May 16, 2012 at 11:32 PM ET
In most years, the penultimate week of “American Idol” serves to finally eliminate the interloper, the singer who’s clearly at a disadvantage compared to the top two. Last year it was Haley Reinhart, whose exit paved the way for the Scotty McCreery-Lauren Alaina finale that everyone expected, and Casey James ceded the floor to Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox in season nine. (Hey, it made sense at the time.) In most other “Idol” seasons, by the time we got to the middle of May, everyone knew who the two favorites were.
That’s not true in season 11. And while a gambler would probably lay the odds on a Joshua Ledet-Phillip Phillips final with Jessica Sanchez going home Thursday, there’s a legitimate case to be made that any of the remaining contestants could be in danger this week.
Phillip got the most criticism of anyone on Wednesday, as nobody liked the song he chose for himself (Matchbox 20’s “Disease”). But that was only one of his three performances, and when he closed the show strong with Jimmy Iovine’s pick, Bob Seger's “We’ve Got Tonight,” he came through with best individual effort of the evening. He’s the only one of the remaining finalists who has never been revealed as one of the lowest vote-getters, so he’s the best individual bet to keep going.
In sharp contrast to Phillip’s easy road to the final three, Joshua nearly didn’t even make it out of the first week. Imagine how different this season would have gone had he been eliminated back in March instead of Jeremy Rosado. Joshua was again in the bottom three when there were seven contestants remaining, but he’s been the strongest of anyone since that latter scare. He seemed to be the favorite of the judges (again) on Wednesday, even if his final song of the night -- Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama" -- was a bit over-the-top in its frenzy.
And speaking of struggling, the same week in April that Joshua was in the bottom three, Jessica would have been eliminated had the judges not used their save on her. She’s sailed through the past month since then, but this wasn’t her best week. None of her solos stood out, and she was the lone finalist to not get a standing ovation from the judges.
If Phillip and Joshua do make it to the finale, they will both owe an assist to Jimmy. The mentor is the one who picked “We’ve Got Tonight” for Phillip, as well as prodding Joshua to go with Blige’s tune – the only one of Joshua’s three songs that wasn’t at least 35 years old.
For Jessica? He picked “I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5, an attempt to make her sound younger. It didn’t work because she literally can’t make herself sound her age. She’s an old singing soul in a young body, like it or not.
Also noteworthy was that Phillip got credit for a “moment” with his final number, though that might have been for the distracting way he was petting his leg with his left hand as much as it was for his vocals. He also earned an “in it to win it” from Randy Jackson for the last effort.
Meanwhile, Jessica had to content herself with an endorsement from the last-place San Diego Padres. The last “Idol” finalist to be touted by a sports team having a mediocre year was Hollie Cavanagh, who got support from Liverpool's English Premier League (that’s soccer, for the non-sports fans). That didn’t seem to help her much.
Then again, Steven Tyler did insinuate early in the show that he expected Jessica to win. So who knows? Unlike most years, it’s truly anybody’s competition with just one week remaining.
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