It's the final countdown. On Tuesday night (May 22), Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez will face off for the season 11 crown, capping a roller-coaster ride filled with soaring highs — Sanchez's "I Will Always Love You," Joshua Ledet's "To Love Somebody," Skylar Laine's "Wind Beneath My Wings," that time Steven Tyler wore Roy Lichtenstein pants — and just as many crushing lows — Heejun Han's impromptu strip show, Colton Dixon's hair, Randy Jackson's collection of pins, etc. — with the majority, of course, falling somewhere in between. If anything, this season has given us more of the same: nothing more, nothing less.
Of course, through it all, our "American Idol" experts have stuck it out, providing us with their own, uh, unique insights and their song predictions for each contestant. They haven't always gotten it right (though, for the record, James Montgomery is smoking Gil Kaufman), but they've always given it their all. Which is more than you could say for DeAndre Brackensick, really.
So for the last time this season, here are Kaufman and Montgomery's song picks for the final two. They'll each be singing a producer's pick and the infamous "coronation song" and bringing back one of their best performances from earlier in the season. And speaking of the final countdown, maybe Phillips or Sanchez should try their hand at the Europe classic. Shoot, it couldn't be any more random than Erika Van Pelt's haircut, could it?
No pressure or anything, but Sanchez only has the burden of trying to be the first woman to take the title since Jordin Sparks way back in 2007. And she needs to pull off that feat by defeating yet another in a string of the show's stubborn WGWG (white guy with guitar) favorites. It can be done, but if ever Jessica needed a "moment," it is right now. She could go for the obvious encore and rehash "I Will Always Love You," but too many people have been going to that well lately. A smarter choice would be her attention-grabbing cover of Jazmine Sullivan's lesser-known "Stuttering" from week seven, or maybe Alicia Keys' "Fallin'." As for what show co-creator Simon Fuller will pick for his potential driver's-ed diva, he must realize at this point that mentor Jimmy Iovine missed an opportunity last week to make Jessica seem contemporary by saddling her with a Jackson 5 song. For that reason alone, I am crossing my fingers that he read our column from last week and he gives her something like Rihanna's "California King Bed" or Pink's "Glitter in the Air." The only way to make this kid seem like a star is to show viewers that she has the potential to sound like all the female superstars they already love. — Kaufman
I've already made my case for why Sanchez needs to win this thing, if only to save "American Idol" from itself. Of course, she won't, because "Idol" voters seem content with minting Kris Allen 2.0 instead of giving the crown to an artist with an actual shot at becoming a pop superstar in 2012. But Sanchez won't go down without a fight (BeBe Chez won't let her), which is why I think she brings the thunder and kills "I Will Always Love You" once again, as a subtle reminder to the viewers that she can out-sing Phillips any day of the week (and, as the judges love to remind us, this is a singing competition first and foremost). For the producer's pick, I see her counterbalancing the overwrought emoting of "Love" with a straightforward chart-burner — maybe something like Nicki Minaj's "Starships" or Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." Either way, it's been a great run for J.Sanch, and I suspect we'll be hearing a whole lot from her in the years to come. You know, as opposed to the dude who's going to win. — Montgomery
I'm the wrong guy to ask about which P-Phil performance bears a repeat listen, because to me, they're kind of like your friend who says he loves that song ... reggae. They are mostly just a wash of different shades of eggshell. People seemed to think his take on Usher's "U Got It Bad" was good, and, for me, it was the only time all season he seemed to take even one half-step out of his comfort zone. Knowing him, though, the contrarian pawn-shopper will probably go with "Volcano." The good thing about Phillips is that no matter what Fuller suggests, chances are Phil's not going to listen. Sing the melody? No thanks. Try a song people might know by an artist that is on the charts today? No way. So, once again, I'm going to go back to what I said last week and suggest that Fuller give Phil a song fully in his wheelhouse and sit back and watch the girls squeal (which, hopefully, will drown out the lack of melody and tone). If it's not the Counting Crows' "Mr. Jones," my backup suggestion is something by Jeff Buckley. Since I know Phil wouldn't do the obvious pick, "Hallelujah," maybe Fuller can convince him to do "Grace" or "Mojo Pin." — Kaufman
Needless to say, it would be a shock if Phillips isn't getting the confetti shower on Wednesday night, as he's steadily built his fanbase with growly determination and general handsomeness (and foot shuffling). It's difficult to pick a standout performance of his from this season — since they've all basically been the same thing — but maybe he tries his hand at Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" again (minus Elise Testone this time) or Damien Rice's "Volcano." What will the producers choose for him? Well, given that he's basically ignored their input all season long, I suspect they'll just throw their hands up in the air and let him do the Dave Matthews Band's "Crash," which should not only make his female fans go wild, but will only solidify his claim to the crown. For better or worse. — Montgomery
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