The “American Idol” finale airs live from coast-to-coast on May 19 beginning at 8 p.m. ET/5 p..m. PT. Each of the Top 3 will perform three songs in the hopes of winning season 17. Alejandro Aranda, Laine Hardy and Madison VanDenburg will start off the three-hour live telecast with a number dedicated to their respective childhood hometowns. Each of them will then reprise one of their songs from a previous episode. And they will collaborate with a guest musical artist.
As with the previous four episodes of “American Idol,” this one is being broadcast live nationwide. Voting begins at the start of the broadcast on Sunday and viewers can cast votes for their favorites by three different methods: by app, online or via text. Midway through the evening, Ryan Seacrest will reveal the artist with the fewest votes who will be eliminated immediately, leaving just the Top 2 to fight it out for the championship. (For those on the west coast who don’t want to watch live, the show will be repeated in its usual 8 p.m. time slot but they won’t be able to vote.)
SEE ‘American Idol’ finale spoilers: What songs are the Top 3 singing on Sunday, May 19?
This talented trio got to this final stage of the competition by winning enough votes on May 12. That Top 5 show saw the elimination of Laci Kaye Booth and Wade Cota. Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie had used their only judges save of the season the previous week. In a controversial move, they opted to throw a lifeline to Laci instead of fan favorite Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon.
Below, follow along as we recap all the action on “American Idol” season 17 night 18 in our updating live blog.
SEE ‘American Idol’ final: How to vote for the season 17 winner
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8:00 p.m. – An action-packed evening gets started immediately with Lionel bursting into the audience singing his classic hit, “Dancing on the Ceiling.” The pop legend works his way through the crowd and eventually hits the stage where he’s joined by the Top 10 finalists. At nearly 70 years old, Lionel hasn’t lost a step and definitely energized the crowd. What a way to kick off the finale!
8:10 p.m. – Ryan explains the rules: Each contestant will sing twice. At that point, a snapshot of the votes will be taken and whoever is in third place at that point will be eliminated. Votes will continue to stream in for the two finalists for the remainder of the night. Up first is Laine singing “Home” by Marc Broussard. It’s a dirty, funky rock song and works right into Laine’s comfort zone. He’s a bit stiff on stage and looks as if he’s reading the lyrics off a teleprompter. This was a little lukewarm for me. Laine fans probably enjoy it but I don’t see him winning over more with this performance. Nonetheless, the judges are on their feet. Katy tells Laine if he applies himself he will be one of the biggest stars on this planet. Luke was more interested in talking about boots and didn’t say much about the performance. Lionel reminds everyone he begged Laine to join the competition months ago and described the song he just performed as “Nasty.” To be clear, that’s a compliment.
8:15 p.m. – Madison is up next and she’s singing “Shallow” by Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper. This is a brilliant song choice for her. People love it, but it was never overplayed. She sounds beautiful through the first verse, but we’re all waiting for her to belt out the chorus. She seemed a bit tentative at first and I was wondering if she might have some vocal issues, but once the guitars join in she rocks the house and gives us what we were wanting! Once again the judges are on their feet (I expect them to be all night). Luke says Madison’s voice is “next level.” Lionel calls her “an amazing light” and Katy says they’ve known greatness was inside of her since the day she auditioned. Madison reveals that “Shallow” was a last-minute switch up and she had originally planned to sing “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston. I feel like when artists sing Whitney they often show their vocal weaknesses more than strengths, so wise choice Madison. She sounded great.
8:25 p.m. – Alejandro is up next, singing an original song called “Millennial Love.” I’m happy to see it’s just Alejandro and his guitar, which always makes for his best performances. He performs with his eyes closed perched on a stool in the middle of a crowd he’s not really engaging, but it feels like an intimate performance. I wanted to be more moved by this performance than I was, but I think he was still able to show what makes him stand out. The audience loves this guy! Lionel says it was “love at first sound” when they saw Alejandro. Katy says you could hear a pin drop when he was singing and he should never let it get watered down by what people say. Luke says he will never forget the first time he met Alejandro and we’ve been spoiled by him week after week.
