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'American Idol' recap: Jena Irene and Caleb Johnson duke it out

Jena Irene and Caleb Johnson battle for the 'American Idol' crown
'American Idol' final performances: Jena Irene and Caleb Johnson compete
It's 'the Wild Card vs. the Wild Child' on 'American Idol'

For the final performance show of "American Idol" Season 13, Ryan Seacrest wore a white tux and 7,000 people showed up at the Nokia Theatre to watch Jena Irene and Caleb Johnson fight it out for the big prize.

Each singer would sing three songs. Round one would be a song chosen by "Idol" creator Simon Fuller. (Interestingly, the mention of his name elicited a few audience boos.) For round two, each contestant would reprise a song, of his or her own selection, previously sung during the season. In round three, the singers would debut their potential winner's singles, though they've been available for download and streaming online for days now.

Seacrest, who had dubbed the matchup "the Wild Card vs. the Wild Child," informed us that Irene had won the coin toss and for some reason elected to go first. Whether it was a strategic error to decline the final spot and get in the last musical word remains to be seen.

Here's how the performances shook out:

Round 1: Simon Fuller's picks

Jena Irene: "Dog Days are Over," Florence and the Machine

Irene kicked the show off with her usual verve and command, striding all over the stage and pumping up the crowd mid-song with "Let's Go, America!" Keith Urban called the performance "fantastic" and complimented Fuller on the song choice. Though he noted an issue with breath control from all the excitement, he said Irene was "like a jockey riding a Kentucky Derby winner" and "took it home." Jennifer Lopez called it a "really good start." And Harry Connick Jr. said she'd displayed "great internal tempo" and joy onstage. "Great choice, great job," he said.

Caleb Johnson, "Dream On," Aerosmith

Johnson showed off his range, power and ability to channel Steven Tyler and thoroughly worked over his mic stand in a performance that brought Urban and Lopez to their feet. "That's what you gotta do," Lopez said. "This is the finale. This is it. … You gotta seize the moment. You gotta carpe diem … and that's what you just did." And while Lopez seemed to think Johnson may have clinched the win with the performance, Connick was more measured in his praise, urging Johnson not to neglect his lower register. Urban was with Lopez, though, telling Johnson he had him from "the opening phrase of that song" and that the way he "arced the whole thing was really exceptional."

Round 2: Contestant-chosen reprises

Jena Irene, "Can't Help Falling in Love," Elvis Presley

The first time Irene sat at the piano and sang this song, Lopez was moved to walk onstage and give her a kiss. This time, though Irene sang it well, Lopez didn't even stand. (Urban did.) Connick told Irene he could hear the influences of other singers on the song, but commended her for taking all that in and then setting it aside and making the song "very unique" and "very special." "It was absolutely beautiful, Jena," he said. Urban called Irene a "leader" for having "inspired somebody else to do" the same song -- resumably referring to Christina Grimmie on rival show "The Voice," who performed the song during that show's finale. "That's the mark of a true artist," Urban said. Lopez said that when Irene sits at the piano and plays and sings, the teen singer's "soul comes through" and "overwhelms" Lopez, making her do things she's "never done before." And yes, she did get "the goosies."

Caleb Johnson, "Maybe I'm Amazed," Paul McCartney

Johnson's first performance of this song, some weeks ago, was his best turn of the season. This time, not so much. Urban suggested that Johnson had gotten caught up in the "gymnastic aspect" of his performance and missed the gist of the "real deep emotional song." The "feeling," Urban said, was the "missing ingredient." Lopez said the song had "required … more heart," but added that Johnson had "sounded amazing." Connick polled the judges, who concluded that the first round belonged to Johnson, the second to Irene.

That meant, Seacrest said, that it was "all gonna come down to the final round."

Round 3: Winner's singles

Jena Irene, "We Are One"

Irene's winner's single is upbeat, danceable and pop-radio-ready, and she performed it well. Lopez, who apparently hadn't done much homework, said she'd never before heard the song, but thought it was "really good" and "suited" Irene. Connick said it sounded "just as strong live" as it did in the studio version. Urban said he loved the song and thought it was "perfect" for her.

Caleb Johnson, "As Long As You Love Me"

Johnson's rock throwback was less rousing, but the producers tried to compensate with explosions and strobes. Lopez said Johnson had "put it all out there" and "sounded good." Connick called the contest a battle of a "puncher against a boxer" -- like Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali -- and wished America luck. And Urban called it an "amazing night."

Which singer would you like to see win?

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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