Well, after four months and a record-setting 132 million votes, it's official: Phillip Phillips is the 11th American Idol. It's hardly the most surprising finale result in "Idol" history--since many pundits (myself included) had him pegged as the winner the moment he entered the audition room--but it's not one without controversy.
After four male champions in a row, many "Idol" fans were no doubt hoping that runner-up Jessica Sanchez, arguably the technically best vocalist of Season 11, would be the girl to break the female curse on "Idol." And I suspect that "Idol's" powers-that-be were rooting for Jessica as well. Surely it would have been a fantastic PR development for the "Idol" franchise (which over the years has, wrongly or not, been accused of being a closed door to contestants of color or of the fairer sex, or basically any contestant that doesn't sing rock or country music) to blast out a press release declaring, "FIRST GIRL WINS IN FIVE YEARS!"--rather than have to send out yet another anticlimactic announcement that yet another cute young boy has prevailed.
And it's true that--considering how some of "Idol's" biggest success stories (Kelly, Carrie, Fantasia, Jordin) have been the female winners, and that in the real world, female pop singers dominate the charts--it might've been better for "the franchise" if Jessica had won. But "Idol" fans don't care about "the franchise"; they simply vote for whom they like, and they vote with their hearts as well as with their ears. And understandably, their hearts told them to vote for one of the most likable people to ever appear on "Idol," good ol' P-Squared...especially after he closed Tuesday's performance show with "Home," possibly the best coronation song in "Idol" history. Outraged conspiracy theorists will surely cry racism or sexism, or some other "ism," when lamenting Jessica's defeat, but maybe the reason why Phillip won was just more simple, and more innocent, than all that.
Maybe viewers just liked Phillip's music more. I don't think Phillip coasted to the winner's circle on boyish charm alone; the guy is undeniably talented, and I believe he has it in him to make a great record. I just hope it is a great-selling record too, since, let's face it, the show's credibility IS on the line. Season 10 champion Scotty McCreery's platinum success helped restore the "Idol" franchise after a couple of years of slumping sales, and now it is up to Phillip to maintain that momentum. It's a precarious place for him to be in, since rock music is hardly the top-selling genre right now--and it's very easy to imagine Jessica (who, like every other runner-up since Season 1, will surely get her own record deal) outperforming him on the charts. But stubborn Phillip, the kind of uncompromising maverick who responds to Tommy Hilfiger's style advice to not wear gray by putting on two gray shirts, is hardly going to let anyone, not even Jimmy Iovine, steamroll him into making some prefab pop album. And that's not what his fans want from him, anyway. Some of Phillip's fans might even argue that he would have been better off placing second, which presumably would have allowed him a little more creative freedom in the studio. (Coming in second would have also probably allowed him more time off to deal with his serious medical issues.)
However, I think there is a place for both Phillip and Jessica on the charts, as long as they both record strong material that plays to their very different strengths and very different fanbases. If Phillip makes music in the future like the wonderfully Mumford-y "Home," he could do very well (Mumford & Sons have sold 2.5 million albums in the U.S. alone, and plenty more overseas), while Jessica has a really great shot too, as long as she doesn't record dreary material like the boring original song she was sadly stuck with this week, "Change Nothing." (Give this girl some snazzier material, Jimmy!)
If Iovine does right by these two, then we may end up with two "winners," so to speak, of Season 11. And that would be the best thing for "the franchise" of all. Parker out.