Pop Culture

The winner of 'American Idol' is ...

Candice Glover and Kree Harrison battled it out for the title of "American Idol."

The third time proved to be the charm for Candice Glover, as she was crowned the “American Idol” season 12 champion on Thursday over Kree Harrison.

For Candice, who auditioned in season nine and season 11 but failed to make the live shows both times, her face showed a mixture of redemption, joy and relief. She broke down closing the show with “I Am Beautiful,” her debut single, but she can surely expect a lot of iTunes pre-orders anyway.

Before that, she got to display her vocal power one last time in her finale duet with Jennifer Hudson. That performance illustrated why Candice won. She made it very easy for everyone to see the type of singer she could become, and the pairing of the two was one of the most inspired in “Idol” finale history, which, to be sure, is not lavish praise.

It’s also important to note that even Jennifer Hudson was not the vocal behemoth she is now back when she was an “Idol” hopeful in season three. She grew tremendously after being voted off the show, and Candice’s task is to develop at a similar level now that she’s the champion.

Kree, meanwhile, performed her own celebrity duet with Keith Urban, and while it was enjoyable to watch, it illustrated her drawback. She has a very compelling story and is a talented singer. It would not have been an outrage had she won. But it was also less apparent what kind of singer she wanted to be. Is she country? Soul? Pop? Sometimes it seemed like she wasn’t sure herself, and the fact that Ryan Seacrest didn’t give his usual “only a handful of votes separated the finalists” speech may have indicated that it wasn’t that close.

As usual, the final “Idol” episode of the season was a night of random pairings and guest stars, the bells and whistles that remind the audience how dull all the other results shows were in comparison. Some of the matchups worked (Angie Miller and Adam Lambert singing “Titanium”). Some of them didn’t (Angie and Jessie J). The boys got to sing live with Frankie Valli. The girls got Aretha Franklin as their singing partner, but only via satellite hookup from New York. Janelle Arthur got to sing with The Band Perry, and Amber Holcomb with Emeli Sande.

Original judge Randy Jackson received a send-off with a short video tribute that reminded everyone how much fresher the show was a decade ago when Simon Cowell looked a little scruffier and Randy hadn’t yet work his catchphrases into the ground. Another video short blamed sabotage from the girls and Jordin Sparks for the quick exit of the male finalists, and featured a random dig at “The Voice” as well as acknowledgement that none of the male finalists played the guitar as the last five winners did might have been a factor in their defeat this season. Other clips allowed the contestants to made fun of the judges, and served as the usual highlights montage of “oh, yeah, I remember THAT” moments.

Meanwhile, all the judges got to perform live onstage … except Nicki Minaj. (Well, and perhaps Mariah Carey, given what looked like a miserable lip-synching effort on her part.) Even Jennifer Lopez got to strut her stuff, and she’s just an ex-judge. Viewerss also saw Randy play the bass, but not Nicki singing “Super Bass.” (It doesn’t take a soothsayer to note that’s not a good sign for the chances of her returning.)

But give “Idol” some credit: Unlike in past years, they did not bring back terrible auditions to serve as punch lines one more time. Although, Lazaro Arbos was chewing his gum with such fury on stage that maybe he was supposed to fill that role.

Now begins an uncertain offseason for “Idol,” with major changes likely to come. But in the meantime, the show’s executives can rest easy knowing that it wound up with the right champion in season 12.

What did you think of the results? Will you be buying Candice's debut album? Share your thoughts in the comments!