Recap: ‘American Idol’ Season 11 Finale – Performances

05.22.12 5 years ago 29 Comments


It’s “American Idol” Finale week!

After five months of auditions and performances and eliminations, we’ve come down an entirely logical finale: It’s a showdown between the season’s Best White Guy With a Guitar and the season’s Most Talented Teenage Girl.

If you’ve been following “Idol” voting for a while, this is the matchup most likely to produce drama and this season does, indeed, seem to be up for grabs. 

My instinct is that although we may assume Phil-Phil is the favorite, for demographic reasons, he’s more than capable of turning in a lackluster finale night performance, while Jessica is more than capable of dominating a head-to-head sing-off.

Click through for tonight’s songs…

[Unscientific polling of the “American Idol” finale in-person audience seemed to give Jessica an advantage, but there are myriad reasons why that’s absolutely meaningless.]

Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: “I Have Nothing”
My Take: The first songs tonight were chosen by producer Simon Fuller. In this case, Simon is somewhat doing Jessica a favor. We know Jessica can sing Whitney and singing Whitney is a solid path to popularity. Then again, is Jessica going to surprise anybody by singing Whitney? Doesn’t it feel like she’s been doing nothing but Whitney and Mariah and J-Hud this season? It’s hilarious that Whitney Houston, long off-limits (common sense-wise) to “Idol” singers, to is like a slam-dunk for Jessica, but she’s that good in this particular mode. The result is a performance that’s strong, assured, powerfully belted and not the slightest bit revelatory. She looks good and she isn’t the least bit self-conscious on the big stage.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: The judges aren’t going to weigh in until the end of each round. OK.

Singer: Phillip Phillips
Song: “Stand By Me”
My Take: Weird song choice from Simon Fuller. And a strange arrangement choice by Phil-Phil. Or maybe it’s not so weird or so strange. Yes, it’s a low-key song choice and the arrangement has accentuated only the softer, most mellow accents of the classic. On the other hand, Phil-Phil has to figure that the way he wins this competition isn’t by attempting to out-sing Jessica. He can’t. He’s going to win by doing EXACTLY what he does and doing it well and assuming that the people who love him made up their minds months ago. So his easy-going “Stand By Me” is even less revelatory than Jessica’s Whitney Houston, but it’s far from a misstep. It’s comfortable and pleasant and musical. Just as Jessica showcased the things she can do that Phil-Phil can’t, Phil-Phil showcased the things he can do that Jessica can’t. For me? This was still a bit too sleepy from Phil-Phil. Jessica probably wins the Round.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “It’s like a battle of the opposites,” Jennifer Lopez says. J-Lo then refuses to take a stand between either singer in the first round. Randy gives Round One to Jessica.

Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: “The Prayer”
My Take: GREAT song choice, by Jessica. Can’t praise this one highly enough, because it’s a performance we saw only some of back in the build-up to the Top 24. So it’s a performance we all may vaguely remember liking, but it’s not one of the performances that is weighed down by fatigue. She does this song great justice. I wish the arrangement had been stripped down just a bit more. Doing this a cappella or nearly a cappella could have ended the competition. She also would have been well-served to ditch her usual podium-and-fog staging. I just think there were steps that could have been taken to make this performance stand out as Jessica’s “Idol”-defining song, rather than coming across as a top-notch piece of ballad-wailing, but a piece of ballad-wailing non-the less. I started off, as you saw, tremendously enthusiastic, but by the time Jessica ended, it was just another very good Jessica performance and not a statement at all.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Nothing. Yet.

Singer: Phillip Phillips
Song: “Movin’ Out”
My Take: Phil-Phil was in a tough place because he had his best vocal just last week with the Bob Seger song and repetition wouldn’t have looked good. Phil-Phil has stripped down some of the performance from his original Billy Joel Night performance and given his guitar playing a little bit more to the middle. He also gave a solo to the jazz sax player I’m convinced he’s in love with. It’s funny: This year’s “Idol” finalists are both very proficient at what they do, but they’re also both very set in their ways. Jessica’s not going to do anything that isn’t a diva ballad and Phil-Phil’s settled into his guitar-jangle. Neither singer is giving any indication that they think this “Idol” crown is going to be won tonight, so they’re both going right to the center and letting fans come to them. Because of the jaunty lead-guitar play at the start of “Movin’ Out,” I give Phil-Phil Round 2. But neither singer is trying to aggressively court fans by doing anything differently and the result is, thus far, a pretty lackluster show, despite its proficiency.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: “Hatch or go bad,” Steven Tyler says of Phil-Phil, giving Jessica her second straight round. J-Lo gives the second round to Phil-Phil. Randy calls it a draw.

Singer: Jessica Sanchez
Song: “Change Nothing”
My Take: HAHAHA. Would this be the most appropriate song title ever for either of these winners? “Stick-in-the-Mud Idol.” Anyway, this song stinks. Coronation songs almost always stink. But this isn’t even a coronation song. It’s just a bad song that would be Jessica’s first single if she wins and will never be heard again if she doesn’t. Hopefully. Who thought it was a good idea to Jessica singing a love song about how people don’t know the hell that she and her partner have gone through? “Should have shut my mouth and kept it all to myself”? Is that a lyric? And why is Jessica being made the mouthpiece for this nonsense? Jessica’s a little shrill on some of the song, but at least it’s full of big notes designed to let her strut. But speaking of strutting, has she just given up on mobility? She’s sitting on the edge of the piano with her legs crossed and she doesn’t even MOVE for two minutes. That wasn’t an interesting song or an interesting performance of an uninteresting song.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: Randy didn’t love the song, but he loved that she made something more out of the song. J-Lo wanted something more soulful and less poppy for her first single. J-Lo urges Jessica to stand up for herself as an artist when she makes her album. Tyler joins the, “Wow, that song sucked” parade. We keep cutting over to Jimmy, as Jessica basically agrees this song wasn’t her.

Singer: Phillip Phillips
Song: “Home”
My Take: Well, conspiracy theorists, here’s an easy one for you. Jessica got the most mediocre, meaningless coronation song ever. And she did nothing with it. Phil-Phil, in contrast, got a coronation that’s perfectly suited to his gruff-voiced troubadour personal. It’s not a great song — It’s faux Mumford & Sons through-and-through — but it’s a pretty solid song and he’s joined by a full marching band. and he strums his guitar and croons enthusiastically, selling the material completely. It’s a really good performance unlike Jessica, Phil-Phil doesn’t appear to be even slightly self-conscious about what he’s been given. He likes it and the feeling is contagious. Jessica may have had a slim victory in the first two rounds, but Phil-Phil scored an absolutely knock-out with the coronation song. WOW.
Steven, J-Lo and Randy Say: The judges don’t leave any suspense, giving Phil-Phil their only standing ovation of the night. Randy calls it a “true artist performance.” J-Lo, who doesn’t know Mumford and Sons, says that there’s nothing on the radio that sounds like him. “I think you are the man,” Steven says.

MY VERDICT: Yeah. Phil-Phil won the finale show. The coronation song did it. That doesn’t mean ANYTHING, of course. But the gap in Round Three was prohibitive. 

Predictions for tomorrow? Can Phil-Phil lose?

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