‘American Idol’ finale recap: Who won Season 18? [UPDATING LIVE BLOG]

The “American Idol” finale airs live on May 18 beginning at 8 p.m. ET/7 p..m. CT. At the top of the show, Ryan Seacrest will reveal which two of the Top 7 —  Julia Gargano, Arthur Gunn, Dillon James, Just Sam, Louis Knight, Francisco Martin and Jonny West —  didn’t make the cut. Each of the Top 5 will then perform two songs in the hopes of winning season 18. They will start off the two-hour telecast with an original song. Later, each of them will reprise one of their songs from a previous episode; this will be the winner’s single.

Unlike the previous two “American Idol” finales,  this one is not being broadcast live nationwide. That’s due to the drastic change in production because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the contestants are performing from home; each was sent the same camera and lighting equipment to ensure fairness. The three judges — Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie — are also housebound.

SEE ‘American Idol’ final: How to vote for the season 18 winner

Voting begins at the start of the broadcast on Sunday and viewers can cast votes for their favorites by three different methods: via the app, online or by text. Be sure to click on the link below for all of the voting details. “American Idol” viewers in the western half of the country can vote  by following along with the performances on the official YouTube channel. They will be posted there as soon as they are done on the East Coast feed.

SEE ‘American Idol’ Winners Ranked From Worst to Best: Who is #1?

Below, follow along as we recap all the action on “American Idol” season 18 night 16 in our updating live blog.

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8:00 p.m. — The Top 7 are coming together to prep for what could be a life changing moment. In the end someone will take the illustrious title, but not before Seacrest gets to some epic surprises! For the first time ever, the “American Idol” will be crowned in their own home.

8:05 p.m. — After the nationwide vote, the artists advancing to the finale are Dillon James, Jonny West, Arthur Gunn, Francisco Martin and Just Sam! Louis Knight and Julia Gargano have been eliminated. Viewers can now begin voting for their favorite to win the title.

8:10 p.m. — Dillon James is up first singing “Change the World” by Eric Clapton. He seems to have more country twang than ever, but gives it a fun little breakdown in the middle. I like his arrangement and Dillon definitely made this his own. I sort of expect more from people vocally in the finale, but Katy says it’s one of his best of the season. Luke said it felt natural and Lionel says his vocals were absolutely stellar.

8:15 p.m. — Francisco is the second artist to sing and he’s giving us a rendition of “Adore You” by Harry Styles. Of all the contestants, Francisco seems like the one ready to explode on pop radio. This is a fun performance and he proves he has what it takes to sing current hits. The only disappointment I have continues to be my need for someone to floor me vocally and it’s just not happening. Luke loves Francisco’s confidence, Lionel compliments his stage presence and Katy can’t wait to see him perform for a large crowd.

8:25 p.m. – Just Sam is singing “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” by the original idol, Kelly Clarkson. This is the second song she’s performed this season from a former winner so perhaps she’s putting something into the universe. Sam always sounds great, but it drives me crazy that she refuses to push her voice. I feel like she’s always just singing along to the radio. I know she’s holding back. She sings like the neighbors in her sequestered apartment filed a noise complaint. Lionel says Sam killed it and gave us attitude, Katy says she’ll never sing on the subway again and Luke calls her a blessed singer.

8:30 p.m. — Arthur is up next singing “I Don’t Want to Be” by Gavin DeGraw. The guy never misses a note but this isn’t an inspiring song choice. He also seems unaware of the cameras because he’s going up way too close and we lose half of his face. Katy says she can tell it’s the finale after hearing him sing, Luke loved how he connected with the camera and Lionel says Arthur dropped the mic and it was magical.

8:35 p.m. — Jonny is closing out round one with “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” by James & Bobby Purify. I’ve never heard this song before but it suits his voice. He sounds good and he’s just so at ease behind the keyboard. I am a little frustrated at how ho-hum these five finalists are but I think it’s because they’re performing from home. Lionel says Jonny makes anything he sings his own. Luke thinks Jonny navigates songs like a seasoned performer and Katy thinks he’s cool and easy.

8:45 p.m. — In round two each artist will sing a song that has struck a cord with viewers throughout the season. It will also be their first single should they win. Dillon is singing “The Times They Are a-Changin'” by Bob Dylan. I think this was a great choice for him and he’s got my favorite ambiance of the singers tonight. I wouldn’t mind cracking a beer on that patio while Dillon entertains. Lionel thinks Dillon made the song his own, Katy complimented his confidence and Luke is inspired by his story.

