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Thoughts On American Idol Finale Part 1: The Duel

May 22, 2012

Image edited from original by Dimi15 via Flickr, used under Creative Commons

Theme: It’s the freakin’ finals! Low key white guy with an acoustic guitar Phillip Phillips takes on early 90s RnB-pop diva avatar Jessica Sanchez. To pad the show out (at least it’s only an hour,) the two finalists perform three songs a piece.

Round 1: Idol Creator Simon Fuller’s Picks
Round 2: Contestants Pick Their Favorite Performances from This Season
Round 3: Potential Coronation Songs

Here are the Jessica and Phillip’s performances in order of their run on the show.

1. Jessica Sanchez – “I Have Nothing” Those sway hands at the front of the audience are annoying. This performance felt like a slog, even though it was better than when Shannon Magrane did it earlier this season. Jessica had solid breath control but couldn’t quite stick the big notes. Her emoting during the song seemed a little forced until the very end. She has talent that makes her a natural for this kind of music, but I wish people would stop pushing her in this direction. If she had nailed more of the notes, I feel like I would have respected the performance more but I wouldn’t give it a second listen.

2. Phillip Phillips – “Stand By Me” This arrangement sounds different from the shimmying original. It definitely sounds more contemporary, but the downside is that it sounds like a John Mayer throwaway. Phillip’s not doing a whole lot to differentiate himself vocally. He had one of his signature blues wails and it sounded like a disappointed Labrador retriever. Otherwise he stuck to the boring low end of his range. If Jessica’s performance was heavy and stiff, then Phillip’s performance was light and lazy. I didn’t care for either performance.

3. Jason Derulo’s Coke Commercial – “Undefeated” Well, this dance-pop-by-the-numbers performance is still way more fun than Taio Cruz’s inspiration bait-down last season. Derulo also sounded surprisingly good on vocals. I saw him perform on Dancing With The Stars a few years back and he sounded like he was in over his head, so either he brought his A game or was really good at lip synching. He seemed happy to be onstage, and I give him props for that.

4. Jessica Sanchez – “The Prayer” She couldn’t have done one uptempo number to show off her range? I guess not. It’s more dated arrangements, vibrato-coptering, and two colossal note runs. Jessica had much better technical execution this time, but the sheer lack of engagement here made me angry. I want to root for her so badly, but her lack of verve is upsetting.

5. Phillip Phillips – “Movin’ Out” I didn’t care for this performance the first time Phillip did it, but after the past three songs this performance seemed downright bouncy. Phillip still had the drinking bird dance going on and he hadn’t expanded much emotionally. I felt like he took a few more risks with his vocal runs, but for Phillip that’s not saying much. Oh my gosh these two have such little self-awareness because they’re picking some of their most boring performances.

6. Jessica Sanchez – “Change Nothing” While Jessica’s first two performances sounded stale and old, this potential coronation song sounds current and makes good use of her pipes. The arrangement was bombastic and slow, but the instrumentation sounded rich. I can imagine Beyonce or a processed-like-whoa Rihanna releasing this as a ballad. Jessica’s vocal affectations effortlessly rose above the big sound. She definitely made the best of a difficult situation. I respect what Jessica did with the material, but if this came on the radio I would skip it. I agree with the judges that she should have done something with a little more soul. Change more things, Jessica!

7. Phillip Phillips – “Home” This was probably the most lively performance of the night. The drum corps definitely gave it more rhythm, that’s for sure. Instrumentally this sounded somewhere between bland-ass The Script and earnest ol’ Guster circa 1997, while Phillip’s vocal performance sounded like Chris Martin on a bad day. It’s not the worst mix but between the judges’ convulsions of praise and Seacrest’s carnival barker-esque hustle of the audience this is practically a done deal. Grrrr. It’s time to go home, Phillip!

8. Scotty McCreery – “Please Remember Me” Ha ha you thought we were done? As much as I complain about Phillip’s predictable ascendancy, at least this final round isn’t between two young country teens. As for Scotty, his workmanlike vocal is pleasant enough but I’d much rather forget him thank you very much.

And what would I have sung? Looking back on my picks from covering this past season, I think I had the most fun writing up “Blue Monday” from “Songs from the Year You Were Born” week. Plus a few days ago I was rocking the Orgy cover and there was much headbanging! My hybridized performance of this New Order classic would stand out against the ballads and rootsy claptrap from tonight.

Meanwhile what past performances should the contestants have picked? My favorite Jessica performance was probably the bouncy, upbeat “How Will I Know?” It didn’t make me cry like “And I Will Always Love You,” but it would probably better hold itself up to repeat performances. My favorite Phillip performance was definitely “U Got It Bad.” It was both a fun and respectful cover one of my favorite early 2000s slow jams. Those were both such fun performances!

Performance Rankings
1. Jessica Sanchez
2. Phillip Phillips

I’ll concede that the runs Jessica and Phillip have had on this show beat my expectations. Both pretty much played to their types with only a little risk-taking, but they both executed with a surprising level of professionalism that I didn’t see as much in last year’s finalists (especially Scotty.) While I wasn’t wowed by any of their performances tonight, I voted for Jessica because I think she sounds more mature, has the potential to put out music of higher caliber, and would be the first woman and person of color to win the show since Jordin Sparks back in season freakin’ six. Phillip is very good at what he does, but guys like him have been winning for years. Go Jessica! See you for the results show.

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