The “American Idol” season 11 top three have a lot to prove as we head into Wednesday night’s (May 16) second-to-last lap.
Likely winner Phillip Phillips has skated through virtually unscathed by pretty much doing a season-long homage to Dave Matthews, while Joshua Ledet has thrilled us with his gritty soul shouting but failed to show much personality along the way (unless you count that one week he wore a flower in his lapel). And Jessica Sanchez? Well, the 16-year-old definitely has powerful pipes and is a diva in the waiting, but she’s still not quite ready for prime time.
All three will be tested this week when they have to sing three songs: a judges’ choice, a tune picked by mentor Jimmy Iovine and, finally, one of their own choosing. Though the track record of MTV News’ resident “Idol” experts has been a bit spotty to date (OK, James, we get it, you have gotten it right four more times than Gil), that hasn’t stopped Gil Kaufman and James Montgomery from posting their last set of secret-ballot picks before next week’s finale.
He threw us for a curve last week when he went for Damien Rice’s “Volcano,” and he’s already done a DMB cover, so chances are, Phil will steer clear of anything too obvious. I suspect the judges will pick something firmly in his wheelhouse, though, maybe Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones.” Iovine has a deep understanding of music and knows that the girls want their hearts melted, so he might opt for something in the classic-rock mode like the Allman Brothers’ “Melissa.” After the Rice-bomb last week, it’s anyone’s guess what P-Phunk will choose, so, what the hell, let’s go with David Gray’s appropriately vanilla 2000 breakthrough smash “Babylon.” — Kaufman
It’s nice of him to take time off from his “Idol” crown fittings (Scotty McCreery was a 7 and three-eighths, BTW) to grace us with his presence this week. I suspect he’ll reward us with more of the same anyway. The judges should just have him do a medley of the past four champs’ singles — including Lee DeWyze’s latest, “Can I Borrow, Like, Five Dollars?” — just to let America realize what they’ve done, but, of course, they won’t. Instead, I’ll say they stick him with one of Steven Tyler’s songs; maybe they have him do “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing”? As for Iovine’s pick, I’m thinking he gives him Santana and Rob Thomas’ “Smooth,” because Jimmy’s mad old, or maybe John Mayer’s “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” since it will make his female fanbase spontaneously combust. And as for his personal pick? Dude, he’s already gone deep-cut twice (with DMB and Rice), so who’s to say he doesn’t just cover Phish’s “Icarus” and call it a day. Regardless, the judges will praise his “uniqueness.” — Montgomery
It’s gonna be an uphill battle for JSanch to shimmy her way into the finale. Aside from the curse of near-elimination and the fact that a girl hasn’t won since season six, she’s been somewhat erratic lately and her go-to big ballads have landed as often as her uptempos have flopped. The judges want to see her shine, so they will surely gift her with a big, fat ballad along the lines of Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love.” Jimmy knows she needs to show she can be a contemporary star, which is why he’ll opt for Rihanna’s “California King Bed.” As for what BeBe will pick for herself, well, she’s proven a tough one to nail down. She’s already hit on Whitney, Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson and Alicia Keys but has been light on songs by Pink, so I’m gonna suggest “Don’t Let Me Get Me” or “Glitter in the Air,” which will allow her to show her rough and smooth sides. Bottom line: She needs three grand slams to make it to next week. — Kaufman
Six weeks ago, I would have penned an impassioned plea for her to win the season 11 crown. Now? Eh. She’s never really recovered from her (near) elimination, and in her struggles, one glaring weakness keeps rearing its ugly head: Sure, she can sing, but she can’t connect to a song to save her life. Simply put, she’s not ready. In fact, she’s yet to graduate beyond talent-show-standout status. And everyone knows this, which is why I see the judges sticking her with Adele’s “Someone Like You” (since it’s like the de facto emotional song of our times, and if you can’t connect to it then you’re almost assuredly a replicant) and Iovine stuffing something from the Interscope stable down her throat (maybe Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” or a Gaga tune). For her own pick? Well, she already did “Dance With My Father,” so maybe she stays in the same vein and does Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.” Or maybe she’ll just do Beyoncé again. — Montgomery
He may not inspire backflips or have the stagecraft of an Usher or Chris Brown, but Ledet has just the kind of big, showy voice “Idol” viewers love (to vote for just enough to secure second place). The judges can’t get enough of his old-school soul thing, so they’ll go retro with Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” Jimmy knows Josh has the chops but not the sound radio is looking for, so he has to convince us there’s a record in there somewhere, which means he’ll dip into the Usher vault for something smooth like “Confessions Part II” or “Papers.” Josh has made some odd choices in the past (Josh Groban?) but has shown a proclivity for songs by divas (both male and female), and he hasn’t tried a single tune by Otis Redding yet. Is that possible? In that case, he’s got plenty of options, including “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember,” “These Arms of Mine” or “That’s How Strong My Love Is.” — Kaufman
In a perfect world, he’d win “Idol.” After all, he’s not only the most-talented singer, but the best performer too. But we all know he’s going up against a toothy white guy, so second place is about the best Joshua can hope for. The judges, being the myopic bunch they are, will keep him in the retro-soul box and give him something like Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” (come to think of it, that would be pretty good). Iovine will be trying to keep him current, so why not Usher’s “Climax”? And for his own pick, I have no idea, but if he wants to win, maybe he does fun.’s “We Are Young.” After all, graduation is nearly here, and everyone’s looking for an anthem. — Montgomery
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