This "Idol" finale was easy to predict ... or maybe not

If you like epic rock -- the sort that digs deep and pushes hard -- this is your week. Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene provide a powerhouse pair on Tuesday and Wednesday; then the winner will sing at the National Memorial Day Concert (see previous blog) on Sunday. Here's the story I sent to papers:


As some people see it, this year’s “American Idol” finale
was inevitable.

Surely, Caleb Johnson and Jena Irene would be the final two.
“Their performances are so big,” said Alex Preston, who finished third. “I knew
deep-down it would be them.”

One of the two, at least, always seemed like a sure thing. “Caleb
is a very big, dynamic performer with a big, strong voice,” said Harry Connick
Jr., one of the judges.

Johnson, 23, started strong and has never been in the bottom
three. He fits all patterns, including geographic: He’s from North Carolina,
which has had two previous winners – Scotty McCreery and Fantasia. The 12 “Idol”
winners include nine Southerners plus Oklahoma and Missouri.

And Irene? She’s 17 and a Northerner, from Farmington Hills,
Mich.; and she almost was out early.

Viewers didn’t put her in the show’s top 10; she survived because
judges gave her one of the three wild-card spots. Only one other wild-card
person (Clay Aiken, 11 years ago) has reached the final night.

Early on, viewers plunked her in the bottom three, at the
edge of ouster.  “She just keeps comin’
back and comin’ back,” said Harry Connick Jr., an “Idol” judge who spotted her
potential early. “She just has that mystique,” he said. “I think I called her
the sleeper at the time.”

That mystique seems to involve confidence. Offstage, Preston
said, “Jena is just like one of the guys. She’s just fun to hang out with.” She’s
similar, he said, to Johnson, who’s “a super-cool dude.”

And onstage, Connick said, she keeps that assertiveness.
“Jena has such variety in her song choices and her performances, from ballads
to Benatar (rock belter Pat Benatar). She’s made some great decisions.”

Italian on her father’s side (her full name is Jena Irene
Asciutto) and French on her mother’s, she grew up comfortably in Detroit
suburbia, where both parents are business executives. Early on, she started
writing songs and singing with her band, Infinity Hour.

In Ashville, Johnson was singing with the rock band Elijah
Hooker and took two previous cracks at “Idol,” reaching the top 42 and the top
24. This time, he seemed destined for the top.

Last week, Irene was singing richly emotional songs and
Johnson was delivering furious, mike-stand-smashing rock ‘n’ roll. “It’s television
and people love (that),” Preston said. “It’s awesome, but I can’t do that.” He
knew then that it would be a Caleb-Jena finale.

“American Idol,” Fox.

Performances, 8-9 p.m. Tuesday, then viewers
vote; finale, 8-10:07 p.m. Wednesday.