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Freelance entertainment writer, martial arts instructor, and mother of two.

American Idol, May 22 – Perfection or Uniqueness?

There’s an extra element of stress on tonight’s American Idol performance finale. Not only is it down to the final two contestants, but Phillip Phillips is having a serious medical condition. He’s been due for kidney surgery since around the time the finals started, but he refused to leave the show and has just been dealing with the illness as best as he can. He’s been missing from photo shoots and Ford videos while he rests up. It’s a foregone conclusion that after tomorrow night, whether he or Jessica Sanchez wins, he’ll be headed to a hospital. That’s how dire it is. It should make tonight extra tense.

There are three rounds for Phillip and Jessica to make it through. The first round is Idol creator Simon Fuller’s choice, the second is the favorite song the contestant has performed this season, and the third is the potential winning song/single. Phillip won the coin toss last week and has elected to go second.

This leaves Jessica kicking things off singing Simon Fuller’s choice I Have Nothing. She of course sounds great on this, and she’s dressed appropriately for a teenager. She belts the song out great, but again the subject matter in the song is one that is perhaps too advanced for a 16-year-old to be singing. She gets a little too screechy in it a few times at the end between her growls. Nevertheless, that’s being picky as it’s extremely good. The judges stay in their seats though. We won’t hear from the judges until after Phillip sings.

Phillip is singing Simon Fuller’s choice Stand By Me, a song that is somewhat overdone on the show. Yet it’s Phillip, so he abandons a little of the melody and sings a beautiful acoustic version. He’s sitting on a stool and playing the guitar, but it’s unclear whether it’s his illness forcing him to sit or the acoustic tone of the song. It’s a great rendition.

As Phillip leaves the stage, it’s time to hear from the judges. Jennifer Lopez calls this a tough one, as it’s a battle of the opposites. With Jessica you have this amazing vocal prowess with power and control, and grit and beauty. With Phillip you have a modern day crooner with soulfulness, originality and, artistry. At the end of the day America has a tough job to decide who will make them pick up the phone to vote. Asked who won round one, Randy Jackson thinks it probably went to Jessica; however, he doesn’t seem happy about it for some reason. Jennifer agrees, and we don’t hear from Steven Tyler.

Jason Derulo is onstage to sing the song the viewers helped him create. He was injured a few months ago rehearsing for a world tour, but is now here to sing Undefeated. He’s wearing an interesting outfit of cargo pants, a red and black leather jacket, and what looks like rain boots. Jordin Sparks is in the audience singing along, seemingly enjoying it, but the song isn’t my normal cup of tea. For those of you it does appeal to, you can download the song for free on americanidol.com.

Jessica has chosen to perform The Prayer, the song that helped earn her a spot in the final 24 as her favorite. She has gorgeous earrings on; I just have to say that. It’s a very beautiful song, and I don’t know if I have ever heard her sing better. She’s leaving BeBe Chez completely out of the performance, and shows great range as well. Yet again, no standing O from the judges.

Phillip is singing Movin’ Out, his choice from Billy Joel week. The interesting thing is that it sounds a little different than his other performance of the song. This shows that he does something a little different each time he sings, which I always love. He looks like he’s loving every single moment of this, and isn’t showing any pain or illness whatsoever, yet does seem to have that thing inside him clawing its way out.

Steven finally gets a chance to speak and says that when it comes to Phillip, you don’t always have to be a good egg, either hatch or go bad. Tonight he’s hatched some, but he would have to say that Jessica took it again. Randy begs for a shot at speaking, and getting it, says he calls round two dead even. Jennifer says Jessica blew it away so hard in the first round, that she believes Phillip took this round. She’s heard Jessica do this song before, and this was authentic Phillip.

Jessica takes the stage for the last time tonight to sing Change Nothing, the song that will be her single, should she win. She sings while perched atop a white piano. She sounds okay, but if you’re going to have your Idols singing stunning songs in the first few rounds, then you can’t give them crap to sing in the third round. Just saying. She also gets pitchy a bit on the chorus.

Randy tells Jessica she has come a long way. To be straight up, he says he did not love the song, but he did feel she made more out of the song than what was there. He wants her to remember when she’s making her record that she has the Beyonce swag with urban in it, so to do a straight pop song without flavor is a little odd. Jennifer thinks she sang the song really well, but she doesn’t think she’d pick this as Jessica’s first song, as it’s missing her soul. She felt her putting that into the song, but she feels what Randy is saying. When Jessica goes to make a record, she needs to be able to say “this isn’t me” as the artist.

Steven knows how good she can sing and so do millions of people across the world. He also didn’t think it was the right song with the places she’s taken other songs. Jessica agrees that she wishes the song would have been more urban, and when she goes to make a record, she promises it will be much more her. Is she planning on losing? If she wins, she won’t have much control over that at all!

Phillip is out to sing what will be his first single should he win, Home. It’s an acoustic song that he backs with his guitar. It has a definite mountain/folk flavor, and much more flavor overall than Jessica’s. Hers could have been any pop song sung by any young female. His is definitely different. I don’t know if I have heard folk like this since my mom sang with other moms in a folk singing group in coffee houses and N.O.W. meetings in the 70s. It’s different, and that’s it’s appeal. And it gives him the only judges’ standing O of the night, including hoots from Randy.

Randy addresses “Dude,” and says he loved the song, he loved Phillip, he loved the production, he loving the marching band, and everything about that, as it was perfect. It was his best performance of the night. It was amazing and a true artist’s performance and reminded him a little of Mumford and Sons. He calls it genius.

J-Lo says what was so moving about Phillip’s performance was that it was so different. She couldn’t think of any other singer or band he sounded like. It’s just Phillip Phillips, and there’s nothing else on the radio that sounds like that. Steven comments that by virtue of vulnerability and style, Phillip has made the world his home. He heard a little Paul Simon in there and other un-godlike creatures on this planet. He was perfect tonight, and he thinks he’s the man.

Jessica offers some last words to Phillip, saying he’s an amazing artist, and that’s why he’s in that position in the final two. She loves him so much and it’s going to suck when it’s all over. She’s so glad she’s here with him now. Phillip says the obvious, that he’s not good at talking in front of a lot of people, but Jessica is an amazing person and deserves every bit of this. She’s one of the best singers he’s heard, especially at 16 years old, and has a huge future ahead of her. He’s going to miss her.

Last year’s winner Scotty McCreery sings us out with Please Remember Me and clips of the past season playing behind his head. We get to see favorites, some that we’d forgotten, some that we remembered, and some that we wish we’d forgotten.

Now all that’s left is the vote. What it comes down to is if those voting prefer the perfect voice or uniqueness. Jessica has a stunning voice, but she isn’t much different from what’s out there now, especially not if they market her as a young pop princess. She showed tonight that she isn’t who they think she is. They haven’t figured her out yet, but Phillip’s song proves they know exactly who he is and what to do with him. Maybe it’s better for him to get the winner’s contract, as he’ll be putting out a great album by people who understand him, whereas she’ll be better with something where she won’t be pigeon-holed into something she’s not.

And somewhere in there he can work in that surgery he needs to save his life.

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