American Idol finale: Phil Phillips soars while Jessica Sanchez stumbles

American Idol: Jessica Sanchez and Phil Phillips each performed three songs on Tuesday night in the hopes of becoming Season 11's American Idol victor.  Only one of the contestants earned a standing ovation.

Michael Becker / AP Photo/FOX
American Idol finalists Phillip Phillips, left and Jessica Sanchez competed for the show's record deal, the grand prize on Tuesday night. The Season 11 American Idol winner will be announced Wednesday night.

On Tuesday night, American Idol aired their last performance show of Season 11. It was an event somewhat shrouded by questions about Season 12: Will Jennifer Lopez be successful in her attempts to strong arm producers into upping her $20 million  annual salary?  Will producers finally recognize that the only irreplaceable talent they have is Ryan Seacrest and pay him what he's worth? Will next year involve judges who actually judge?  

But let us not become distracted from our present mission; crowning this season's American Idol.  It was clear from their performances that neither Jessica nor Phillip were distracted from their final goal, to earn your votes. With an hour-long format, only one extraneous mid-show performance, Jason Derulo singing, "Undefeated," and each of the contestants performing three songs, the show's pace was brisk and satisfying unlike the filler laden episodes that weighed down the rest of the season.  

Despite the heightened cadence of the show, each contestant performed at least one song that had viewers thinking the evening couldn't end soon enough. The crucial difference is that one contestant got their weaker performance over with first, while the other saved their enervating performance for the final installment of their trilogy.

Round 1:

Jessica Sanchez: It seemed as though the wardrobe consultants were erring on the side of conservative with Jessica's image for the finale performances. Despite wearing a pair of heels that constituted at least half of her overall height in her final performance and quite possibly the reason the entire song was sung whilst seated on a piano, Jessica was the picture of demureness on Tuesday. For her first song, "I Have Nothing," by Whitney Houston, Jessica donned a modest if somewhat unwieldy evening gown which, unlike American Idol creator Simon Fuller's song choice, was not completely inappropriate for her age.

Jessica's performance of "I Have Nothing," illustrated everything that is wrong with Jessica Sanchez as an artist and only brief glimpses of what is right. Simon Fuller saddled Jessica with another diva ballad that, like 95 percent of those that preceded it this season, was simply too old for her. Jessica's vocal was in tune and impressive as always but even a brilliant vocal suffers when delivered with an expressionless stare. She didn't connect emotionally with the song. Just as suggested last week, if Jessica is going to tackle songs by the divas of our time she should take better care when selecting them. Mariah Carey's, "Someday," would have been an ideal alternative to last week's performance of "My All," just as "How Will I Know," would have been a more fitting Houston song for the sixteen-year-old.  B

Phil Phillips: On the heels of Jessica's round-one song assignment by Simon Fuller, conspiracy theories were threatening to fight their way into my blog. Could Simon Fuller have deliberately chosen the innocuous Houston song for Jessica so that Phillip could easily outshine her? All such theories were disproven when Phillip began his performance of "Stand by Me;" in fact, new theories blossomed. Maybe Simon Fuller doesn't want an American Idol crowned at all this year and is trying to convince us not to vote for either of them!

Nothing worked in Phillip's first performance. Sure, his smile was intoxicating per usual, but at this stage of the competition you can't get by with just a pretty face and a bat of the eye. No, viewers needed more from Phillip and unfortunately the song, which, in a classic Phillip move, was stripped of its melody, did not allow Phil to shine.

The judges agreed, saying that Jessica was the winner of round one.  Well, JLo and Randy Jackson agreed - Ryan didn't seem too interested in Steven Tyler's take on Round One.  B-

Round 2:

Jessica Sanchez: For their second song, contestants got to choose one of their favorite performances of the season. Jessica selected, "The Prayer," and though not typically a song for a 16-year-old, it certainly is a song one could imagine a Disney Princess singing so there was no egregious error in suitability during the second round.  In fact, though the performance didn't show us anything we haven't seen from Jessica before, it did remind us just how heartbreakingly beautiful the girl can sing.  A-

Phillip Phillips: Like Jessica's second round song choice, Phillip's performance of Billy Joel's, "Moving Out," was not ground breaking but it was a great choice to remind us why we loved him in the first place. "Moving Out," was one of Phillip's stronger performances of the season but this time there was something about the song that showcased him even better than the first. Perhaps this time around, we know Phillip a bit better and the fact that "Moving Out," could be the theme song for non-conformists the world over, we sense that Phillip intrinsically identifies with the meaning behind the song; something Jessica rarely does.  A

Round 3:

Jessica Sanchez: The final song-selection of the evening was a song that could be the Idol's future single. Jessica Sanchez performed "Change Nothing," an insipid, pop ballad that managed to suck the energy and vitality right out of her. Seated on a piano, Jessica struggled to infuse the song with some form of redemption but there was none to be found. Instead, Jessica gave viewers a glimpse into the dreaded but all too real future of an Idol victor: pop-induced obscurity. Though something of an oxymoron, pop-induced obscurity is the terminology that describes the phenomenon that occurs when an "artist," in an attempt to appeal to the masses, strips themselves of any uniqueness or originality and as a result, they fall into obscurity. Similar to a one-hit wonder or a has-been except that Idol winners are often no-hit wonders or a could-have-beens.  

It was an unfortunate final performance by Jessica Sanchez and viewers could see the regret on Jessica's face as soon as she finished singing. The judges all agreed that Jessica did herself no favors with such a vanilla song choice. C

Phillip Phillips: In contrast to Jessica's weak final performance, Phillip selected a song that seemed tailor-made for him.  "Home," was just the kind of relaxed, esoteric tune that one would not only expect but long for from Phillip. He delivered it with the trademark ease of an artist whose confidence stems more from an absence of self-awareness than from conceit.  It was the perfect way for him to finish the season and the judges were on their feet for, one can only hope, the last time this season. A


As many have pointed out, Jessica Sanchez has a huge Twitter and YouTube following, which could be seen as an indication that she will cinch the popular vote.  But one can't forget the "independents," those viewers who vote based on performance rather than any performer affiliation. These viewers, combined with the starry-eyed teenage girls and "cougars" (I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that it is generally agreed upon that a "cougar" is a woman of at least 40 - therefore it is a position that, despite my affinity for Phillip, I clearly am not qualified to hold.) could (and I predict will) propel Phillip to victory. 

Did you agree with the judges? Do you think Phillip won the night and possibly the title? Share your comments below.

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