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That ‘American Idol’ season finale twist was a stroke of evil genius

Caleb Lee Hutchinson and Maddie Poppe gave "American Idol" viewers a very sweet ending when they announced they are a couple. (Video: The Washington Post)
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So now that “American Idol” airs on a Disney property … was this season actually scripted by Disney?

Because, in a surprise twist, the finale of ABC’s “American Idol” Season 16 on Monday night turned into a fairy tale. Toward the end of the episode, the top two finalists — Caleb Lee Hutchinson, 19, and Maddie Poppe, 20 — revealed that they’re dating.

The rumors had been circulating. Apparently country radio personality Bobby Bones, an “Idol” mentor, already knew this development. But Hutchinson, a country crooner from Georgia, and Poppe, an indie/folk singer from Iowa, made it official in front of millions of TV viewers.

“Results are coming up very soon,” host Ryan Seacrest promised the audience at one point, as Hutchinson and Poppe were about to sing a duet together. “But before we get to those, we want to celebrate the incredible talent that is your top two.”

He turned to the finalists. “The country has fallen in love with the two of you,” Seacrest declared, and then became coy. “I know the song that’s coming up. I’m just wondering, is there a special significance to the song, Caleb, when you sing it with Maddie?”

Hutchinson looked both sheepish and proud. “Well, you know, Maddie’s like my best pal,” he said. “I’ve known her since the beginning of Hollywood Week, and you know, she, uh — she actually happens to be my girlfriend.”

The audience erupted in screams. Hutchinson and Poppe grinned at each other and started laughing. Even the judges lost it, as Luke Bryan started maniacally pushing Katy Perry around in her swivel chair.

“So, the two of them are a couple, and they’re competing for the title,” Seacrest said triumphantly. “Now, wait. You have to watch this. All right? Here they are, one final performance together. Caleb and Maddie, his girlfriend, take it away.”

So Caleb and Maddie, his girlfriend, sang a stirring rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World.” Honestly, it was adorable. Near the end, they clasped hands. Disney has already had an impact on this season — there was an entire episode where contestants were required to sing Disney songs — but in that moment, the Disney-fication of “Idol” seeped out as never before.

Seacrest appeared after the performance, looking misty-eyed. “That was beautiful. Oh, my gosh, I’m in tears watching these two sing that song,” he said, as he wiped his eyes.

Then he segued: “Whenever I hear that song, I think of feet in the sand. I think of sunsets, wide-open ocean views. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? … Ever been to Hawaii?”

Hutchinson and Poppe looked confused. “No,” they replied.

“Never? Well, that’s about to change,” Seacrest announced. “Because we’re sending you, our official top two, on a vacation to Hawaii. The Aulani resort, a one-of-a-kind Disney experience in Hawaii. Congratulations!” Viewers were then treated to photos of the resort.

To sum up: A real-life surprise “love story”? Check. Product placement that fits perfectly with that twist? Check. Confirming that no matter who wins, the conversation will center on both finalists? Indeed, check.

So, nicely done, Disney. This televised couple announcement was a savvy — some might say evil genius — move for “Idol,” which was recently renewed for a second season on ABC after a rocky start.

Finally, Seacrest announced the winner, though not before reminding the audience of “the happy couple.”

“But for a moment, we’ll have to separate them,” he said, before revealing the winner was … Maddie Poppe, the proud new owner of $250,000 and a recording contract.

Carrying on “Idol” tradition, Poppe was then forced to sing her coronation song while weeping with joy. Eventually, unable to sing, she gave the microphone to her fellow finalists, who stormed the stage and embraced her in a group hug. And that, with a Disney-movie perfect scene, is how it ended.

Read more:

Trent Harmon won the last season of ‘American Idol.’ His journey proves why people still audition.

‘American Idol’ treats Katy Perry’s flirting as a joke. Some viewers aren’t amused.

‘American Idol’ premiere: Three takeaways from a show that may actually never end