Before we get to the good stuff, we’re contractually obligated to mention the performances by Jason Derulo and season 10 winner Scotty McCreery. Derulo made his triumphant, neck brace-free return with the new song “Undefeated,” which I guess all you guys wrote the lyrics to along with Coca-Cola or something? Anyway, it was good to see him healthy again, working a sweat and busting out some fly moves all across the stage. Basically, it was like watching a bizarro, likeable version of Chris Brown.
And to close out the show, Scotty McCreery performed the song that soundtracks all the eliminated Idols’ nightmares, “Please Remember Me.” If you don’t listen to country that often (i.e. only when it’s on Idol), that kid’s voice just comes out and shocks the s*** out of you. Every. Single. Time. It’s like aged molasses dripping out of a vintage clay pitcher held by the most innocent-looking cartoon 10-year-old. Hard to process.
Now, to the real issues.
Jessica opened the show with “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston. Jessica’s been invincible with Whitney all season, and this was no different. Just because we expect her to be flawless when she sings this song doesn’t mean it still isn’t impressive when she delivers.
Jessica Sanchez, “I Have Nothing”
Phil countered with a slowed down version of the classic “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King. The new arrangement was daring, since it removed all the original’s familiarity. And we’re not sure his voice is strong enough to reinvent such an iconic tune. That said, he still has a refined sound he didn’t have earlier this year.
Phillip Phillips, “Stand By Me”
Jessica chose to perform “The Prayer” by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli, which is the song that got her into the Top 24. We were a little disappointed, since she already gave us a ballad highlighting her voice’s power. But then she held out that “alllll” allll the way to the sky and we changed our minds. Everything seems effortless with her: the key changes, the crescendos and decrescendos, the vibrato, any other music-related term ending in a vowel, she can do it naturally.
Jessica Sanchez, “The Prayer”
Phil chose “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, which he sang in the Top 10 for Billy Joel week. This one saw him moving back into Dave Matthews territory, but it was certainly entertaining, and more fun than Jessica’s. But that doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Phillip Phillips, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”
Round 2 winner: Steven Tyler gave it to Jessica, JLo gave it to Phillip, and Randy felt it was a tie. Well, we’ll gladly play the role of tiebreaker here: Jessica won. This is a singing competition, yes?
Jessica’s potential winning single was a syrupy piece of disposable pop balladry called “Change Nothing.” Better title: “Change EVERYTHING (Caps Lock)”. Where was the energy, the soul, the trademark fierceness?? Who advised her to do three slow songs? We know Jessica can be just as captivating as Phil on stage, but we didn’t see it tonight. As for her performance, Randy thought she did the best she could with a bad song. We’d agree, although there was some pitchiness sneaking in. Man, that song was a dud.
Jessica Sanchez, “Change Nothing”
Phil’s single was a folk number called “Home” and despite the fact that it was a total Mumford & Sons rip-off, it sounded good. Or maybe it was because of that fact. Either way, it was much more marketable and listenable than Jessica’s cut. Phil flexed his “actual singer” muscles again here, but we’re not so sure it deserved that judges’ standing ovation. Also, our heads almost exploded when JLo said, “There’s nothing on the radio that sounds like that.” So she only listens to talk radio, then? Like, JLo…there’s a hit song that sounds the same and has THE SAME NAME.
Phillip Phillips, “Home”
Round 3 winner: Judges say Phil, we’d have to agree.
Best of the night: Jessica Sanchez’s first song, “I Have Nothing.” But did she turn in her best performance too early in the show?
Worst of the night: Jessica’s strategy. We don’t know who made her big decisions last night, but they totally buried her personality. Phil was able to display his artistic and energetic sides, but Jessica relied on vocals alone. Even though she has a vibrant, soulful stage presence, it was nowhere to be found.
Honestly, this could go either way. Phil showed more evolution throughout the season and peaked in these last two weeks. Jessica had a crazy number of honest-to-God “moments” this year, but didn’t really deliver any last night. It’s hard to compare a singer-songwriter and a budding diva, so it comes down to what people look for in an Idol: Do they want an artist with vocal limitations, or a vocal powerhouse who’s still figuring out her musical identity? Tonight we’ll have our answer.