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And the winner of ‘American Idol’ Season 16 is …

Lyndsey Parker

Seven years ago on American Idol, the top three were country singers Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina and rocker Haley Reinhart. Some Idol experts speculated that Haley would split the country vote and pull off an underdog victory, but that didn’t happen.

However, on Monday night’s finale of the recently rebooted show, history didn’t repeat itself. Indie-folk artist Maddie Poppe actually pulled off a major upset against country contestants Caleb Lee Hutchinson (second place) and Gabby Barrett (the Carrie Underwood clone who had been widely predicted to win but had to settle for third place) to become Idol’s 16th champion. Maddie was so choked up by the surprise result she could barely sing her victory song, so the rest of the top 10 hopped up to take turns at the mic, and a total party broke out onstage.

Caleb didn’t seem too disappointed with his runner-up position, however — since he and Maddie announced on the finale that they’re dating! And after the two held hands and sang a feels-inducing duet of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Ryan Seacrest surprised them with a romantic getaway to a Hawaiian Disney resort. (Gabby and her showmance partner, top five contestant Cade Foehner, didn’t get a trip.)


Center judge Katy Perry certainly must have pleased by this result, since she’d boldly informed Maddie “I’m voting for you!” on Sunday’s part one finale. (“They didn’t say I wasn’t allowed to! I’m playing within the rules. Use your voice if you have one,” Katy told Yahoo Entertainment after the show.) “I really see myself in her, a young version of myself,” Katy said backstage. “Like, I almost looked like her [when I was younger]; it’s so weird! And I think she chooses really great songs.”

Maddie was this season’s token quirky girl — although she was always “better than that,” as guest mentor Nick Jonas astutely noted. A true artist, her “taste level” consistently earned raves from the judges (especially from former Hotel Café troubadour Katy), whether she was auditioning with the Muppets’ tear-jerking “Rainbow Connection”; performing her bittersweet original “Don’t Ever Let Your Children Grow Up” (which she reprised on Sunday’s show); or covering classics by Simon & Garfunkel, Sheryl Crow, Brandi Carlile, Sinead O’Connor, or the Beach Boys. In a season filled with brash belters, her warm, gentle, less-is-more approach stood out.

“I thought Maddie going out and doing [“Don’t Ever Let Your Children Grow Up”] on the [Sunday] finale had real balls, so I was proud of her for doing that,” in-house mentor Bobby Bones told Yahoo. “And that just shows you that from front to back, she is the most pure artist: songwriter, performer, singer. She was probably my favorite artist through the entire show.”

It seemed America agreed with Katy and Bobby, and now, hopefully, America will buy the 20-year-old Iowa singer-songwriter’s music. It could be argued that Gabby and Caleb were the season’s more commercial and marketable prospects, and it can be assumed that the Idol brass and new affiliated label Hollywood Records want a winner that will boost the show’s chart presence and, of course, its circa-2018 relevance. I say “Don’t Ever Let Your Children Grow Up” is evidence that — as Katy often asserted — Maddie’s creative instincts can be trusted. So just put the girl and her guitar in the studio and let the magic happen. Watch this space.

Other highlights of Monday’s Idol finale included Maddie and Kermit the Frog dueting on “Rainbow Connection” (“It was amazing,” Maddie gushed to Yahoo. “I treat that like a scared thing. It’s like singing with Michael Jackson, it really is.”); Ada Vox chewing scenery to “Lady Marmalade” with Patti LaBelle (a pairing that made Fantasia and Joshua Ledet’s Season 11 duet seem sedate); Katy making good on her promise to sing with top 10 contestant Catie Turner, doing “Part of Me”; and Lionel Richie making good on his promise to gift top 24 contestant Noah “Wig” Davis with a pet alpaca.

Whatever lies in Maddie’s future (professionally or with Caleb), it has already been confirmed that the series has been renewed for 2019 by its new network, ABC, with all three judges (Katy, Lionel, and Luke Bryan) returning. Luke seems especially excited for next season, telling Yahoo backstage, “We are taking all of our knowledge. When we look back, we go, ‘Oh, I wish we’d done this or that differently,’ and ‘We gotta tell the producers this.’ Now we’ve got a season behind us. We know when we made a mistake here and there, and we know of some creative things we might tell the producers to make the show better. As long as the judges are invested in trying … I think if we’re just out there to collect the paycheck, do the time, and be on TV, then we don’t need to be doing it. I think it’s up to us to put our heads together and make the best show possible that America wants to see.”

Until then, Kieran, dim the lights, and Parker out.

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