Let's face it: "American Idol" is broken. Season 12, which ends with a two-part finale starting tonight, was often painful to watch, and ratings fell more than 20 percent from last season, which already had ratings issues. Randy Jackson, the only original judge remaining, announced last week he will leave, and rumors abound that all the other judges and some other execs will get the heave-ho.

It turns out the show's fan base didn't want to watch the passive-aggressive fights of Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey or get manipulated into voting in the first female "Idol" in six years. Shocking!

The bigger surprise? All this season 12 dysfunction actually yielded two very strong finalists in Candice Glover and Kree Harrison. And, for the first time in years, it might actually be a tight race.

It hasn't been an easy road for the two "American Idol" contestants.

Candice Glover was twice rejected by the show before making it to the final three. Kree Harrison chased her dream for so long in Nashville, she thought it might be time to give up. Now the two women will duke it out Wednesday night and one will be crowned the winner on Thursday.

Here are their stories.

Candice Glover

The third time has been the charm for Candice Glover.

She made it past the first round of "American Idol" auditions in Season 9 and Season 11, but didn't make it to the semifinals. This season, her slow, burning, powerful version of The Cure's "Lovesong" was called the greatest performance ever on the show by judge Randy Jackson, who has been there since the beginning.

"I'm definitely proof dreams come true," Glover said when she returned re-cently to her hometown of St. Helena Island, S.C. "No matter how many times you get a 'no,' you keep trying to get a 'yes.'"

Glover started singing and performing at Oaks True Holiness Church at age 4. She got her first standing ovation there when she was 8, and was hooked on entertaining.

Glover first auditioned for "American Idol" in 2009, making it to the final 70 contestants. She made the top 60 in 2011 before bowing out. But she wasn't on TV either time.

She headed back to St. Helena Island after each failure, making her living renting scooters and golf carts in resort areas nearby and singing at weddings and funerals.

After last season's near-miss, Glover said she took time to assess her strengths and weaknesses as a performer. She never had a vocal coach, and she credits what she did with herself - not the turnover in three of the show's four judges - with her success.

"It's the change in me, not the judges. It's the fact I worked really hard and prepared myself, compared to before," Glover said.

She also has a whole state cheering for her. Despite the success of Southern artists on the show, South Carolina has never had an Idol contest make it this far, even with a rich musical tradition that includes jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, the Godfather of Soul James Brown, 1960s dance icon Chubby Checker and rock and now country star Darius Rucker.

"You could not have made South Carolina more proud than we are right now," said Gov. Nikki Haley as she declared "Candice Glover Day" in South Carolina two weeks ago.

Jeffrey Collins

Kree Harrison

"American Idol" finalist Kree Harrison has a piece of advice for aspiring contestants: "You have to know who you are because if you don't, it's even harder."

The native Texan has spent the last 13 years in Nashville, Tenn., chasing the dream, and part of that long journey has been maintaining her personal vision as an artist. That vision has landed the 22-year-old as one of the finalists on "Idol." After a couple of failed deals that would have required her to change her sound, she had started to think it might be time to give up, though.

"Nashville has taught me so much - the people, the writing community, the whole town," Harrison said. "They'll make you stronger. Probably since I was not trying anymore, I thought what do I have to lose (trying out for 'Idol')? I can maybe create this following that I need. That was my initial goal. 'Idol' gives artists such a great platform to start your career. Hopefully however big your following will be, you'll make great music and someone will get it. It's been crazy. And worth it."

One of those friends is Kacey Musgraves, who had Harrison sing backup on her recent hit album, "Same Trailer Different Park." Musgraves thinks she knows the secret to Harrison's success so far.

"I've literally never heard the girl hit one bad note," Musgraves said. "Her instincts are spot on always. The thing I love about her is she never tries to overdo it, she never tries to over-sing. And it's always really believeable and real, and I think people are craving that."

And if it doesn't work out, she'll always have that tweet from Merle Haggard, who complimented her on her version of "Help Me Make It Through the Night."

"Oh my God, I don't even think it's real still," Harrison said. "I was like, 'Who's punking me?' First of all, Merle Haggard has a Twitter? That's amazing. I kept refreshing the page thinking, 'There must be something wrong.'

Chris Talbott

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Candice Glover

Age: 23

Hometown: St. Helena Island, S.C.

Pros: Glover has a strong, expressive voice and an impressive range that allows her to smoothly incorporate jazzy runs without losing her R&B footing.

Cons: Sometimes, the runs get away from her, especially when she's not sure of the material. Also, is "Idol" nation really going to wildly vote for a jazz-leaning R&B singer?

Big moment: "Lovesong" during "Songs I Wish I Wrote Week." Her jazzy interpretation of The Cure classic ended with a stunning, controlled run.

Favorite singer: Jazmine Sullivan

For a victory: She needs huge moments like last week's "Somewhere" on

every song.

Odds of winning:


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