8:50 p.m. — Francisco is singing a reprise of “Alaska” by Maggie Rogers. It was another solid vocal from the teenager and Katy thought it sounded like a professional recording. Luke is heartbroken that this was his last performance of the season and Lionel calls him a model student that delivered the goods.

8:55 p.m. — Just Sam is next singing “Rise Up” by Andra Day and this is the perfect song for her. She sounds gorgeous and this is the first time all night I’ve actually felt moved by a performance, but I STILL feel she could have pushed harder. It’s too safe! Luke says she’s shown so much growth, Lionel calls her an inspiration and Katy says she rose to the occasion.

9:00 p.m. — Arthur is up next with his potential winner’s single, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. It’s his reworked arrangement he did in Hollywood week and this is probably his most memorable moment. Again, there was no pushing of vocals and I’m dying for one person to push their range but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. Lionel calls him an absolute star, Katy says he’s singing like he is about to win and Luke says he nailed every aspect of “American Idol.”

9:05 p.m. — Jonny is wrapping up the competitive portion of tonight’s episode singing his original song from his audition, “Makin’ Love.” This is a genius choice for him and he better throw in that rap verse! This sounds like it could be a current hit on the radio right now. He nailed this and I think he just delivered the best performance of the night! Katy loves the song and hopes Mark Ronson will produce the single, Luke calls it radio ready and Lionel calls him a singer, songwriter, producer extraordinaire. Now it’s all up to the votes! In less than an hour a winner will be crowned.

9:20 p.m. — The voting has officially closed and now the votes will be counted as we spend the remainder of this finale celebrating the season. And what better way to celebrate than kick off a fun drinking song by Luke, “One Margarita”? I’ll take a tequila shot to join Luke for this party and I apologize for the future typos. He’s having a good time singing while we see clips of better days when people could gather at concerts, hit the beach and enjoy the summer sun.

9:25 p.m. — Everyone’s favorite garbage man has returned and Douglas Kiker now has a chance to perform with a couple of his personal idols from Rascall Flatts. They’re joining him for the song he auditioned with, “Bless the Broken Road.” Douglas has a new smile, some gel in his hair and is sporting the leather coat. He looks like a new man! I think his performance tonight might be better than the finalists! This is a great collaboration and was fun to see. Bravo! In other inspiring news, one of the standouts from last year, Laci Kaye Booth, has been signed to a major record label. Congrats to her!

9:35 p.m. — The winner tonight will also have the honor of joining Lionel on a new recording of “We Are the World” with a number of other Idol alums. But first, Lauren Daigle surprises Sam to let her know she’ll be singing “You Say” with her tonight. Sam sounds great on this song and if she hits the recording studio soon I hope she has songs like this submitted for her. I think she sounds better than Lauren! But I still wish someone had Fantasia pay Sam a visit in quarantine to teach her how to leave her heart on the stage.

9:40 p.m. — Now Katy’s debuting a special performance of “Daisies” with some fun illustrations created on the green screen. We’ve seen some odd illustrations throughout the contestant performances this season and Katy is showing us how a seasoned star is able to play along with it and make it come to life in a fun way.

9:50 p.m. — Along with the Top 11, Oscar winner Cynthia Erivo is joining the Top 11 for a celebration of the music of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. The girls seem a little more comfortable jamming to these hits with the exception of Jovin Webb, who I’m starting to wish was doing this as a duet with Cynthia on his own.

9:52 p.m. — In no particular order, Ryan now announces the Top 2 finalists. They are Arthur Gunn and Just Sam! Wow! Congrats to the final two! Dillon, Francisco and Jonny have been eliminated. We will find out who the Season 18 champ is in just minutes.

9:59 p.m. — I keep thinking how sad it is for Sam to be alone in an apartment by herself. How odd would it be to be crowned the winner of such an epic championship while sitting alone in a room. It’s just unprecedented. Ryan is about to announce the winner. After the nationwide vote, the 2020 “American Idol” is Just Sam. It’s nice to see her grandmother on an iPad talking with her through video chat. Now she gets to join Lionel and other greats from “American Idol” history on “We Are the World.” What a finish! Congrats to Just Sam as she prevails over four worthy competitors. I look forward to hearing what music she releases in the future. And the others should remember you don’t need to win to be successful. That’s a wrap for Season 18!

SEE ‘American Idol’ judges rankings: All 14 judges ranked from worst to best

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