The lights were dimmed, the votes were counted, and Phillip Phillips became the new “American Idol.”
As expected, Phillips beat out Jessica Sanchez on Wednesday’s (May 23) Season 11 “Idol” finale, live at Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre. Phillips topped Sanchez after a reported 132 million votes were cast — “a new world record,” according to host Ryan Seacrest.
Phillips teared up while performing his winning song “Home,” while confetti rained down on the stage around him. The Leesburg, Georgia, native has been a cool cucumber all season long, but he broke down in the moment, just as he did during his hometown visit last week.
Phillips didn’t finish the song, but strolled off stage and into the arms of his family, who were waiting in the first few rows. As streamers fell and the band played on the stage behind him, Phillips hugged his family members, and later judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler.
Phillips came out of Tuesday’s performance episode the heavy favorite to win it all and was celebrated by the judges for his “Home,” which was tailor made for his laid-back style. On the other hand, Sanchez’s would-be winning song, “Change Nothing,” was sloughed off by the judges and even Sanchez herself, who acknowledged the song wasn’t really in her wheelhouse, and said she’d aim to put more of herself in her future recordings.
Heading into this season, the buzz was that a woman would win “Idol,” becoming the first female winner since Jordin Sparks in 2007. Four of this year’s top six contestants were female, but Phillips proved unbeatable in the stretch.
Sanchez was an early favorite in the season, stepping out in front with her show-stopping rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” on the March 7 episode. But she hit her stumbling blocks along the way, and was voted out on the April 12 episode, and had to be saved by the judges to stay in the competition.
Phillips was steady throughout the season. His name — that name! — made him an instant standout, and he played it cool all season long, never letting much of anything — including the season-long illness he battled — ruffle his fathers. (On Thursday’s show, he joked — he was joking, right? — that he got nine and a half to 10 hours of sleep the night before.) He was often criticized, and fairly so, for his similarities to Dave Matthews, but he came alive in the final two weeks, knocking out Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight” and his winning “Idol” song, “Home.”
Wednesday’s finale packed the usual array of medleys, group performances and guest appearances. Stars on the roster included Rihanna (who hit the stage to perform “Where Have You Been”), Chaka Kahn (who joined the female finalists on “I’m Every Woman”), Neil Diamond (who did “Sweet Caroline” with the male contestants) and Reba McEntire (who sang “Turn on the Radio” with Skylar Laine). Josha Ledet sang Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot” alongside Fantasia Barrino, whom he introduced as “the biggest inspiration in my life” and who hit the stage in a wild, form-fitting catsuit and long hair, while another former “Idol” winner, Jordin Sparks, took the stage with Hollie Cavanagh on “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” John Fogerty teamed up with Phillips on the Creedence Clearwater Revival classics “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and “Bad Moon Rising,” and Jennifer Holliday teamed up with Sanchez on the “Dreamgirls” signature song “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” (Earlier, Sanchez hit the stage on her own to reprise her performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”)
The “Idol” finalists — minus Phillips and Sanchez, who teamed up on Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes’ “Up Where We Belong” late in the show — opened the show with Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby,” and the male finalists paid tribute to the late Robin Gibb by running through a handful of Bee Gees classics, including “How Deep is Your Love,” “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and “To Love Somebody.”
The “Idol” judges got in on the action as well. Jennifer Lopez performed “Goin’ In” with Flo Rida and Lil Jon and “Follow the Leader” with Puerto Rican duo Wisin & Yandel, while Steven Tyler hit the stage with his Aerosmith cohorts to do their new single “Legendary Child” along with “Walk This Way.”
The show also featured “Idol’s” first live wedding proposal, when fifth season finalist Ace Young proposed to third season runner-up Diana DeGarmo while the dramatic “Idol” suspense-building music played in the background. (DeGarmo accepted despite Young’s tacky jewelry store plug mid-proposal.)
Phillips and Sanchez were also given new Ford automobiles for their efforts.
Next up? After the finalists make the media rounds, the “American Idol” summer tour — featuring the season’s top 10 finalists — kicks off July 6 in Detroit.
What did you think of the “Idol” finale? Let us know in the comments!
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