AMERICAN IDOL - "218 (Season Finale)" - Following a cross-country search for the next singing sensation, "American Idol" rounds out its second season on ABC with an epic grand finale event, featuring "Idol"'s Top 3 contestants: Alejandro Aranda, Laine Hardy and Madison VanDenburg. For the first time in "Idol" history, America's live coast-to-coast vote will determine the winner of the iconic singing competition series, with all voting taking place during the show. The crowning moment will be preceded by special performances from music legends, including "Idol"'s very own superstar judges, the return of fan-favorite contestants from the current season and a special visit by last season's winner, Maddie Poppe. Poppe's debut album, "Whirlwind," drops on Friday, May 17. The jam-packed music event airs SUNDAY, MAY 19 (8:00-11:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Eric McCandless) LAINE HARDY, JON PARDI
Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC
Photo: Eric McCandless/ABC

Who won ‘American Idol’ season 17?

Originally posted Sunday, May 19, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

New Orleans-based bluesy teen singer Laine Hardy beat out laid-back EDM iconoclast Alejandro Aranda for the 17th season “American Idol” crown.

This makes it a male winner for nine of the past 11 seasons. And this denies Alejandro being the first Latino to take home the victory. 

Laine’s closest “Idol” victory cousin is Georgia native Phillip Phillips from season 11, the last winner to actually have a hit single. 

The three finalists entering tonight also included a pure pop singer in  Madison Vandenburg. Both Laine and Madison are just teens and they are still developing as artists. Alejandro is a fully formed artist. But tonight, youth overcame experience. 

Madison, at 9:20 p.m., was eliminated so it became a battle between Laine and Alejandro. She was the least defined of the three singers and her lack of maturity hindered her. She could have won this competition with three or four more years of maturation. (Kelly Clarkson was 20 years old when she won. Madison is just 17.)

There was a whole lotta country goin’ on tonight with Dan+Shay, Jon Pardi, Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood and Kane Brown. The rock contingent was all nostalgia: Weezer with ‘80s hits and Adam Lambert doing a Queen classic. R&B featured Lionel Richie, Andra Day and Kool & the Gang. Pop merely got Katy Perry with a little Daddy Yankee Latin action thrown in. 

And notably, Alejandro did not sing a single cover song solo. Rather, he crooned four originals over the three hours, a first in “Idol” history.  There’s no doubt he has built a following and, like Lambert, carve out a potentially very successful career.

His whispery style was seriously divisive. Some viewers found him boring and monotonous. Others were mesmerized by his emotive style and artistry. He also made beanies a “thing.” 

It’s impossible to guess where Laine will go. He’s too young to know for sure, but he’s a feel-good story. Last year, he missed the finals because the judges felt he wasn’t ready. He came on the show this year to accompany another singer and the judges convinced him to try out. It was clear he had improved significantly and won the competition. 

Although he peaked early and didn’t really hit many new strides toward the end, he was predictably excellent. His charm, good looks, raspy vocals and quirky fashion sense all added up to voter catnip. 

No doubt like the season 8 Kris Allen/Adam Lambert matchup, Laine had broader appeal and ultimately garnered more votes than Alejandro, who had a deeper, more fervent fan base. I’d take the latter as a career builder. Just ask Adam!

Judge Lionel Richie opened with a song most of the contestants and young “plants” in the front rows probably have no idea what this 1986 No. 1 song is but he does exuberantly sing “Dancing on the Ceiling,” joined at the end with the top 10.

The competitive songs:

Laine “Home” Marc Broussard. A song that fit right in his rear pocket. He was confident and went down smooth. A typical Laine performance. Grade: B-plus

Madison “Shallow” Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. This is yet another brave pick and she does a solid job even though she is far too young to have “lived” the ramifications of the song. But she sometimes taps her own emotions and makes it work with some impressively big notes. Sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, it did. She truly has promise. Her song picks have been pretty smart. She was originally going to sing “I Have Nothing,” an old Whitney nugget played on “Idol” more than any other song. Astute for her to instead go with something newer and fresher. Grade: A-minus

Alejandro  “Millennial Love” original. Okay, that title from this Gen Xer’s perspective is painfully self absorbed. And it’s super repetitive but it’s so Alejandro. It’s soft spoken and sweet and very atmospheric. And oh so repetitive. Grade: B-plus


Round one winner? I’d give it to Madison. Luke gave it to Madison while Lionel and Katy chose Alejandro. 

Here are the hometown visits:

Round two: songs dedicated to their hometown

Laine “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” Hank Williams . He is entertaining and now super predictable. Grade: B/B-plus

Last year’s winner Maddie Poppe got to promote her newest album with Ryan Seacrest. Her newest single is in the top 40. 

Madison “Breakaway” Kelly Clarkson. So they kept comparing her to Kelly so she finally tackles her. Unfortunately, her nerves were readily evident during the quieter portion. She hit some unusually bad notes. It was a rough one for her. Of course, if you listen to the judges, you’d never know that. Grade: B-minus

Alejandro “Tonight.” Original. He won this round by default. It’s another whispery warm tune with lots of repetition. Grade: B

Carrie Underwood’s “Southbound.” Not a bad song but she sounds more nasally than usual. I couldn’t tell if that was merely by design. 

Montell Jordan sounded great doing “This is How We Do It.” Why they brought Margie Mays and that cowboy dude I had already forgotten about back is inexplicable. 

Katy Perry with Daddy Yankee and Snow “Con Calma.” As Justin Bieber knows now, pairing with a popular Latino artist pays dividends. Sprinkle in some 1990s nostalgia and you’ve got a hit!

Alejandro Aranda “10 Years.” Original. He gets orchestral background and it’s beautiful and whispery. (And they are wearing beanies like he is! Cute!) The man knows how to present himself in such a specific way.  I appreciate him because though he whispers, he stays in tune and he is always heartfelt. 

Adam Lambert “New Eyes.” Not a very top 40 song but he doesn’t care.

Adam Lambert with Dimitrius Graham “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Dimitrius gets to show off his operatic skills. I wish he had gone further. 

Dan+Shay “All To Myself” and then “Speechless” with Madison. Madison holds her own just fine. 

Luke Bryan “Knockin’ Boots,” a formulaic country song with references to “whiskey” (rhymes with “kiss me”), “sweet tea,” “fishing” and “small town.” Then he inexplicably sang an old Police stalking song “Every Breath You Take” with Laci Kaye Booth. 

Jon Pardi “Dirt On My Boots.” Because we need more boots in a country song. He then follows this up with the slightly better “Nightshift” paired with Laine Hardy.

Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon with Katy Perry. “Unconditionally.” Really makes me wish Jeremiah was in the finals. He’s that good. He emotes with so much depth and he matches Katy note for note. 

Kane Brown with Alyssa Raghu in “In the Middle of Nowhere.” Odd to pair her with a country artist but she surprisingly blends well with Kane, who is has a bit of edge to him. I like his stuff compared to Dan+Shay and Jon Pardi. 

Shayy, a blind contestant who didn’t make the semifinals, gets a solo shot with Andra Day. She is lovely. It does provide some R&B on a show way too heavy with country songs. 

Kool & the Gang sing bits of “Hollywood Swingin’” “Ladies Night” and “Celebration” with several of the finalists. Uche was supposed to be the lead solo but he got shortchanged with just a brief bit in the opening song. 

Final performances
Laine: “Bring it Home to Me” Sam Cooke. He of course reprises his best performance, the one that made think he could win. Unfortunately, he plateaued. 

Alejandro. “Out. Loud.” This was the song that made everyone realize what a great artist he is. And it’s what will probably give him the win. (But doesn’t.)

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
X