Carrie — not her critics — will get the last laugh. ''While I can't give Carrie a more apt description than 'Robovox' or 'fembot' (could she exhibit less emotion and personality onstage?), she has the vocal ability to make an awesome record,'' Amanda wrote. ''And that's why I buy a CD. Yeah, Britney Spears is a great performer with tons of personality, but have I EVER paid my hard earned money for one of her CDs? No! Because the girl can't sing! Based on talent, Carrie should win.''

Still, members of the Bice Squad can keep their heads up, as there's certainly enough of us to make our man an Idol — at least on the sales charts. ''Bo is a breath of fresh air,'' wrote Melissa, ''and that boy could come sing me to sleep any night. I don't usually get to watch because of work, but someone left the show on in our breakroom, and as soon as I heard that voice (I didn't know at all who it belonged to at the time) I couldn't stop listening. Bo, you have my vote and no matter what happens, your album will be in my hands the first day it is out!''

Now, I'm not sure I want Bo singing me a lullaby every night when I finish watching BBC World News — certainly not if he's sporting those flip-flops — but Melissa, I really couldn't have said it better myself.

So, did Carrie deserve to win this season of Idol? Will Bo or any of the other finalists find success on the charts? And is Simon right: Should Matt Rogers join Ryan Seacrest — or maybe even replace him — when the show returns next January?

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Originally posted May 26, 2005