The finish of the “American Idol” 2018 two-night finale on May 21 followed in the tradition of the competition, except that one twist could not be scripted. The aim of the night was to celebrate the season, and the growth of all the young talents, now ready to embark on careers [VIDEO], not just a coronation of the season winner.

There was tension but tremendous camaraderie for Maddie Poppe, Caleb Lee Hutchinson, and Gabby Barrett through a night of performances.

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The evening opened with Lionel Richie dripping in sparkles, and singing “All Night Long” with the same exuberance and spirit as the composer and singer displayed in 1983. A roster of superstar collaborators was on board to create memorable moments with the worthy talents, and Luke Bryan and Katy Perry kept their performance promises to contestants, too.

Caleb Lee Hutchinson [VIDEO] demonstrated his prowess in more than country crooning, doing a dead-on impression of Lionel Richie, and in a little Luke Bryan. Richie often used the comparison with the talents likened to a casserole, needing to “cook more,” and this night was cooking. Ryan Seacrest mentioned the “American Idol” tactic of “dragging things out,” but any lag times in this season closer were hardly noticed, and a love story topped the night along with the titleholder.

The parade of stars proceeds

Nick Jonas strolled out to sing “Anywhere” with DJ Mustard and screams erupted before the first high note. In just moments, a fan favorite of the season, Jurnee, joined Jonas on “Jealous.” The singer made it all the way to the top five cut this season and was toe-to-toe in performance with her partner, who gave her nothing but praise.

Luke Bryan came out to perform is summer single while he's out on the road, “Sunrise Sunburn Sunset.” He gushed that he was glad to “sing for Y'all,” but his real treat was to sing with his “American Idol” favorite from the season, Gabby Barrett, on “Most People Are Good.” Bryan and Barrett exhibited a flow like old friends, and the judge said he had been waiting to sing with her all season.

The music took a rocking turn when blues-rock guitar giant and songwriter, Gary Clark Jr., was center stage, flanked by Cade Foehner and Dennis Lorenzo, who “went electric” for “Bright Lights Big City.” The performance was that of a royal prince of music with his worthy protégés. “That was energy!” raved Ryan Seacrest.

Certainly, the sweetest moment of the night was the duet between Maddie Poppe and Kermit the frog on “The Rainbow Connection.” Their duet was followed by the presentation of a living, breathing alpaca to Arkansas nursing student, Noah Davis, who dreamed of having the animals as his crowning achievement from his “American Idol” journey.

This one seemed a very gentle, unlike the one who chased Lionel Richie at Michael Jackson's estate.

Darius Rucker and Caleb Lee Hutchinson were in sync and spirit on Rucker’s hit, “Wagon Wheel,” seeming to truly savor the moment.

Most welcome partnerships

After a Jimmy Kimmel “American Idol” time capsule routine that wasn't so well received or too funny, a touching duet of “Meant to Be” followed with the top three and Bebe Rexha. The time came for the revelation of the top two vying for the title. With the call to dim the lights, results came that Caleb and Maddie would continue, and Gabby had to say goodbye. To her credit, she displayed poise and class before falling into the arms of her parents.

Some lighthearted fun was needed when a commercial spot for the ABC “American Idol” Season 2 was presented, featuring Noah Davis, Ada Vox, and Katy Perry's heartthrob, Trevor Holmes all singing of their fate on a farm.

Layla Spring and her adoring little sister, Dixie, came out to sing, and got the surprise of their lives when LeAnn Rimes walked out to conclude, “Blue.” Rimes was taken aback by the cuteness factor and the fan love from the siblings. Dixie could hardly look the right direction with her wave, finally turned around by Ryan Seacrest.

A dream finish

The most meaningful and dazzling duets topped off this finale. The first was the fulfillment of Katy Perry's pledge to sing on stage with Catie Turner. Catie had the honor of culling through Katy Perry's catalog and chose “Part of Me” for this performance. She and Perry seemed to share one soul as they sang the powerful ballad of finding oneself again. More than a performance, it was a moment that mattered to both performers. It was riveting and made the season worthwhile.

Michael J Woodard has been missed since his “American Idol” departure, and the physical, emotional, and spiritual lift he brought to the stage singing, “What the World Needs Now” alongside gospel great, Yolanda Adams, was indescribable. The world needs the light, the heart, and the talent of this artist.

Surprise couples news came when Caleb announced that Maddie didn't just become his “best friend” since Hollywood Week, but that “she’s my girlfriend,” and the pair is dating. Katy Perry's set off spinning her chair, and Ryan Seacrest got teary seeing both sets of parents together. Naturally, the singers’ medley of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” was particularly poignant. The couple was presented with a vacation getaway from Disney cruises, and Caleb decided that their parents could escort.

All through the “American Idol” 2018 season, the judges praised that Ada Vox always brought down the house. The showstopper for this occasion was “Lady Marmalade,” with no one more fitting than Patti LaBelle to arrive as a partner. Love and ovation came in waves.

It's no wonder that Maddie Poppe admitted that “I don't care who wins,” earlier in the night, seeing her recent romantic situation. It was Maddie who won the 2018 vote as “American Idol.” She couldn't stop the tears, even when handed her guitar to sing her “Going Going Gone” single. Every contender present for the night rushed onstage for a hug and tried to help sing, but by this moment, that promotion didn't matter. She will be singing it all summer anyway.