“American Idol” Has Its Two Finalists

To nobody’s surprise, and to the relief of the “American Idol” executives, it will be Crystal Bowersox and Lee Dewyze singing in the finale next week.

It’s hard to argue with the results. Bowersox has been strong all season long, and Dewyze has emerged over the past month to join her as a favorite. The contrast between the indie coffeehouse artist and the paint-store rocker — and believe me, you’ll hear that story line a zillion times this week — will be fun to watch.

Casey James didn’t seem surprised by his exit, which he had to know was coming. He even got in a zinger early in the show, after the judges tried to take credit for offering useful feedback: “I was thinking, ‘Not every single comment was usable,’ ” he said.

“Well, that kind of comment is why we like Lee and Crystal better,” the judges replied. OK, they didn’t really say that. But they were thinking it, for sure.

You have to wonder, however, if James will spend some of these next few days wondering what might have happened if he’d gotten a little more love from the judges, and a little more help from the production crew this week.

Not to make excuses, because James was his own worst enemy. Picking “OK, It’s Alright With Me” by Eric Hutchinson as his song choice Tuesday was a terrible strategy. It’s great that the song meant a lot to him and is the kind of song he’d record as an artist, but this isn’t the time to be personal and quirky. It’s the time to engage the audience with a song they’ve heard of, and you could see the “Huh?” thought bubbles go off over the audience when he began his performance. A contestant needs to be awesome to pull that off, and James was not.

But Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi did him no favors by making him sing John Mayer’s “Daughters,” which had no climax and little chance for a “moment.” Then it was more bad luck when he had to sing first. He showed up with his guitar and a simple melody, while Dewyze got the background singers, the fancy production values and the prime position closing the show. It may not have been the deciding factor, but it sure didn’t hurt Dewyze’s prospects or help James’.

It also didn’t help any of the contestants that the heartwarming videos of their homecomings last week aired on Wednesday instead of Tuesday. It was very sweet to see James go back to the hospital where he was treated for his injuries that put his life in danger a few years ago, to watch Bowersox choke up when she talked about how important it was to her that her original song “Holy Toledo” got some airtime, and to hear Dewyze’s voice break when singing “The Boxer” in his hometown concert. But none of that translated into votes because we saw it way after the deadline. I don’t get that decision at all.

Here’s what else I don’t get: Why did Perez Hilton get four minutes of airtime for himself and his “discovery,” pop singer Travis Garland? If he really thinks Garland sings “better than Justin Timberlake,” I have to wonder how he got that job as a judge for the Miss USA pageant, because I’m not seeing that at all.

Also performing (on tape) was Justin Bieber, Twitter trending topic and tween favorite. Everything that can be said about Bieber has already been said, so let me just add this: He makes Aaron Kelly look like a grandfather, or at least as old as Simon Cowell.

Finally, at 9:55 p.m. ET, Ryan Seacrest began to give us the results, and it was exactly what we all expected. James, who Randy once called “probably the best musician/guitar player we’ve ever had on here,” goes on to his musical future a week earlier than he had hoped.

Meanwhile, we’ll hear Bowersox and Dewyze square off for the season nine title.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/craigberman.

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