American Idol

What to watch for in the 'American Idol' final showdown

May 22, 2012 at 12:10 PM ET

Michael Becker / FOX /
Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez are the finalists of season 11 of "American Idol."

“American Idol” will feature a contrast of styles in its final performance episode Tuesday night.

One option is contemporary artist Phillip Phillips. The affable former pawn shop worker with a sneaky snarky side doesn’t offer the most technically perfect vocals in the world, but he does have the most radio-ready voice, and proves that every week by picking songs and arrangements that are easily imagined on the radio. He gets criticized by some “Idol” fans for being Dave Matthews 2.0, but the show’s brass would jump for joy if he had anything resembling Matthews’ career.

Then there’s Jessica Sanchez. The teenage musical prodigy from California has a timeless voice with more power than anyone her age can be expected to have and can belt out a standard like nobody’s business. But while she’s a better vocalist than Phillip, she hasn’t displayed the same ability to sound contemporary.  She’s all-in on Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce, but tends to pick songs with the bigger notes that impress the judges and show off her range rather than picking melodies that are more in tune with today’s Top 40. Like a lot of teenagers, she’s trying to look and sound like a grown-up, which isn’t usually what people are looking for out of a 16-year-old girl.

It’s a stark contrast to last year’s finish, which featured your choice of a teenage male country vocalist or a teenage female country vocalist. Scotty McCreery cruised past Lauren Alaina, and anyone who favored other genres was out of luck.

One key factor to watch this time is the audience response. Phillip has a gift for engaging the crowd -- even when the judges have expected more from him, the crowd at the live shows (not to mention the viewing audience) has responded.  As far as we know, he’s never come close to being voted off. Jessica hasn’t found that to be as easy, needing the judges save to keep her from an early elimination.

Who's your pick to win the crown this year?

On the other hand, Jessica is the singer who looks like she would crawl through fire to win this. Phillip got negative feedback a few weeks ago for picking obscure songs and looking too casual while singing them. Sometimes he’s so laid back that you wonder if he’s about to fall asleep.

Also, there’s the unpredictability of the Joshua Ledet factor. Who will his fans turn to now that he’s gone? Will they just move to the other guy remaining and pick Phillip? Will they go to other singer capable of hitting the huge notes that Joshua provided every week and choose Jessica? Or are they so angry at his ouster that they won’t vote at all?  

One thing not to pay attention to is what the judges predict. “Idol” judges have been notoriously unreliable at guessing who America will vote for in the latter stages of the competition (just ask David Archuleta). But there is one guarantee: Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler will offer lavish compliments to both at the end of the night. That’s what they do, after all.

What will you watch for in the finals? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.Plus, join writer Craig Berman at 12:30 PT/3:30 ET on finale day, May 23, to chat about the final performances and who you think will win. Sign up for a reminder!

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