“American Idol” Season 21 delivered yet another shock during its tense finale.
Sunday’s three-hour broadcast, which aired live on ABC coast-to-coast, saw the final three contestants − Megan Danielle, Colin Stough and Iam Tongi − each take the stage for the last time to win votes from viewers. Judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie provided feedback as usual, but in this last leg of the competition, all they could offer was praise and good wishes as the singers leave the show to embark on their music careers.
The final three each sang two songs: one by guest mentor Keith Urban and another in tribute to their hometowns. Then, host Ryan Seacrest revealed which contestants made the Top 2, and those singers went head-to-head with original songs. Tongi got the crowd chanting his name after singing Urban’s “Making Memories of Us,” Danielle belted to the heavens with a Journey classic and Stough brought his good ‘ol country boy charm to a Chris Stapleton hit.
Here are the highlights, including the winner:
Megan Danielle soars with Journey classic
Danielle kicked off the show borrowing from her religious roots on Urban’s “God Whispered Your Name.”
Danielle said she chose the song because it conveys that “God is always reaching out to you and sending people to help.” She added her goal for the night was to “turn off all the negative things in my head and just have fun.”
The judges raved over the 21-year-old server, with Richie complimenting the signature “cry” in her singing voice. “It’s everything,” he gushed. “As far as I’m concerned, we have three No. 1’s on this stage tonight.”
Perry added: “Our job here is done, because that’s the gift.”
Bryan said he hasn’t heard Danielle “make one bad vocal decision” during the whole competition. “You’ve done it stylistically in your way,” he added. “It’s inspiring to watch you grow.”
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Danielle returned for a song dedicated to her hometown of Douglasville, Georgia: “Faithfully,” by Journey.
To say she slayed it is an understatement. Her soaring vocals astonished the crowd at the climactic note of the song, bringing Perry to tears.
“I think this is what parents do when their kids graduate,” Perry said, drying her eyes. “She’s the valedictorian. You aced this class.”
Iam Tongi gets crowd chanting his name with Keith Urban hit
Tongi gave a smooth, groovy rendition of Urban’s “Making Memories of Us,” as the crowd chanted his name. “Every time you come on and you sing, the vibration that comes out of your mouth, it goes through the weeds of people’s hearts,” Perry said.
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Bryan described Tongi’s talent as “a natural gift from God.”
The 18-year-old high schooler returned to perform “Cool Down” by Kolohe Kai as a dedication to his hometown of Kahuku, Hawaii.
“Iam, you are the culture,” Perry said after the touching performance. “Welcome to paradise, my friend.”
Colin Stough channels country-boy charm into Chris Stapleton classic
Stough rocked out to Urban’s “Stupid Boy,” leaving the audience swooning over his rugged vocals.
“You’ve developed into your artistic look, your style,” Bryan said. “You’ve just come so far from the kid that walked in at auditions.”
“It was so sweet, Colin,” Perry said, complimenting the tenderness in his voice.
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The 18-year-old HVAC technician then sang Stapleton’s “Either Way” in tribute to his hometown of Amory, Mississippi.
“What I love about you is you are so much better than I originally thought you were,” Bryan told Stough, praising his development into a country music star.
Colin Stough cut from Top 3 in shocking twist
On “American Idol,” it’s become somewhat standard for rugged country crooners to sweep the competition to victory, as Noah Thompson did last year and Chayce Beckham the year before.
That’s why the studio audience let out a collective gasp when host Seacrest announced that, after the nationwide vote, Stough was eliminated, leaving Tongi and Danielle to face off as finalists.
Iam Tongi breaks down on stage, makes Katy Perry sob with James Blunt duet
As usual, the “Idol” finale included plenty of filler as viewers patiently waited to find out the winner.
There were great performances from former contestants, including a medley with Lucy Love and TLC, a Bryan-Stough duet on the Conway Twitty classic “Slow Hand” and a duet from Danielle and one of her musical heroes, Lauren Daigle, on Daigle’s “Thank God I Do.” Perry and Haven Madison also gave a moving mashup of Madison’s original song “Still Need You” and Perry’s “By the Grace of God.”
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But the most heart-wrenching performance came from Tongi and James Blunt on Blunt’s “Monsters.” Tongi auditioned for the judges with the song, which he sang in tribute to his late father.
Tongi became overwhelmed with feeling during the performance, breaking down in tears and, at moments, being unable to sing. Perry was also bawling behind the judges’ table.
Was the special moment enough to push Tongi over the edge to win the competition?
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Iam Tongi, Megan Danielle face off in intense Final 2 showdown
Tongi and Danielle each took the stage one last time to sing their original songs, recorded and released through “Idol.” Danielle belted out “Dream Girl,” and Tongi jammed out to his song “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
After the final commercial break, the votes were locked in, and Seacrest revealed the winner.
It was Tongi. He sang Spawnbreezie’s “Don’t Let Go,” as his fellow contestants rushed the stage and confetti rained down. He’s the first non-country singer to win the show in three years.
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