Photo Credit: FOX via Getty Images
This one's gonna be close, folks.
By the end of Thursday's two-hour season finale (Fox, 8 p.m. ET), we'll know which contestant has won the top title on American Idol, Season 12. Will it be the R&B diva, Candice Glover, or the country girl, Kree Harrison?
Truth be told, as we head into tonight's final results show, Candice has the edge. The 23-year-old South Carolina native's been delivering gorgeous, powerful helpings of soul since her Charlotte audition, when she sang Duffy's "Syrup and Honey." Remember the interesting comment this performance elicited from Minaj? “I want to skin you and wear you.” (And to think that was only the start of a season's worth of bizarre Nicki compliments…)
Generally, most critics are throwing their votes to Candice, who's "a commanding singer with emotive performances to boot," says Rodney Ho of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Sharyn Jackson of Xfinity.net also foresees Candice on top. ("This girl never got called “pitchy” in her life," she writes.)
Wednesday night's performance show only confirmed what some consider to be Candice's inevitable win. When she appeared on stage in a red velvet blouse and sparkly black boots singing "Chasing Pavements" by Adele, she showed the confidence and professionalism she's carried with her all season. When she donned a black biker jacket and sang her coronation song, "I Am Beautiful" -- an emotional gospel/pop ballad that would serve as her first single -- she came across, winningly, as someone who's been told otherwise. And when she belted out a reprise of Luther Vandross' "I Who Have Nothing," her vocal power had an awestruck Mariah Carey reaching for some appropriately inspired words to describe it.
"What you have is the innate ability to take any song and turn it into a vehicle for that amazing voice," she said. "You have an undeniable talent that surpasses what even I could have imagined I would see here. And I'm just so thankful to have been part of this experience with you." And of course there was Randy Jackson's sum-up: "That girl can plumb flat out sing!"
But while Candice is the odds-on favorite, that doesn't preclude the chance for an upset. Anyone remember Season 9, when Lee DeWyze found his stride right at the end, and pushed Crystal Bowersox off her front-runner pedestal?
In Kree's favor: She's a country artist on a show that loves them. Carrie Underwood, Scotty McCreery, Kellie Pickler, Lauren Alaina and several other contestants over the years can attest to that. And at just 22, she also has a gripping personal story involving the death of both parents.
Most of all, though, there's a hard-to-describe, underdog-like quality about this Texas native. The judges have tried to pinpoint it, using words like "authentic" and "organic." In this clip from Hollywood Week, Kree stepped on stage in a billowy button-down shirt and jeans. "Some women have to show so much skin to be sexy," said Minaj. But not Kree. "Here is a natural-born singer," said Jackson. "She doesn't have to wear the outfit. She doesn't have to do anything. She gets up there and opens her mouth."
Like all Idol contestants who make it to the finals, Kree has since morphed into a stylish pop star. That was obvious when she appeared in a white evening gown to deliver a delicate version of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel." But her bluesy/country coronation song, "All Cried Out," perfectly suited her easy-going style (while also flaunting her pipes). And her final song, a reprise of Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain," brought all four judges to their feet. "I think all three of your performances showcased your beautiful voice tonight, and your beautiful soul," said Minaj.
If Candice wins the crown -- and she probably will -- it will be by a hair. And let's be honest: Both women will release an album next year. Soon enough, they'll both be adding songs to Idol's running tally of 386 No. 1 Hits.