Update: On Monday night, Maddie Poppe was announced as the winner of American Idol season 16, the first Iowan to win the competition. She scores a recording contract with Hollywood Records and a cash prize of $250,000. Her performances from the final episode have been added to the article.
If you haven’t heard, a small-town Iowan has made the top three on the resurrected American Idol, and stands a good chance to take home the win tonight (watch on ABC at 8 p.m. Voting is already closed).
Maddie Poppe (pronounced “poppy”) of Clarksville is a 20-year-old currently enrolled at Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo. She has been compared to Joni Mitchell, with a soothing and hypnotic folk-pop voice and a chill, humble stage presence.
Poppe has been singing publicly since junior high, performing (with various degrees of success) for RAGBRAI, the Butler County Fair and the Iowa State Fair. In 2015, Poppe made it in front the judges on The Voice. She wasn’t selected for that singing show — and her audition wasn’t televised, although the submitted video that earned her the audition is on YouTube — but her voice has come a long way since.
Poppe’s Idol soundtrack is an easy-listening delight, and attests to her success on the national platform. Catch up on all her near-flawless performances.
Poppe channelled Kermit the Frog (a la 1979’s The Muppet Movie) for her American Idol audition. She performed the song again for her hometown visit at the Butler County Fair for a crowd of undyingly supportive northeastern Iowans — and Governor Kim Reynolds, who declared May 20 “Maddie Poppe Day.”
Update: Poppe sang “Rainbow Connection” yet again on the Idol finale with Kermit himself.
“Dreams” by Brandi Carlile
Poppe cemented her position in the competition with a dare-I-say perfect performance of this Americana hit for Hollywood Week.
“Don’t Ever Let Your Children Grow Up” by Maddie Poppe
The singer-songwriter played this original song twice: for her Hollywood Week solo performance — which earned her a place in the top 24 — and on the finale last week, in the top three.
“Brand New Key” by Melanie
This whimsical tune was a welcome suprise of a song choice, showcasing Poppe’s vocal range and control, and causing Luke Bryan to want to “go skipping down a beach.” RAGBRAI participants in the past few years may have had deja vu during the performance.
“Bubbly” by (and with) Colbie Cailatt
This delicious duet showed off Poppe’s aptitude for harmony. Listening to just the audio, you’re hard-pressed to discern the amateur from the platinum-selling artist.
“Homeward Bound” by Simon and Garfunkel
It’s hard to decide what’s better: Poppe’s toe-tapping pop songs or her pitch-perfect ballads. I’m inclined to choose the latter after this lovely cover. The Top 14 performance earned her a comparison to Joni Mitchell from Katy Perry, who also praised Poppe’s taste in music.
“Walk Like An Egyptian” by The Bangles
Another quirky and inspired song choice was used for Poppe’s top 10 performance. Poppe isn’t a big belter, but the ’80s hit allowed for a few rock-and-roll vocal moments.
“The Bare Necessities”
Lionel Richie said Poppe was “coming of age right in front of our very eyes” with her velvety folk cover of the Jungle Book song for Disney Week. Just make sure to stop the video before Katy Perry’s cringe-inducing Snow White impression.
“If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crow
Probably her most raucious number to date, Poppe continued to demonstrate her country-pop sensibilities in the top seven. Just as important — at least according to Idol philosophy — was the killer outfit and hair styling. Where can I get those pants?
“Nothing Compares 2 U”
Another top-seven performance, Poppe added a little folk twist to the Prince-penned ode to a lost lover, made famous by Sinéad O’Connor.
“I Told You So” by Carrie Underwood
Having reached the top five, Poppe stretched her country legs with this song from one of Idol’s most successful winners. Richie thought Poppe overthought the performance a bit, but at least it can be said she put her own little twist on the song — her fellow finalist, Gabby Barrett, was critiqued by some fans for merely impersonating Underwood in her own cover.
“Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac
Poppe performed this oft-covered Fleetwood Mac ballad for part one of the finale Sunday. It’s a song to which she’s no stranger.
“Going Going Gone”
This catchy country-pop tune was debuted in Sunday’s episode, and is Poppe’s “coronation song” — it will be released as her first single, should she win American Idol.
Update: Poppe performed another tearful version of “Going Going Gone” following the announcement of her Idol win on Monday night, joined by some of her former competitors (and a microphone-grabby Katy Perry).
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” / “What a Wonderful World”
The night of her big win, Poppe added a mash-up to her Idol repertoire, dueted with fellow finalist (and boyfriend) Caleb Lee Hutchison.
To hear more Maddie Poppe, check out her 2016 album, Songs from the Basement.