Caleb Johnson auditioned for American Idol in two previous years and got cut both times. On Wednesday, the 23-year-old rocker from Asheville, N.C., won the show’s 13th season, beating out 17-year-old Jena Irene for the title.
The season’s two-hour finale opened with Johnson and Jena Irene together in the tiny booth where singers were held before first auditioning for the judges last fall. They emerged to step on the stage and perform a medley of Queen’s We Will Rock You, No Doubt’s Just a Girl and Bryan Adams and Tina Turner’s It’s Only Love, the final one with flame cannons going off behind them.
That performance was met with a standing ovation from the judges, including Harry Connick Jr., who may not have stood once for a performance this season. “The competition is officially over!” he told Ryan Seacrest. “I can stand!”
Viewers got a foreshadowing of the eventual winner early in the evening when Seacrest asked the audience at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live to cheer for their favorite singer. Johnson clearly owned the room, the response for him being several decibels higher than cheers for Jena Irene.
Sam Woolf got the first finalist performance of the night, singing the 2012 coronation song Home and Raging Fire with Phillip Phillips.
Jennifer Nettles sang a verse and chorus of That Girl, her single written from the point of view of Dolly Parton’s Jolene, then segued into a duet of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball with Jessica Meuse. Meuse looked so stiff and uncomfortable it was like watching Woolf perform.
Johnson swapped lines with Kiss guitarist Paul Stanley on Love Gun, then sang backup on Shout It Out Loud, though someone really should have given Johnson a pair of 10-inch platform boots, too, so he could be as tall as the band. Seacrest brought Johnson’s brother, Houston — wearing Paul Stanley makeup — to the stage to meet the band.
The Idol men sang The Man with Aloe Blacc. Blacc sounded a little flat, but C.J. Harris and Dexter Roberts made him sound fine by comparison. Now we know why they tried to avoid pop songs on the show. The Idol women sounded better a little later singing Really Don’t Care and Neon Lights with Demi Lovato.
Jena Irene began Paramore’s Decode at the piano — when the band joined her, she was the first Idol finalist to look and sound like she belonged onstage with her band. She may not have won the competition, but she certainly won the night.
Both Johnson and Jena Irene got new Ford Mustangs, and,…