'American Idol' Final Two: The MVP Versus the Most Improved

At last! The American Idol finale (Fox, May 25, 8 p.m. ET and May 26, 8 p.m. ET) is upon us.

Be honest, Idol fans. Back in Hollywood Week, would you have predicted that Crystal Bowersox and Lee DeWyze would be the last two contestants standing? Sure, Bowersox was always the frontrunner, but DeWyze? I thought he was done for back on March 16, when he nervously warbled through The Rolling Stones’ "Beast of Burden." He seemed truly terrified, like a shy freshman at the senior prom, trying to fade into the scenery.

“I really like you as a person,” Simon Cowell told him. “[But] what’s always held you back, I think, Lee, is your personality. Because you don’t shine at the moment…And the frustrating thing is, is that you have got an incredibly good voice. What I want to see, and I pray that you’re back next week, is to…stop thinking that other people are better than you. Because that’s what I see at the moment.” DeWyze shifted from one foot to the other and bit his lip. Poor guy, I thought. He’s in over his head.

“That’s always been my biggest problem,” DeWyze told Usher two weeks later, during R&B week. “It’s beating myself up.” Ironically, that was the week when things turned around for the 24-year-old paint store clerk. His comfortably rockin’ performance—of the 1971 hit, "Treat Her Like a Lady"—led Cowell to declare that “we’ve had some frustrations with the fact that you didn’t believe in yourself [but]…this is the night your life may have changed forever.” When the camera flipped back to DeWyze, he grinned and chewed on a guitar pick, Springsteen-like. What a difference two weeks can make! From that moment on, DeWyze has “shined” again and again.

Does this mean DeWyze has a shot at beating the consistently good Bowersox, who’s been a fan (and judge) favorite since the beginning? Seems unlikely. A casual web search reveals a groundswell of support for Bowersox, not least of which is coming from big celebrities. But DeWyze’s surprising trajectory does add a little zing of uncertainty to the odds. It wouldn’t be that surprising if he took the crown from her.

They’ll each perform three songs during Tuesday’s show: one of their choice, one chosen by the producer, and one that will be the winner’s radio single. Bowersox won the coin toss that allowed her to choose her performance slot. She’ll go second.

As usual, Idol will welcome back the eliminated contestants and open the stage up to lots of established stars to perform during Wednesday’s final results show. And as usual, expect big group numbers and smaller duets with rock legends. Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood will perform her single, “Undo It,” and Christina Aguilera will belt out her latest song, “Not Myself Tonight.” Paula Abdul’s already signed on to appear in the finale, and of course, there will be plenty of tributes to the departing Cowell. He may be Idol’s most hated man, but he’s also hugely, and deservedly, respected. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine this show without him.

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Who do you think will win American Idol? Chime in below!


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