With the season 11 title on the line, Phillips delivers big-time, while Jessica Sanchez can't live up to the hype.
By James Montgomery
And there you have it. "American Idol" wrapped up performances on Tuesday night with a scintillating finale that pitted growl against gravitas, mumble versus melisma, stoicism opposing stank. Yes, it was Phillip Phillips v. Jessica Sanchez, in a battle for not only the season 11 crown, but the It was, needless to say, a show for the ages — as Seacrest put it, "East Coast versus West" — one that ... oh, who am I kidding? It was basically just the same thing we've been getting for something like 46 weeks now.
In short, Sanchez did Whitney and Celine. Phillips grumbled and twitched through Ben E. King and Billy Joel. Girls in the audience squealed. Steven seemed heavily medicated. And J.Lo revealed that she's apparently never heard a Mumford & Sons song before. If there was a more fitting way to cap this rather ho-hum season of "Idol," I can't think of it.
Where the two truly managed to separate themselves was in their final performances, in which they sang their potential "coronation" songs, and — I can't believe I'm saying this — it was Phillips who stood head and shoulders above the prodigiously talented Sanchez, delivering the goods on a ready-for-radio tune called "Home." In doing so, he probably locked up the championship (though one could argue that he did that the moment he auditioned and J.Lo said he was handsome).
But who won the night? Here, for the final time this season, is our "American Idol" report card, a round-by-round, blow-by-blow recap of the fight for the season 11 title. Get excited. Or something.
Jessica Sanchez: "Idol" mastermind Simon Fuller had her do Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing," which was a good — if slightly safe — choice. Predictably, Sanchez delivered the goods, putting some certified stank on it and proving once again that she's the (second-best) singer in the competition. You could argue that, as with all of her performances, she never truly connected with the song's heart-wrenching sentiments, but that's basically flogging a dead horse at this point. Oh, and if she had any prayer of winning this thing, she really needed to take some risks tonight. This was certainly a good performance, but it was in no way an edgy one. B
Phillip Phillips: He won the "Idol" coin toss and decided to defer to the second half (maybe he wanted to kick with the wind or something). Fuller chose Ben E. King's "Stand by Me" for him, which wasn't going to silence the detractors who say he's not current but was definitely in his wheelhouse. He basically just mush-mouthed his way through this one and made a sweet guitar face, but, as with all P-squared performances, you either loved it or you hated it. Actually, I was somewhere in between. Definitely not his worst — rather, just more of the same. C+
Phillips: Oh good, he's doing "Movin' Out (Anthony's Song)" again, which was probably my least favorite performance all season. When he first sang it back in March, I congratulated him for "prov[ing] it was possible to suck the life out of even the most jovial of tunes," and I don't feel much differently now, though he gets bonus points for hiring the "Star Wars" cantina band to back him up. J.Lo called it "authentic Phillip," which is basically an oxymoron on par with "jumbo shrimp." Still he won this round, almost by default, as you'll read in a second. C+
Sanchez: And the wheels start to come off. Rather than showcase a different side of her — like when she did Jazmine Sullivan's "Stuttering" — J. Sanch decided to revisit the beautiful-yet-bland "The Prayer." We already know she can sing anything, so it would've been nice to see her go for it all here. And while her performance was appropriately pretty, light and airy, full of power and restraint, it most definitely wasn't going to move any swing voters in her direction. This was not the time to lay it up. C-
Phillips: If (when) he wins the season 11 crown, he'll be singing "Home," which could charitably be described as "Mumford Lite" (or "Diet Coldplay"). Having said that, it was also the perfect song for him, one that made you believe that he could actually have a career as a contemporary soft-rock crooner. J.Lo declared, "There's nothing on the radio that sounds like that," once again proving why she's a great person to be judging the search for the next great pop star. This was probably Phillips' best performance of the season, which is why I'm begrudgingly giving him an A.
Sanchez: Yeesh. She was saddled with the dreadful coronation ballad "Change Nothing," which sounded like it was lifted from some Disney film circa 1993. Or an awards-show "In Memoriam" package from 1989. She did her best — the second half picked up steam — but this was a terrible choice for her, one that all the judges rightfully ripped, particularly Randy, who took a moment out from admiring his pin to note, "I did not love the song. ... You've got urban in you," while Jimmy Iovine cackled in the crowd. Nice, dude. To her credit, Sanchez also pooped all over the tune, though watching her, you got the sense she knew her performance had done her in. And she's right. C-
So, with two rounds to one, I'm giving the "Idol" finale to Phillip Phillips. Which means he's a lock to take home the title on Wednesday (May 23) night (just like I predicted he would back in January). Long may he reign as season 11 champion — though, if things don't work out, I suspect he knows a good pawn shop where he could definitely get some cash for his "AI" crown. Heck, Lee DeWyze dropped his off just last week.
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