8:30 p.m. – When asked who was the winner of round one, the judges give their opinion. Luke thinks Madison won that round because her voice is so big. Lionel is a “sucker for a songwriter” and chose Alejandro. Katy agrees with Lionel and gives the edge to Alejandro. I agree with the judges, Laine was definitely the weakest of the three in that round.
8:40 p.m. – Laine is ready to give his second performance, “Jambalaya” by Hank Williams. This song about a bayou and all things southern is a genius song choice that his base and hometown will love. He’s having a lot more fun on stage and he definitely looks more at ease when he song with a country vibe. Vocally, it was nothing to write home about but it was an enjoyable performance. Katy wants Laine to take her fishing. Luke complimented the song choice and thought it was wise to show he’s still connected to his roots. Lionel was impressed that the Governor in Laine’s hometown package said “Party with the Hardy.”
8:55 p.m. – Madison is not shying away from the comparisons drawn between her and the original idol Kelly Clarkson. She’s singing one of Kelly’s biggest hits, “Breakaway.” I’m not sure if she can hear the music correctly in her ear piece because I’ve never heard her sing so off key. Also, the band is drowning out her vocals. The crowd seems to be loving her, but that was not a smart song choice in my opinion and was probably her worst vocal of the season. Luke says her range is impressive and enjoyed seeing her tackle Kelly. Lionel loved seeing her father’s reaction. Katy tells her to continue to nurture her talent and keep her work ethic, because she will fly so far.
9:10 p.m. – Singing another original song, “Tonight,” Alejandro is at the keyboard this time showing yet again that he’s a musical virtuoso. This is a song that sounds more like a radio-friendly hit than his earlier performance. He’s not comfortable with the attention and it shows, as he still performs mostly with his eyes closed throughout the performance. Whatever he lacks in stage presence he makes up for in emotion. The crowd is going wild and the number of people that showed up at his hometown visit was astounding. Katy says it’s been a pleasure to live in the same lifetime as Alejandro and he makes “American Idol” more than a karaoke show. Lionel and Luke complimented it as a beautiful moment. The judges have clearly chosen their “American Idol,” but will audiences agree?
9:20 p.m. – Season 4 champ and “Idol” royalty Carrie Underwood stopped by to sing her new single “Southbound” before the first results are read. After singing two songs, one of the contestants will now be eliminated in third place. With the fewest number of votes, Madison’s journey has come to an end.
9:30 p.m. – Montell Jordan stopped by to sing his classic hit, “This is How We Do It,” which Katy seems excited about. During one memorable moment, Katy did the worm to this song earlier this season. Montell was joined by some viral artists from the auditions, Margie Mays, Austin Michael Robinson and a slew of dancers dressed like Katy. It was, well, interesting. But Montell still sounds good.
9:37 p.m. – We’re going to keep the fun going with Katy taking the stage with Daddy Yankee singing “Con Calma.” Katy is just sitting underneath a heap of hair and not even moving around stage for the first half of the song, but she finally gets up and her and Daddy Yankee have fun dancing around. The song samples “Informer,” but they added some Latin flare. Fun summer song.
9:40 p.m. – Alejandro is now playing his original song “10 Years” with a full orchestra backing him, as Stevie Nicks predicted he one day would. They’re all wearing matching beanies, including the maestro. I actually got chills when they reached the bridge and the orchestra came in fully. Luke and Lionel watch on as if they’re witnessing history. I’m sure Alejandro is thrilled to have his own composition played with such beauty by a full orchestra. That was great!
