updated 05/16/2013 AT 6:00 AM ET
•originally published 05/15/2013 AT 9:55 PM ET
The entire season of American Idol came down to three final performances from two dueling divas, country crooner Kree Harrison and R&B singer Candice Glover, on Wednesday night at the Nokia Theater L.A. Live.
At the end of the night, Mariah Carey summed up the competition best. After noting that both women offered something special, she said, “It’s going to be very, very difficult for America tonight.”
But before one note was sung, Kree seemed to have an edge – she got a more rousing round of applause when host Ryan Seacrest asked the studio audience to cheer for their favorite. Then round one seemed to change up the momentum. Here’s how it all played out …
Kree: She started off the night with a song chosen for her by Idol creator Simon Fuller – “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. Her performance was elegant and ethereal but the somber song choice (best known these days for playing over ads against animal cruelty) didn’t leave her much room to show off her personality or the forcefulness of her vocals.
Candice: Fuller chose Adele’s “Chasing Pavements” for Candice, who put her own soulful spin on the song and added the vocal flourishes she’s become known for. The crowd reaction seemed far more enthusiastic for Candice, and judge Randy Jackson backed up that response. “I gotta give the edge in round one to Candice because at least she took the song and tried to make more of it and made some interesting choices,” he said.
Kree: This round marked the debut of the song that this year’s winner will release as a single. For Kree it was “All Cried Out,” a country ballad that really showed off her twang and powerful range, but perhaps even more importantly it allowed her to flaunt her emotional side, which the judges have been begging her to do all season. “This one made her reach down in the gut more than she’s ever done before,” said Nicki Minaj, who also complimented Kree on her composure.
Candice: Her song, “I Am Beautiful,” was a pop tune that resonated especially well because she’s admitted to having self-esteem and confidence issues. It also showcased her booming voice and firmly established her in the world of modern pop rather than old-fashioned classics and R&B. “The two songs were tailor-made for both of these girls,” Keith Urban said. Ultimately, the judges were split on this round with Nicki giving the edge to Candice and Keith giving it to Kree.
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Kree: The women got to give an encore performance of their favorite song from the season. Kree chose “Up to the Mountain” by Patty Griffin. It was a choice that seemed to veer more into Candice’s soulful territory, but it nevertheless blew the audience and judges away. “That was beautiful!” Keith said. Nicki agreed: “All three of your performances showcased your beautiful voice and your beautiful soul,” she said.
Candice: She decided to take another shot at the classic “I Who Have Nothing,” delivering a slow and theatrical performance that had fans screeching even before she was done singing. The judges were equally emphatic in their praise. “What comes across from you is – superstar,” Nicki said. And Randy said that the main take away from Candice’s performance was, “That girl can plum, flat-out sing. You just shot this night to a whole other level. You’ve got it all.”
The finale – with all its surprises, excitement and results – airs Thursday (8 p.m. ET) on Fox.