Ladies and gentlemen, Idol devotees near and far, we have made it. We have reached the conclusion of a phenomenal season, littered with talent that seems incomprehensible and performances that will be remembered for decades. The final battle took place, and tonight either Jessica Sanchez or Phillip Phillips will be chosen as the champion of American Idol’s 11th Season. Jessica Sanchez vs. Phillip Phillips: The foregone finale conclusion, and after last night…perhaps the deserving one (did I just admit that?!). I’m not going to pretend all was perfect in Idol world, but at the very least it was far and away the strongest finale since Kris Allen vs. Adam Lambert. It put last year’s heinously boring “country” finale to shame, and because of the steep level of competition we may see the tightest voting since Clay Aiken lost to Ruben Studdard way back in Season Two of Idol by a mere 100,000+ votes. Since it is finale week, my recap will be structured a bit differently. Find out how things went down for me after the jump…
1. Jessica Sanchez (“I Have Nothing”) vs. Phillip Phillips (“Stand By Me”), Round 1: “Producer’s Choice” — Neither of these song choices made by Idol producer Simon Fuller were win-worthy. From a conspiratorial perspective, it seemed mighty suspicious to drop Whitney once again on Jessica’s lap. Seriously, does Jessica need any more pity votes to win this show, or can she simply win by the god-like power of her voice alone? Like “Dance With My Father,” this performance was meant to draw in sympathy votes from America, not to mention its the second song Jessica has performed that has been covered twice this season — Jermaine Jones sang “Dance With My Father” during the semifinals and Shannon Magrane picked “I Have Nothing” for “Whitney Houston” week. Yet, even after all that hodgepodge, Jessica managed to absolutely nail this version of Whitney’s pop classic. I loved the beginning when Jessica took her time with those intro verses, letting her rasp and soul trickle on upward as the song reached its chorus pinnacle. Even more so, I felt Jessica was emotionally taken by the words she was singing, and she sold each lyric with her commitment, heart, and silky smooth vocals. This may have been a more refined, controlled, some may say subdued performance, but to me it just marked Jessica as a consummate professional and ever maturing superstar. As for Phillip, I was surprised to find myself digging the arrangement of his “Stand By Me.” It had an adult-contemporary vibe to it without losing the emotion of Ben E. King’s original version. The arrangement was so cool in fact, that I was depressed it was Phillip’s voice on the track and not someone else’s. How much greater would this arrangement have sounded with a better vocalist behind the microphone? The song highlighted Phillip’s one glaring weakness (and it’s a major one): his voice just isn’t all that wonderful to begin with. In the end, this round’s winner was a no-brainer for me.
Round 1 Winner: Jessica Sanchez (***1/2 vs P2’s **1/2)
2. Jessica Sanchez (“The Prayer”) vs Phillip Phillips (“Movin’ Out”), Round 2: “Contestant’s Choice” — For the first time all season, Jessica finally put some real strategy behind a song choice. Instead of rehashing a performance that is still fresh in our minds, Jessica went all the way back to the Celine Dion international hit that landed her a spot in the Idol Top 24. I know I may be in the minority on this one, but this is perhaps one of my favorite Idol performances ever. No, its greatness still doesn’t overcome Elise Testone’s now-legendary “Whole Lotta Love,” but it comes mighty close. Here is what I loved about the performance: Jessica knew exactly what journey she was taking us on, and when the path seemed familiar and slightly predictable, she suddenly veered us onto the yellow brick road that would take us to Emerald City. Call Jessica pageant-like, call her boring, and call her a copycat. What you cannot call her is anything less than America’s strongest teenage vocalist. After her perfect rendition of “The Prayer” — that ‘And we’ll remember we are ALLLLLLLLL God’s children’ part contained THE best hit note of Season 11, bar none — my case remains closed. Phillip’s slightly unnecessary choice of regurgitating “Movin’ Out” didn’t exactly disprove those “lazy” labels he’s had thrown at him the whole season. The good news is that Phillip seemed more invested in the story this time around that he was able to deliver a stronger impression than before. Again, his vocals are very hit and miss — P2’s voice didn’t start sounding strong until the last third of the song — but I enjoyed the extra layer or commitment and the funkier groove overall. Ultimately, comparing the two wasn’t akin to apples and oranges. Wonder Woman versus Futurama’s Professor Famsworth is a more appropriate comparison.
Round 2 Winner: Jessica Sanchez (**** vs P2’s ***)
3. Jessica Sanchez (“Change Nothing”) vs. Phillip Phillips (“Home”), Round 3: “Debut Single” — Idol sabotage incoming! Whose brilliant idea was it to turn Jessica Sanchez into the next Adele? No scratch that, she is a stronger woman’s Miley Cyrus if this song is any indication. Any second, I was expecting rainbows and unicorns to spread across the Nokia Theater stage. This was a terrible choice for a contestant who lives, breathes, and SINGS urban/R&B music. I couldn’t even find the hook in the song — that was how horrifically unmemorable and wasteful it was. Even Idol wrist-slitter’s like “This is My Now” and “Do I Make You Proud?” had something of a melody and hook. Jessica was given the most boring, bland, and artistically insignificant song in the history of the show. Her rendition managed to answer my age-old debate in the process: when it comes to preferring a bad singer singing a good song versus a good singer singing a bad one, I’ll always take the former now that “Change Nothing” did nothing for Miss Sanchez. To make matters worse, Phillip’s song was amazing. I would have liked a tad more investment when singing — sometimes Phillip’s desire to perform goes in and out — but man that was about as perfect a song fitting as could be. “Home” was radio-friendly, but more so radio-ready. I’m not sure what planet Jennifer Lopez was on when she said that there was nothing that sounded like “Home” on the radio, because I’m pretty sure her “judging adviser” Randy Jackson compared the song to Mumford and Sons. Phillip’s biggest problem that he faces with this single is its widespread appeal. Those who watch Idol may purchase it right away, but I worry it may not have the longevity that other adult-contemporary rock songs have with stronger hooks and popular bands headlining them. Still, this was an easy victory for Phillip, and the one moment that may have mattered the most.
Round 3 Winner: Phillip Phillips (***1/2 vs Jessica’s **)
Overall Finale Night Winner: Jessica Sanchez
Predicted to Win: Phillip Phillips
Going to get robbed, so brace yourself for it: Jessica Sanchez
That is a wrap for the season, everybody! I so enjoyed writing and recapping Idol for you all this year, and I’m burning in anticipation to do it all over again in 2013. I would like to thank all the readers who provided commentary, as well as those who read and found themselves either infuriated by my opinions or in favor of them. Regardless, I had a blast and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Jessica Sanchez will be the Season 11 Champion. I know the goal seems impossible given a woman’s poor track record the past five years, but Jessica doesn’t have the most Twitter followers of the season for nothing. I hope they voted in droves last night. One thing is for sure: I am gearing up for this awesome finale show, hoping the end justifies the journey. Readers, it has been a pleasure…