American Idol Top 2 Performance Night Recap: Home Is Where the Artistry Is
For the final salvo in what’s arguably been the deepest, most evenly matched field in American Idol history, Tuesday night’s Season 11 finale came up surprisingly light in the competitive fireworks department.
Maybe the Top 2 — Jessica Sanchez and Phillip Phillips — were still heeding last week’s instructions from their fallen comrade Joshua Ledet: “NO! MORE! DRAMA!” Or perhaps it was just the incongruousness of the matchup, which was akin to making a choice between a stunning courture evening gown and a perfectly battered old t-shirt. (“But what’s the occasion?” you might’ve asked.)
Whatever the case, even Ryan Seacrest’s introductory narrative lacked a certain Boom Boom Pow: It’s a battle between a ”21-year-old pawn-shop worker” and a ”16-year-old powerhouse,” he said, giving almost no sense of what kind of artists Phillip and Jessica might hope to become. “It’s guy against girl,” Ryan continued with thudding obviousness, and then, with a misguided nod to decades-old hip-hop rivalries that couldn’t have less to do with the Idoloonie Nation, he added, ”East Coast vs. West Coast.” Um, okay?
Heck, even if you watched the telecast wearing a “Team Bebe Chez” or “P2″ hoodie, it was hard to view this as a showdown as much as it was two talented kids trying to survive one round of brutally unimaginative song choices, one very nice round of encore performances, and finally a round of “original” material that so drastically favored Phillip that it was like watching a prison-cafeteria skirmish where one combatant’s got a shank in his hand, the other a tater tot.
Not since both Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis were asked to tackle soaring power ballad “This Is My Now” in Season 6 has an Idol finale agenda been so clear: Somewhere behind the scenes, the Great and Powerful Nigel (or was it Jimmy?) was speed-dialing for Phillip, and sending a pack of flying monkeys to carry Jessica into the Forest of the Runners-Up.
Presided over by J.Lo (dressed from the waist up as Once Upon a Time‘s evil queen), Steven Tyler (still awake?), and Randy Jackson (delivering a death blow to tangerine sherbet sportscoats everywhere), this is how the evening’s performances played out:
ROUND 1: Idol Creator Simon Fuller’s Pick
Jessica Sanchez: Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” | I’m trying really hard to understand Simon Fuller’s thought process in assigning Jessica one of the most overdone ballads in Idol history, but I can only come up with two possible explanations: Either he gave the decision all the care and seriousness of selecting which of the six quarters in one’s pocket should go into a parking meter, or he simply wanted to rob Jessica of any chance of having a “moment” for Round 1. Why else would he choose a tune not only covered by Shannon Magrane earlier in Season 11, but also by Trenyce (Season 2), Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson and Leah LaBelle (Season 3), Vonzell Solomon (Season 4), Katharine McPhee (Season 5), and LaKisha Jones (Season 6)? Was it Jessica’s fault that by the time she dragged this soggy ballad down to the copying machine, it turned out to be a little low on toner? Jessica certainly hit all the right notes, gliding through the octave change with her trademark growl, and her gown — a cream, floor-length number covered with black organza overlay — was the outfit of the night. But I have nothing (nothing) (nothing) else good or bad to say about the performance aside from the fact that, yeah, it was to win Round 1.
Phillip Phillips: Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” | Compared to the dead horse of “I Have Nothing,” “Stand By Me” hasn’t gotten flogged nearly as much on Idol — with only Bo Bice, David Archuelta, and Danny Gokey having tackled it in prior seasons. And yet while I understand Phillip’s attempt to doctor up the oldies-station staple, to not merely offer a Henley-clad hologram of the versions that came before him, there’s a difference between executing a little facelift and cutting the song from stem to stern, scooping out its guts, and leaving it on the side of the highway in a sealed Hefty bag. There was an atonality to Phillip’s choices — and a froginess in his tone — that boredered on the unpleasant, and worse yet, seemed to strip any and all meaning from the lyrics. It’d be like smothering a perfectly good steak with so much sauce that you can’t even tell what kind of meat you’re eating.