American Idol crowns Phillip Phillips in talented, funny, bizarre finale

American Idol: After months of competition, American Idol aired its finale on Wednesday night and anointed Phillip Phillips as the winner of Season 11.

John Shearer/Invision/AP
Winner Phillip Phillips performs onstage at the American Idol Finale on Wednesday, May 23, 2012 in Los Angeles, Calif.. After months of competition, the Georgian native beat out 16-year-old, Jessica Sanchez for the title of Season 11's American Idol.

On Wednesday night, after a record 132 million votes, Phillip Phillips was crowned as the Season 11 American Idol. (I started practicing that sentence immediately after he performed "Thriller" in his auditions.)  After the performances on Tuesday night, it certainly seemed that Phillip might have the momentum needed heading into the finale. Phillip was able to close the Tuesday night show on a high note with his performance of, "Home;"  this, after Jessica Sanchez struggled with her potential first single, "Change Nothing."

And let's face it, Phillip is a man after all. Over the last six seasons, it has become clear that despite Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson being the two most successful Idol winners ever, American Idol voters seem to save the victor's prize for the men.  

It was an action packed, star-studded finale show that included performances by Season 11's top twelve, Neil Diamond, Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Aerosmith, and Reba McEntire, among others. The highlights of the two-hour finale often involved the contestants who viewers have grown to love throughout the season. When they all converged on stage to open the show with a group performance of Bruno Mars's, "Runaway Baby," it served as a reminder just how talented the pool of contestants was this season.

Their talent was further demonstrated when they were paired with some of the industry's biggest names.  Skylar Laine was joined by Reba McEntire for a performance of, "Turn on the Radio."  The number proved that Skylar's stage presence was not only remarkable compared to that of her peers, but the Mississippi native was just as comfortable and riveting on stage as Ms. McEntire herself.  Phil Phillips and John Fogerty, from Creedence Clearwater Revival, joined forces for rousing performances of, "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," and "Bad Moon Rising."

Joshua Ledet, despite finishing in third place, had his dreams come true during the finale when he had the opportunity to perform with his inspiration, Fantasia. And while the chance to perform with her may have been the stuff dreams are made of, her black, one-piece, skin-tight leotard – with cut-outs that extended from her hips to her knees – was nightmarish, at best. When Chaka Khan stumbled (literally) into the performance of, "I'm Every Woman," with the top 6 girls, wearing what looked like full-body bedazzled Spanx, it seemed that unflattering jumpsuits were the new fad. Where was Tommy Hilfiger when we needed him?

For a touch of comic relief, American Idol presented a video of Season 11 contestants singing the phonebook, in honor of Randy Jackson's infamous phrase, "You could sing the phonebook."  In the skit, the contestants are dressed as a choir, holding yellow pages rather than songbooks, and singing phone numbers and advertisements. The skit, which culminates with Joshua Ledet going gospel, is actually one of the funniest Idol has ever prepared.

As a foil to the laughter, Ryan Seacrest prepared the audience for what he promised to be a powerful duet of "You're Gonna Love Me," with Jessica Sanchez and Jennifer Holliday. If one searches the web for information on the duet between Sanchez and Holliday, they will read countless accolades calling it a "flawless," and "killer" performance.  Perhaps, if the duet had been strictly delivered via audio, you would read the same thing here. But American Idol, as you know, is a television show so, in addition to what might be amazing audio, there is a visual aspect to each performance.

The visual of Jennifer Holliday and Jessica Sanchez duet was so downright bizarre some might have been convinced that it was a parody. Jennifer Holliday seemed almost possessed as she sang the song with bulging eyes and disconcerting grins and growls. Jessica, who has proven that she can flawlessly mimic other artists, even started to make some of the same over-the-top, maniacal facial expressions. (To be fair, I think it was her way of coping with her fear - hoping that she might find safety in a shared lunacy.) It won't be long until parodies of this performance start popping up. (I recommend getting Adam Sandler to play the role of Jennifer Holliday in the skit, since there was at least one note she hit that reminded me of "Lunch Lady Land.")

But in the end, it isn't about the crazy good (or just plain crazy) performances or the stars or the top 12, it is just about the top 2. Jessica Sanchez and Phillip Phillips joined Ryan in the center of the stage and Kieran dimmed the lights one last time for Season 11, and Phillip Phillips was named this year's American Idol. Jessica took the news with a poise, which like most everything else about her, was beyond her years.

Season 10 winner Scotty McCreery was on hand to give Phil a trophy. (Was this the first time a trophy was handed out on American Idol? Did the show's producers feel like they were being upstaged by ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," mirror-ball trophy?) Then Phillip was given a guitar and the stage to perform his first single, "Home."

Phillip seemed dazed during the first half of the performance but by the time the chorus hit and the relentless confetti threatened to bury the entire set, Phillip's amazement gave way to tears as he struggled to articulate the lyrics. Finally, in a move that was so quintessentially Phillip, he gave up on trying to finish the song and walked off stage into the arms of his parents.

Only time will tell whether Phillip's career will thrive or suffer under the management of the "Idol machine." But with genuine artistry, the best single in perhaps the entire history of the show and at least 66,000,001 votes of confidence, he's definitely got a promising head start.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.