Advantage: Phillip Phillips.
The "American Idol" final two duked it out onstage at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Tuesday night (May 22), battling for the 11th-season title. And Phillips — the Dave Matthews-type from Leesburg, Georgia — was a clear favorite over 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez, who appeared defeated by "Change Nothing," the ironically titled song she was given for her potential winning single, which didn't match up with her sassy, Beyoncé-in-training style.
Phillips' song "Home," on the other hand, was tailor-made for the 21-year-old. He performed the rootsy ballad with a full drum line and stole the show, earning the evening's only standing ovation from the judges following the song.
"I loved the song, I loved you, I loved the production, I loved the marching band, everything about that was perfect! I loved it!" gushed Randy Jackson, who compared Phillips to Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes. "That's your best performance of the night. That was amazing!" the Dawg said.
Jennifer Lopez agreed, telling Phillips, "There's nothing on the radio that sounds like that," and Steven Tyler followed up by saying, "You were perfect tonight, and I think you are the man."
The fans in the audience were certainly on Phillips' side as well, making more noise throughout the night for Phil-Squared than they did for Sanchez. All that weight was certainly felt by Sanchez, whose "Change Nothing" was all but dismissed by the judges.
"Let me just be straight up here: I did not love the song," Jackson said following the pop ballad. "But what I did love is that you made something more out of the song." He said the song didn't effectively capture her "urban" style or her "swag." "You brought the song to life, but I thought the song was just OK."
Lopez told Sanchez she has to let herself shine through in her songs, and Tyler said he didn't feel "Change Nothing" was "the proper song for you to sing." Sanchez seemed to feel that way too following the performance.
"Ummm, I mean, I definitely agree with them," Sanchez told host Ryan Seacrest after the judges weighed in. "I did want to do more urban something, but like, this is the finale, and, like, I was trying to pick a winning song, something more that shows my voice. But definitely when I make my record — if I ever do — it's going to be a lot more me." Not exactly the glowing, confident words of a champion.
The contestants' potential winning songs came after two other songs: the first chosen by "Idol" creator Simon Fuller, the second their favorite song of the season.
Sanchez opened the show with Whitney Houston's "Bodyguard" ballad "I Have Nothing." She has had good luck with Houston this season, becoming an early front-runner with her version of "I Will Always Love You" and doing the bouncy "How Will I Know" during '80s week, and she turned in another solid performance with "I Have Nothing."
Phillips, who won last week's coin toss and opted to perform second in the finale, opened with Ben E. King's "Stand by Me," which he sang in low-key Phillip Phillips style. The first round was awarded to Sanchez by Randy Jackson.
In round two, Sanchez revisited Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli's "The Prayer," while Phillips took on Billy Joel's "Movin' Out." Tyler gave one of his most cuckoo critiques of the whole season when he said of Phillips, "You don't always have to be a good egg. Hatch or go bad. And tonight, you know, he's hatched some, but I would have to say that Jessica took [the round]."
Jackson, meanwhile, said the round was a "dead heat," while Lopez gave it to Phillips.
Of course, the judges don't get a say — unless they pick up the phone and vote — and as Seacrest said at the close of the show, "The rest is in the universe!" The two contestants traded niceties on the stage at the end of the night, wishing each other luck. But heading into Wednesday's finale, it appears to be Phillips' competition to lose.
What did you think about part one of the "Idol" finale? Let us know in the comments!
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