Well, America, after Wednesday night’s (May 23) never-ending assembly line of celebrity guests and sequined bodysuits, you and your world record 132 million votes gave us a shocker, but not really, because the guys always win American Idol. Fellow citizens, even though in the end it really doesn’t matter who gets to call themselves the winner, you got it wrong. Yes, Phillip Phillips is a good performer, and his voice has character, and he would presumably write his own songs, which is admirable.
Phil is energetic, likable and earnest, and we’re sure he’ll have some success. But listening to him, it’s just nice. That’s it. Jessica Sanchez has a vocal gift. Her voice has the power to move you, to make your eyes well up, and to literally move you as in “get you to stand up out of your chair and throw your hands on top of your head because you can’t believe what you’re hearing.” By this reality singing competition’s eleventh season, let’s all just admit that the “crowd-sourcing our stars” experiment has officially failed.
Jessica proved that on her “And I Am Telling You…” duet with its original singer, Jennifer Holliday, in a performance that probably had a lot of people wishing they could take back their Phillip votes. You guys, this performance, what can we even say about it?! A 16-year-old has NO BUSINESS holding her own with a legendary power singer like that. It was the impressive spectacle we knew she was capable of, and exactly what she was missing on Tuesday night (May 22).
So while it was heartwarming to see Phil break down in tears in the middle of singing “Home” after his victory, Jessica’s duet is the moment people will remember from Season 11.
So how did we get to that last dramatic light-dimming and announcement? The show started with the season 11 rejects all in white (take THAT, Memorial Day fashion police) singing Bruno Mars‘ “Runaway Baby.” It felt like years ago that we had last heard the likes of Colton Dixon, Shannon Magrane, Jeremy Rosado, and Erika Van Pelt singing. But for the most part everyone sounded good.
Next, Phil was joined by the legendary John Fogerty for Creedence Clearwater Revival‘s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain?” and “Bad Moon Rising.” Yes, the author of your parents’ favorite anti-war anthem “Fortunate Son” was now performing on the Idol stage. Times they are a-changin’.
Then Joshua Ledet took the stage with his inspiration, Season 3 winner Fantasia, for Elton John‘s “Take Me To The Pilot.” And there was so much improvised screeching coming from both parties that the performance got cut off by the commercial break. Now that there’s no competition on the line, Josh apparently had no qualms about straight-up screaming through an entire song.
The ladies of the Top 12 were up next, with a medley of Chaka Khan‘s “Ain’t Nobody” and “Through The Fire” before a surprise visit from Chaka herself on “I’m Every Woman.” Even today her voice cuts right through the air like a soulful ninja star.
Rihanna next took the stage for her latest smash hit “Where Have You Been” while sporting her new dreads. Whereas her SNL performance consisted mainly of crotch-patting, this one involved a laser pyramid, sky-dancers, shirtless tribal drummers, and overall she was more active and entertaining.
Rihanna, “Where Have You Been”
Sick of all the guest stars? Tough, we’re not even close to being done. Lil’ Reba a/k/a Skylar Laine fulfilled the prophecies by performing “Turn On The Radio” with Reba McEntire in what was one of the night’s most entertaining sets. Like Dr. Evil with Mini Me, Reba was happy to show off Skylar and it may end up being a “passing of the torch” moment.
Jessica then did what she always does to Whitney Houston songs with another take of “I Will Always Love You.” Do I even need to describe it? Just a classic sound from a barely-old-enough-to-drive girl.
And then…yikes. The guys of the Top 12 came together for a medley before Neil Diamond jumped in. And while our Idols (even Jeremy) sounded great, we think it might be time for Neil to hang it up. He did the William Shatner talk-sing thing through all of “Sweet Caroline” and we’re pretty sure he botched the “touch-ing youuuu” line. We feel bad, so we’re gonna stop talking about it.
After that, venerable judge Jennifer Lopez opened the 2004 time capsule and found Lil Jon so he backed her on “Goin’ In.” Her next song, “Follow The Leader”, was Jon-less. We have to say, we were expecting the backing track to do much more of the heavy lifting than it did. Bravo, JLo.
Among all the star power and music industry pimping, did you think Idol would fit in a moment for true love? We didn’t! But former contestants Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo walked onstage and Ace proposed and she said yes. Both were clearly nervous and she seemed genuinely shocked, so it was a touching moment. Except, ya know, for that part where Ace mentioned that it was sponsored by some jewelry company that we won’t mention because, God, how cheeser was that? Otherwise, though, cute.
After that, little Hollie Cavanagh and Jordin Sparks owned “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in another of the night’s highlights. We think Hollie might do OK after all.
But it was one step forward, two steps back as the guys paid “tribute” (using that word loosely) to the late Robin Gibb with a Bee Gees medley. Everyone was off-key and even Josh sounded flat, making this the worst performance of the night.
After that, of course, was Jessica’s ferocious, unreal duet. In a just world, Ryan Seacrest would’ve stopped the show at that point, torn up the envelope and handed her the trophy.
The second honorable judge was next up, as Steven Tyler joined drummer Guy Fieri and the rest of Aerosmith for their new song “Legendary Child”, which shocked us by how much it sounded like vintage Aerosmith. This is a good thing! They also played “Walk This Way” and ya know what? Tyler may not hit those high wails anymore, but they still got it.
And finally, Jessica and Phillip joined for a duet of “Up Where We Belong” right before being called up for the final results. Phillip Phillips won, confetti and tears fell, Jessica handled it like a pro, and that was that.
Congratulations to Phil, and also to Jessica. We look forward to seeing what those kids can do in the real world. Don’t you ruin them, Iovine!