May 22, 2012 at 10:19 PM ET
Phillip Phillips will likely win season 11 of “American Idol,” but if that’s the result revealed Wednesday, Jessica Sanchez will have to wonder what might have been if she’d closed Tuesday night's show with a better original song.
Ending the finale with the proposed first single is always a dodgy bet, because 99 percent of the time they are anywhere from terrible to bland (Remember “No Boundaries?” If so, I’m sorry for you). It’s also unfortunate in that it allows the judges’ final impression of the contenders to be of them singing songs that may have been both inappropriate and decided with little input from them.
But the song Phillip ended the night with, “Home,” is the best original song debuted on any “Idol” finale, and that includes the Jason Derulo number from earlier in the evening. It suited his voice and his mannerisms perfectly, and there’s little doubt that it’s going to be a big seller once it’s released.
The judges were effusive in their praise, perhaps because they too were stunned that it wasn’t a strain on the ears. Randy Jackson not only stood up, he cheered his approval like one of Phillip’s teenage fans in the stands. Jennifer Lopez said she couldn’t imagine anyone else singing it. Steven Tyler said he heard a little bit of Paul Simon in there.
Contrast that to Jessica’s “Change Nothing.” In fact, the consensus was that she should have changed everything, especially the song. While the judges gave her credit for making the most of a bad situation, it was a random pop ballad and she’s more of an R&B/soul kind of girl.
Jessica didn’t seem thrilled with it either and said she would pick songs that suited her better if and when she recorded her first album. Here’s betting on the “when.”
J. Lo told her she has to have the strength to stand up for herself and say no when offered songs that don’t work for her once she starts recording albums. That’s great advice. But Jessica is 16-years-old right now. It’s not surprising that she didn’t want to tell the “experts” to find her something different.
In fairness, she’s undoubtedly harder to write for, both because her voice requires big notes to shine and because she simply hasn’t sounded contemporary for most of the season. Giving her advice has been a challenge for Jimmy Iovine and the crew all season. A songwriter could take something written for other pop artists (hello, Dave Matthews!) and expect that Phillip would put his own spin on it and make it a hit. Jessica does not inspire the same confidence.
It was a tough finish for Jessica on a night when the judges otherwise thought better of her. All three gave her round one, with her encore of “I Have Nothing” outdueling Phillip’s slloooooowwwwww “Stand By Me.” Round two was closer, but her reprise of “The Prayer” held its own with Phillip’s “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” by Billy Joel. But round three was so solidly in Phillip’s favor that it’s hard to see him losing.
Don’t pay much attention to what the judges say. Historically they’re not great at picking the winner, and Ryan Seacrest didn’t even ask them who they thought had earned the victory. But it won’t hurt Phillip that they seemed so overwhelmed by his final solo just minutes after giving Jessica her toughest critique in weeks for something that wasn’t all her fault. And considering he’s been the singer to beat all year, it would be a surprise if he’s not crowned the winner Wednesday.