So this is it, the final sing-off of “American Idol XI.”
On the one hand, Jessica Sanchez, who’s made it this far based on the strength of her gorgeous voice and the surprise factor that it comes out of a tiny 16-year-old.
On the other hand, Phillip Phillips, 21, who’s made it this far because he’s this year’s copy of an “Idol” perennial winner, the safe, scruffy white guy with the gravelly voice and guitar—though to be fair, Phil is a pleasant, winsome version of the type. And let us say right off, he has our undying admiration for declining to appear in Ford Music Video car promos all season.
Sad to say, this is the second to last Judge’s Entrance of the season and, through the tears, we can make out that Steven Tyler has come as purple, crushed velvet couch, and Randy Jackson as a scoop of orange sherbe. But it’s Jennifer Lopez who has come dressed to kill in a form fitting, off-the-shoulder outfit that would be perfect for a tightrope act. Missed opportunity for JLo in not coming out with the other two judges standing on her shoulders. Let us also say right off that JLo is not afraid to show some hips.
Host Ryan Seacrest surveys the scene: “7,000 die-hard ‘Idol’ fans are here” in the Nokia Theater LA LIVE in down town Los Angeles.
Bring out the two contestants, as Phil2 helps Jessica descend the stairs in a long dress, looking like the prom king and queen.
Their thoughts at this momentous time? Seacrest wants to know. “This is insane. I never even dreamed of this moment, “ says Jessica. Phil decides to gobble like turkey with a corn kernel stuck in its throat.
The reading of the rules: Round 1 songs will be the choice of “American Idol” Chief Brit Simon Fuller. Round 2 is each Idolettes’ choice of favorite song of the season. Round 3, says Seacrest, “Jessica and Phillip’s potential winning songs” -- the dreaded “American Idol” Treacle Tunes.
Phil won the “coin toss” last week, Seacrest tells us, though in the video he appears to be tossing a red poker chip, in one last plug for the Wynn hotel -- scene of the Vegas Week auditions, we’re pretty sure.
Anyway, Phil has elected to receive, so Jessica will go first with Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” It’s a great vehicle for her, with a lot of heavy lifting in the mid-range, which is her sweet spot. And, she pulls it off brilliantly, while strapped into a long weedy dress that’s trying to trip her up with every move, and also features breath-constricting bodice boning, plus she’s wearing eight-inch heels. To level the playing field, Phil will perform in a straightjacket.
No judges’ comments follow, because those are the rules -- and tonight’s show is only one hour, so we’re just going to stipulate that both contestants are “IN IT TO WIN IT” without any prompting by Randy.
Phil’s turn, and he’s been assigned the Ben E. King classic “Stand By Me.” It’s a song with a natural big break in it, which Phil refuses to take. Or maybe he’s saving his strength. We get repeated flashes of someone in the audience holding up a sign that says “Pheel Better Phillip” -- a reminder of his ongoing condition, FMVI (that would be Ford Music Video Intolerance).
Seacrest puts the pressure on the judges. Who won the first round? JLo won’t make a call, saying it’s “the battle of the opposites”: the girl with “amazing vocal prowess” vs. “our modern day crooner.” But Randy takes a stand: “Round one probably went to Jessica.” Tyler stays mum.
Back from the commercial break, JLo says she’s agrees with Randy.
For weeks now, Jason Derulo has been trying to craft a song based on suggestions from “Idol” fans, and now it’s ready to perform. Sure, it promoted Coke, but it was also “helpful in Jason’s healing process,” Seacrest says – Derulo fractured his neck rehearsing in January while doing onstage acrobatics. He’s not wearing the neck brace we saw him in on earlier episodes. As he sings “Undefeated,” he’s sitting down. No, he stands up! He spins a folding chair. He stands on the folding chair. He’s on top of the world. Dancers are moving around him energetically. He moves his feet a little more, while keeping his neck very, very still. He walks quickly up and down some stairs; he performs a few more complicated steps while the other dancers race around him.
