(LOS ANGELES) — Candice Glover, a 23-year-old singer from St. Helena Island, South Carolina, was crowned the Season 12 American Idol champion Thursday night.
Candice defeated runner-up Kree Harrison to become the first female American Idol winner since 2007. Candice had been trying out for Idol for the past three years, so this win was especially sweet for her. She capped off the night singing her brand-new single, “I Am Beautiful.”
Kree and Candice performed one final duet of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “One Less Bell to Answer” and “A House Is Not a Home” before Candice was crowned the winner.
This season’s top 10 finalists opened the show singing TheWanted’s “Glad You Came.” The “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin appeared via satellite from New York City to sing with the top five girls, who were in Los Angeles. It was all a bit surreal, but Aretha sounded great nonetheless. The medley began with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and continued with “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” “Respect” and “Think.”
The top five guys took the stage to sing a medley of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons hits, including “Let’s Hang On (To What We’ve Got)” and “Walk Like a Man,” before Frankie joined them to sing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” and “Grease.”
Heavily bejeweled judge Mariah Carey performed a medley of her hits “Vision of Love,” “Make It Happen,” “My All,” “Hero” and “We Belong Together” before finishing up with her latest hit “#Beautiful,” a duet with Miguel. Though Miguel didn’t show up for the duet, Mariah’s fellow judge and longtime collaborator, Randy Jackson, did play bass for the performance. Mariah’s performance was actually taped on Wednesday night, and speculation that she was lip synching was widespread on Twitter during the show. Mariah’s rep told The Hollywood Reporter she was definitely singing live though.
Country trio The Band Perry gave a dramatic performance of their latest single, “DONE.,” with a little help from finalist Janelle Arthur. Former Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson returned to sing a powerhouse cover of Natalie Cole’s “Inseparable” with Candice.
Judge Keith Urban performed his brand-new country single, “Little Bit of Everything,” for the first time on television. Keith returned to perform “Where the Blacktop Ends” with Kree and Randy, featuring Blink-182’s Travis Barker on drums.
Since Randy is leaving the show, Idol kicked off a tribute to the “Dawg” with a roomful of dogs sitting at a conference table barking about it. Their subtitles revealed they were upset about Randy’s departure. A montage of Randy’s finest moments followed.
Psy was on hand for a highly-produced and choreographed performance of his single, “Gentleman.” Former Idol judge Jennifer Lopez teamed up with Pitbull to perform their latest collaboration, “Live It Up,” just before the results were announced.
Amber Holcomb returned to sing the British sensation Emeli Sandé’s hit “Next to Me” with Emeli herself. Angie Miller teamed up with former Idol contestant Adam Lambert for a duet on David Guetta and Sia’s “Titanium.”
Then Jessie J, Angie’s personal Idol, appeared behind the judges’ table to join Angie onstage for a duet of Jessie’s hit “Domino.” After the performance, Jessie told Angie she’d fly her to the U.K. so they could perform Angie’s original song, “You Set Me Free,” together onstage. Angie was supposed to have performed that song on the finale, but according to Jessie, Angie had to forgo doing so in order to sing with her. By the way, Jessie appeared bald because she recently shaved her head for charity, and her hair hasn’t grown in yet.
The two-hour finale included a comic interlude where all the male finalists revealed that they were voted off in quick succession because the female finalists sabotaged them, in order to ensure a female winner. It was a sly reference to the fact that many viewers this year believed the producers deliberately stacked the deck with weak male contestants to achieve the same results. At the end of the piece, it was revealed that the mastermind behind the so-called “sabotage” was none other than Jordin Sparks, the last female winner of American Idol.
Backstage, after the show, Candice said she was “still trying to process” the idea that she had won. Candice said she didn’t hear Ryan Seacrest announce her name, but she does remember confetti getting into her mouth while she was singing. She said winning “feels amazing.”
When asked backstage why she kept trying out for Idol, Candice replied that she “just couldn’t stay away, because I knew that if I kept trying it would happen.”
Kree spoke backstage about being excited about going out on tour, calling it “a little insane.” As for her recording plans, Kree said she just wants to make a good record. As for the genre, Kree declared, “It’s definitely going to be country, for sure. I want to be on country radio, and, yeah. I can’t believe I get to go make that now.”
If you’re already missing this season’s finalists, then catch them on the road this summer. The IDOL Live! 2013 Tour launches June 29 in St. Louis.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Frank Pallotta, CNN
Sara Ashley O'Brien, CNN
Sandra Gonzalez, CNN