Tonight marks the final performance episode of American Idol Season 11. And while many viewers (like, say, us) were deprived of the Jessica Sanchez-Joshua Ledet heavyweight bout they wanted, the diametrically opposed styles and fan bases of Phillip Phillips and Jessica make for an intriguing finale. In one corner we have the miniaturized Beyonce-via-growling-tiger teenager, in the other corner we have a gruff Dave Matthews-style strummer. While Jessica showcased prodigious vocals and a commanding stage presence right away in the Top 13, Phil has evolved from a dude scatting and just having a good time into an actual singer — if his performance last week wasn’t a fluke.
So will squealing girls come out of the woodwork to again hand the title to a charming young man? Or will Jessica’s incredible voice break the ladies’ drought through sheer force of will? Before making your prediction, take a look back at the finalists’ most impressive and most disappointing performances.
Best Performance: “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” (Top 4)
As if there were any doubt! Little Jessica sang the hell out of this song on May 9. One of our commenters compared it to a Blake Griffin dunk, and she’s exactly right: this was a thunderous posterization stretched out for two minutes. It combined all of Jessica’s best qualities: the powerful vibrato, knowing when to run and when to hold out a note evenly, and that ferocious growl. And to think, the judges had to use a save on this girl. Let’s watch it again, shall we?
Runner-up: “Stuttering” (Top 7)
For this spot, we could’ve chosen her conquering another landmark vocal with her Top 13 performance of “I Will Always Love You.” But on “Stuttering” she displayed such amazing control, and such a honing of her craft that is far beyond her 16 years. What’s more shocking is that she landed on the bottom after this performance. But if you can do what this girl did to “Stuttering” and Jennifer Hudson, even if you lose the vote you pretty much win at life.
Worst Performance: “My All” (Top 3)
The judges gave Hollie Cavanagh a lot of flack for overthinking songs, and Jessica had that same problem with this one last week. She sounded uncomfortable; if a voice could sound confused, this was it. Jessica gave a string of noncommittal runs and her vibrato ran roughshod all over the delicate song, resulting in a warbly whimper throughout.
Best Performance: “We’ve Got Tonight” (Top 3)
It was immediately clear that Phil had the jovial rock song thing down pat, but this song highlighted his growth into a singer who can hold his own without the gruff scatting and jam band behind him. His voice had a softness to it that was previously lacking, stripped of the Dave Matthews comparisons and landing somewhere more classic and timeless.
Runner-up: “Beggin’” (Top 3)
This was a dexterous combination of his familiar “rawk” sound and his newfound delicateness and ability to hold a melody. More proof that Phil made “The Leap” last week. While Jessica stumbled in the Top 3, Phil seemed to be peaking at the right time.
Worst Performance: “Time Of The Season” (Top 5)
Phil’s tone and pitch were all over the place here. The needless scatting, plus seeing and hearing him strain for those high notes in the melody resulted in a truly cringeworthy performance.
Our Prediction: Look, Jessica Sanchez is clearly the better singer. But that means jack when tweeting tweens decide your fate — especially when you factor in the fact that Phillip Phillips is bound to get the pity vote on account of his increasingly serious health problems. So the only way Jessica can break the guys’ streak of winning Idol is by outdoing “And I Am Telling You…” Can she deliver the year’s best performance tonight? We think so. Girl’s got the killer instinct.