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'American Idol' finale: The winner and the show's top moments

May 23, 2012 |  7:59 pm

Click here to watch performances from Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez
After two hours of awards-show-like grandiosity, "American Idol" named its winner. The 11th season of the talent show competition came down to a battle between Southern good ol' boy Phillip Phillips, an acoustic strummer in the Matchbox Twenty/Dave Matthews mold, and 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez, a diva-to-be who approaches every vocal as if she had the lead role in "Disney on Ice."

After performances from Jennifer Lopez, John Fogerty, Reba McEntire and others, host Ryan Seacrest was ready to get to the moment that countless DVRs were no doubt fast-forwarding to. This season's winner, announced only after Phillips and Sanchez were forced to try to force some tears with a take on "Up Where We Belong," is Phillips.

After winning, Phillips strapped on his acoustic guitar to sing "Home," the light folk-rocker penned by Drew Pearson that won Phillips wild praise from judges on Tuesday's final performance show. He was brought to tears during the performance, and the 21-year-old Southerner has always been best when showing his more sentimental side. 

VIDEO: First glimpses of Phillip and Jessica

Yet in a show that ran nearly 128 minutes, the winner was almost beside the point. Here's a look at some of the moments worth remembering -- or forgetting.

From smoldering to snoozing: Bruno Mars' cool little nod to James Brown "Runaway Baby" was bled dry of any hints of sultriness, instead given a schmaltzy, "Glee"-like makeover. It gave everyone a chance to spot the "American Idol" contestants that they've already forgotten -- the funny one! the one with the British accent! -- and came complete with a disco-influenced breakdown. 

A meaningless record: Ratings for "American Idol" are down, but that hasn't hurt fans' abilities to hit redial when voting. Seacrest informed viewers that there was a record 132 million votes, a tally that would be impressive if everyone couldn't vote as many times as they wanted. 

INTERACTIVE: "Idol" vs. "The Voice"

Where's a werewolf when you need one? Raspy-voiced legend John Fogerty was the latest in a long line of credible artists who agreed to lower himself to the level of "American Idol." Fogerty sounded fine on "Bad Moon Rising," but Phillips grimaced through every verse, curling each phrase as if he was singing a question. The "Idol," sporting what looked to be a beige drape with a collar, was better when he did less, and he largely stayed out of the way in "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" But hey, not everyone thought it was cringe-inducing, as cameras caught Carrie Underwood smiling away.

Hey America, we're sorry this guy didn't win: Nearly 25 minutes into the finale there was nary a sight of Sanchez. Yet third-place finisher Joshua Ledet sure was given prominent positioning. He was brought out to sing Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot” with Fantasia, but this wasn't the soul scorcher's best performance. The last few verses of the song were little more than the two of them trading yelps, like attack dogs playing chicken with each other.

Rihanna, from one extreme to the other: Rihanna is best when her dance songs unfold like she's trapped in some sort of futuristic cyber-heist. Her performance of "Where Have You Been" started with the star caught in a "Tron"-like teepee, but once she broke free of the lasers and the video game imagery, the song -- and the production -- went south. The clothes came off, circus performers came into view and the svelte electronics were drowned out with an army of needless percussion.  

Full coverage: 'American Idol'

A lil' country: "Idol" contestant Skylar Laine was best when she didn't hide from her big country voice. Yet Reba McEntire showed the power of restraint -- a trait that's on rare display during the run of "American Idol." There's a little bite in McEntire's "Turn on the Radio," and Laine barked it. McEntire, on the other hand, sang like she was conversing, just dropping a bit of scorn and grit wherever she pleased.

Jessica is out of her element: Tackling "I Will Always Love You" was a mistake, especially this year. Jennifer Hudson -- yes, an "Idol" veteran -- rose to Whitney Houston's level when she sang the Dolly Parton-penned ballad on the Grammys, but the teen-aged Sanchez was simply dwarfed by its power.

More Neil Diamond: Just when you're ready to completely write off the show, especially after the "Idol" boys were bouncing around singing "I'm A Believer" like they were in a Chuck E. Cheese commercial, Diamond gracefully entered the stage and stoically sang "Sweet Caroline," showing that his voice is in as sturdy good shape as ever.

Steven Tyler has a sloth. Do they purr?

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Someone named Ace Young proposed to someone named Diana DeGarmo, and the two apparently have never grown out of "American Idol" tackiness. "Will you," Young said to DeGarmo, as he paused dramatically, "marry me?" DeGarmo said yes, screamed and shouted, "Wow, babe, you picked a good one!" But she knew what was coming.

Prior to the big moment, Young wasn't so much a suitor as he was a car salesman. "We have conquered Broadway together, we have created new music together, we have an amazing group of people around us and," Young said, "with the help of [the jeweler he plugged is omitted by Pop & Hiss], I have a way to make this fun last forever."

Tinkerbell? We could only be so lucky. Seacrest reminded viewers that Hollie Cavanagh was given the nickname of the Disney character by will.i.am. Yet the tiny fairy surely would have had more fun with the classic show tune "You'll Never Walk Alone" than this cautiously direct rendition from Cavanagh and Jordin Sparks.

Need a holiday after this. Tony Award-winning Jennifer Holliday took the lead on the "Dreamgirls" cut "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," but the song also offered a glimpse into the future for the young Sanchez.

She's been a professional belter all season, hitting all the right notes with passionless precision. Sanchez has been compared to a host of divas over the past few months, but it's been impossible to get a read on her musical heroes. That's because Sanchez seems groomed for "American Idol," a vocal purebred whose mission in life was to compete on this show. Who knows, maybe it will lead to a successful music career, but more likely it will work OK on Broadway. 

Aerosmith advertises its tour. With tickets to sell for a summer tour, Steven Tyler's Aerosmith performed two songs, including new song "Legendary Child," which was far from embarrassing and stood up quite nicely to an oldie such as "Walk This Way." The gossip pages, however, will obsess over Tyler's shout-out to fellow coach Jennifer Lopez. "I want to keep that team alive," he sang, pleading for his chair-mate to sign on for another year of judging. Perhaps we'll find out Lopez's plans before "The X-Factor" begins. 

ALSO:

Full coverage: 'American Idol'

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American Idol' finale 2012: How to compare Phillip and Jessica?

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-- Todd Martens

Image: Phillip Phillips, Jessica Sanchez and Ryan Seacrest appear on the “American Idol” finale. Credit: Mark Davis / Getty Images

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