Simon Cowell’s final Idol critique was “outstanding,” and he wasn’t talking about Lee

American Idol 9 ended its final performance episode with one incredible performance. Alas, it was by Pop Idol winner Will Young, who wasn’t eligible to win this season, though he demonstrated what it takes to be a winner even just standing behind a mic and singing as a montage of the season played. (I think that montage is just getting us warmed up for tonight’s many montages, which I’ll be live blogging.)

Perhaps the biggest news from the final performance episode was the lack of a new coronation song that both finalists would have to sing. Those always suck–last year’s was written by Kara DioGuardi but sucked so much Kris Allen stopped performing it. Instead, the two finalists performed covers: Crystal Bowersox sang Patty Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain,” which Kelly Clarkson and Susan Boyle have performed previously, and Lee DeWyze got U2’s “Beautiful Day.” Covers may not be that exciting after a season of karaoke, but I think it’s a great move on the producers’ part.

After each performed three songs, Crystal Bowersox was easily the winner by any objective measure: she sang better, she showed more personality, and she didn’t suck as much as Lee. By the time Lee sang his third and final song, “Beautiful Day,” the judges just gave up. Simon Cowell limped through his penultimate criticism, saying Lee is “somebody who needs a break” and “you’ve worked hard.” Kara was the only one who offered a bit of criticism, saying the song “swallowed” him, though she quickly added that he’d grown the most.” And not even a massive choir could mask Lee’s awfulness with his second song.

Crystal did well on all three songs, but watching Crystal walk down the stairs as she sang “Black Velvet” was a good reminder of her greatest weakness: she’s not much of a performer, carefully walking down the stairs so she wouldn’t trip instead of owning them (easy comparison: imagine Adam Lambert walking down those stairs singing the same song). But she sings well, and Simon told her, “You took that song and you absolutely nailed it.”

After her performance of “Up to the Mountain,” Crystal hilariously told Simon, “On your journeys and everything, I hope you do well–like that matters coming from me, but good luck on your future endeavors.” The “like that matters” was a good self-deprecating touch, and it worked to show some personality, although next to Lee, that isn’t tough, because Lee increasingly seems less lively than Aaron Kelly was during his early appearances.

Simon Cowell’s final critique ever on American Idol followed Crystal’s performance and turned out to be nice. “Since this is becoming a bit of a lovefest tonight, I thought that was by far the best performance and song of the night,” he said. “And since this is going to be the final critique I’m ever going to give, I would just like to say: that was outstanding.”

He was, obviously, not talking about Lee or this season.

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