Who won ‘American Idol’ season 20? Noah, HunterGirl or Leah?

The top 3 on "American Idol" in 2022 were Leah Marlene, Noah Thompson and HunterGirl. (Photo: ABC/Eric McCandless)

Credit: ABC

Combined ShapeCaption
The top 3 on "American Idol" in 2022 were Leah Marlene, Noah Thompson and HunterGirl. (Photo: ABC/Eric McCandless)

Credit: ABC

In the battle of country singers, Noah Thompson beat out HunterGirl for the 20th season of “American Idol.”

Only once before (season 10) has two country singers vied for the big win: season 10 when North Carolina’s Scotty McCreery beat out Georgia’s Lauren Alaina. Both have since had successful country careers.

Noah, a 20-year-old Kentucky small-town construction worker with a baby son, was nudged into the competition by a friend. He had no real professional experience, but his aw-shucks humility and authenticity endeared himself to the judges, mentors and viewers alike. In a poll The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran this past week, Noah garnered the most votes.

He improved by leaps and bounds from his audition to the finale, the type of journey fans embraced.

“My heart is beating out of my chest,” Noah told host Ryan Seacrest moments after the news. “This is crazy.”

As he sang his victory song, the other nine finalists ran on stage and bearhugged him.

He beat out HunterGirl, a 23-year-old Tennessee country gal who has been performing on stages for many years and that sheen was evident from day one. Her radio-friendly voice and likable mien made her a natural frontrunner from day one.

Leah Marlene, the quirky 20-year-old singer songwriter from Normal, Illinois, came in third place but she has a supple voice and an upbeat personality that could translate into a successful professional career if she makes the right moves and gets the right breaks.

Bruce Springsteen’s catalog was the theme Sunday night. This was the first time Springsteen songs have been featured to date because he has always said no to having his songs cleared for these types of shows. But he sold his catalog last year to Sony, so Sony wants to get its money’s worth!

The performances:

Part 1: Bruce Springsteen

Oddly, all three pick songs from his most popular album, “Born in the USA.” Note that this album came out 16 years before even the oldest of the trio was alive.

Leah (”Cover Me”) — She took one of Bruce’s “Born in the USA” classics and gave it her own twist, changing it around without defiling it. It had a different type of urgency than the original and a less gritty feel, befitting of Leah herself. The only downside for Leah is it’s not one of Bruce’s bigger hits so might that hurt her with votes? Katy loved her groove. Grade: A-minus

HunterGirl (”Dancing in the Dark”) — A perfectly credible, fun version of the 1984 top 2 hit by the Boss. It’ is definitely a crowd-pleaser if not one of his more trenchant song,s so likely a smart pick for votes. Katy says she looked really comfortable. Grade: B-plus/A-minus

Noah Thompson (”I’m on Fire”) — I haven’t been blown away by Noah up to this point but this one really worked well. Springsteen is right up Noah’s alley and he found the pocket. He may have sealed his victory right here. Grade: A/A-minus

Part 2: originals

Leah (”Flowers”) — It’s a pensive, thoughtful tune about her own mental health. She is very emotional, almost breaks down toward the end. “I’m falling part in a real good way,” Katy said. “That song is so beautiful and change so many other people’s lives. You are a brilliant messenger.” Grade: A-minus

Noah (”One Day Tonight”) — It is a pleasant, country radio-ready tune and he breezes through it. Luke says he has matured so much from audition to now. Grade: A-minus/B-plus

HunterGirl (”Red Bird”) — This song she co-wrote sounds like early Miranda Lambert and she performs with grace and beauty. Lionel says her support for veterans is so heartfelt and real and she tears up. Grade: A-minus

The next two hours features all sorts of celebrity duets and group sings featuring the top 10.

Carrie Underwood had to bow out because some of her crew got COVID-19.

Earth, Wind & Fire pair up with Jay Copeland for a medley of some of the band’s greatest hits. Mike Parker duets with his audition song “Strawberry Wine” with the original artist Deana Carter. Ben Platt paired up with Lady K for Elton John’s “Take Me To The Pilot.” Former “Idol” Gabby Barrett joined Emyrson Flora for “The Good Ones.” Sara Bareilles duets with Nicolina Bozzo’s audition song “She Used to Be Mind.” Former “X Factor” winner James Arthur works with Fritz Hage on “Can I Be Him.” Michael Buble and Christian Guardino tackle the classic “Smile.” Melissa Etheridge does her bluesy classic “I’m the Only One” with Noah.

Leah performed “Firework” as a kid, video which they showed before segueing into an emotional live performance with Katy. Luke and HunterGirl then take on a Randy Travis ballad “I Told You So.”

With Leah out, Noah and HunterGirl then covered their favorite past songs they had previously performed. For Noah, that was Rihanna’s “Stay” and for HunterGirl, it was “Riot” by Rascal Flatts, the audition song that earned her the Platinum Ticket that enabled her to skip a round in Hollywood.