Seacrest congratulates him at the end, as Derulo is slowly lowered via some kind of mechanical lift. Derulo congratulates himself. No one congratulates the fans for their help, though Coke will give away 10,000 downloads of “Undefeated”.
Round Two, the favorites songs of the two surviving Idolettes. For Jessica, that is “The Prayer,” the Celine Dion-Andrea Bocelli emoti-fest. Jessica triumphs over the sappiness and with great breath control.
Phil’s Phave: Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out.” It’s again a good vehicle for him.
How do the judges feel about all this? Tyler, who is allotted one good line per episode, delivers this: “When it comes to Phillip Phillips I would say, you know, you don’t always have to be a good egg. Hatch or go bad. Tonight, you know, he’s hatched some but I would have to say that Jessica took it again.”
Randy and JLo appear to feel some urgency to even the score. Randy calls it a “dead heat” and JLo gives the advantage to Phil because, she explains, “I’ve seen Jessica do that before, but I thought that was the authentic Phillip right there.” Note to JLo: yes, you did see Jessica do that song before. That was the point of Round 2. You’d also seen Phil2 do his performance before. You just forgot it.
Last round, the contestants will sing what Seacrest again refers to as “the winning songs,” that they will presumably record as a single if they win the competition.
If this dour ballad “Change Nothing” is the producers’ idea of a winner for Jessica, they have steered the poor girl very wrong. How bad was it? Among the lyrics:
“Should’ve kept my mouth shut and kept it all to myself.”
Jessica seems unconvinced about the whole effort, which is a sign of her good taste.
All three judges zero in on the problem. “I’ll be straight up – I did not love the song,” Randy says. “You brought the song to life, but the song was just okay,” he adds, generously.
“If I was thinking about what your first single would be, I don’t think I would do that,” weighs in JLo.
Right now would be a good time to drag “American Idol” Chief Mentor Jimmy Iovine up on stage, so Jessica can kick him in the shin. There he is, hiding in the audience, chuckling and amused.
But does that happen? No! Seacrest instead makes like the burden of proof is all on little Jessica, and demands a comment. “I did want to do more urban something,” she says, “but, like this is the finale and I was trying to pick a winner song, something that shows my voice. But definitely when I make my record, if I ever do, it’s going to be a lot more me.” JLo shouts from her seat that Jessica will indeed make a record.
After that fiasco, Phil could come out and sing the phone book, to quote Randy at innumerable points this season, and still win the night.
The producers have found for him a little Mumford & Sons Lite number called “Home.”It’s a Moment for Phil, complete with marching band drum section storming through as Phil plays his guitar looking very safe, and scruffy, and voting-tweener-chick catnip-like. He gets the night’s only standing ovation from the judges, who begin to foam over and, if we had any red poker chips left from the Wynn, we would bet them all on Phil right now.
“I couldn’t think of any other singer or band you sounded like…That was a Phillip Phillips song and there’s nothing on the radio that sounds like that,” gushes JLo, who seems to have a Mumford & Sons hole in her music appreciation training because, as Randy points out, the number was very Mumford & Sons.
“By virtue of your vulnerability and style you have made the world your home my friend,” Tyler begins to prattle happily. “I heard a little Paul Simon, and other ungodlike creatures on this planet, and you were perfect tonight. And I think you are The Man,” he adds.
“The rest is in The Universe and you voting at home,” says Seacrest, picking up on Tyler’s speech pattern.
A brief moment follows in which the two surviving Idolettes say how much they like each other, and reassure us that there are no hard feelings, coached by Seacrest, as well as a tentative hug.
And then Scotty McCreery, last season’s winner, sings us off with “Remember Me” while clips from “Idol XI” play on a big screen to the back and The Universe reaches for the remote before “Glee” comes on.
Last week’s results show: Joshua Ledet exits; Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez head to the finals
Last week’s performance show: The final three perform, and search for a “moment-moment-moment”
TV Column: Fox execs say ‘Idol’ will be “tweaked” next year; reports surface that J-Lo is quitting
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