9:50 p.m. – Adam Lambert now returns to perform his new single “New Eyes” and he’s sporting an interesting look. It’s like if one of the Bee Gee‘s came back as a vampire. I didn’t love the song, but it’s sometimes difficult to judge a song when you hear it for the first time as a live performance. Next, Dimitrius Graham joins him for a song we all love, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Can I just say, Dimitrius has never sounded better. Perhaps without the pressure of the competition he’s able to loosen up. We saw all different layers to his voice that would have been nice to hear when he was competing. And Adam’s range is just absurd. Now THAT was a duet!
10:00 p.m. – After being eliminated earlier, Madison returns to sing “Speechless” with country duo Dan + Shay after they perform “All to Myself.” It can’t be easy to learn you got third place and then be expected to come back out for something like this, so kudos to her.
10:05 p.m. – Luke’s getting his chance to sing now with his song “Knockin’ Boots.” This song is definitely a boot-stomper and after he slaps hands with members of the audience he welcomes out Laci Kaye Booth to sing “Every Breath You Take.” I’m a fan of Laci’s voice so it’s nice to see her come back.
10:15 p.m. – It’s time to party with the Hardy as Jon Pardi joins Laine for a performance of “Dirt on My Boots” and “Night Shift.” They deliver the pair of fun country tunes much to the pleasure of the screaming audience members.
10:20 p.m. – Katy returns to sing another duet, this time “Unconditionally” with Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon. They sound fantastic together. I’m still surprised Jeremiah is here as a guest and not a finalist, but he’s making the most of it. This was one of the best performances of the night. Next Weezer performed “Africa” with Wade Cota. Wade’s voice is not a good fit for “Africa,” yikes! Walker Burroughs then joins them for “Take on Me” and this is a much better collaboration.
10:30 p.m. – Country star Kane Brown stopped by to sing a couple of his hits, “Good as You” and “Lost in the Middle of Nowhere.” Alyssa Raghu joined him on the latter and seemed to enjoy adding her pop flare to it. Then, Ryan announced that both Alejandro and Laine will get a Disney cruise to the Bahamas, win or lose. Next, Shayy, the legally blind singer who won over viewers earlier this season returned to sing “Rise Up” by Andra Day. She sounds fantastic and then announced that Andra is there to sing with her! They were both fantastic! Lionel is in tears.
10:40 p.m. – Kool & The Gang is in the house to bestow their funk on everyone and had Uche’ joined them for a fun performance of “Hollywood Swinging.” Uche’ looks like he’s been waiting all night to strut his stuff. Later other members of the Top 10 join in for various hits. I can’t help but focus in on Madison and think she would probably rather be doing anything right now than sing “Celebrate,” but she’s probably a better sport than me.
10:45 p.m. – Laine is giving his final performance of the night, “Bring it On Home to ME” by Sam Cooke. I love this song. Brilliant choice. He’s nailing the vocal and I love the way he honky-tonks it up in the second half. Luke congratulates him and reminds him how unique and identifiable his tone is. Lionel tells Laine he has the best attitude for coming back this season and reaching the finals. Katy calls him authentic and that he is ready this time around.
10:50 p.m. – Alejandro’s final performance is his original song “Out Loud.” It’s the song he sang for his initial audition. The guitar chords on this are incredible and his runs are the most vocally impressive thing he’s done. This is my favorite of his songs. I am certain no other contestant has performed all original music on a finale before so he’s made history already. This was fantastic! The audience will not stop cheering! Luke thanks him for the experience. Lionel says Alejandro has instant identity and is a gift to us all. Katy says it is an incredible honor to give him a boost to find his wings.
10:59 p.m. – It’s time to crown the winner for Season 17 of “American Idol.” Alejandro or Laine? The winner is…Laine Hardy! Congratulations to Laine and fantastic job to Alejandro he will do amazing things I’m sure. Laine closed out the show with his debut single, “Flame.” That’s a wrap for Season 17!
American Idol: Laine Hardy
Runner-up: Alejandro Aranda
Third Place: Madison VanDenburg