'American Idol' finals: Jessica Sanchez versus Phillip Phillips
So it's come down to this. After three months, thousands of voices, dozens of songs, hundreds of screams and fan-freakouts galore, the two finalists for this year's "American Idol" go head to head this evening for the final set of performances. On Wednesday, the world will learn whether Jessica Sanchez or Phillip Phillips lands for eternity on history's scrolls alongside kings, queens, Pharaohs, presidents and prime ministers as the reigning king of pop music by becoming Season 11 winner of "American Idol." Or something like that.
"American Idol" circa 2012, however, has struggled in the ratings -- down about 20% from this time last year. It's a shocking turn of events for a show that steamrolled its way into American hearts throughout the '00s, made dozens of young artists famous (and infamous), transformed a British jerk with a funny name and a boxy haircut named Simon Cowell into a man you love to hate, and introduced a rapt TV-watching culture to the pleasures of harshly judging strangers with dreams.
If you're one of the 20% who tuned out this year, or one of the millions who couldn't care less about a judged singing competition were it not for wanting to share some quality time with your family, or boyfriend or (most likely) your grandma, you're going to need a quick primer on the two finalists so you can have a semi-literate point of view. Here are some factoids to prepare you for the conclusion.
Jessica Sanchez, 16
Hometown: Chula Vista, Calif.
Quick bio: Jessica is a veteran at 16, having been featured prior to her "Idol" star turn on both "Showtime at the Apollo" at age 10 and on the first season of "America's Got Talent" at age 11. She's got a killer voice.
Past songs: Her choices are descriptive of her style: Among them, Jennifer Hudson's "Love You Like I Do," "I Will Always Love You" as performed by Whitney Houston, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary," "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen, Luther Vandross' "Dance With My Father."
Famous singer she most suggests: A modern R&B vocalist, Sanchez comes across as a combination of Mariah Carey, Houston and Christina Aguilera. She's got a huge voice for such a tiny frame, loves to show off her range (maybe a bit too much), and with a flash of her smile makes Steven Tyler melt.
Handicapping: Oddsmakers are suggesting that Sanchez needs to nail her performances tonight in order to best the young Phillips. If so, a dollar bet will yield you about a $4 return.
Phillip Phillips, 21
Hometown: Leesburg, Ga.
Quick bio: A working man with a tech college background, Phillips has been riding the "Idol" gravy train all season. He's the only contestant who has never been up for elimination, and when he strums his acoustic guitar it's easy to understand why.
Past songs: Last week, Phillips had to perform the insufferable Matchbox 20 song "Disease," while Jimmy Iovine made him do Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight." Those songs are tailor-made for Phillips' husky voice. He's also covered Queen's "Fat Bottom Girls," the Box Tops' "The Letter," Dave Matthews Band's "The Stone" and many other guy-rock classics. He also did a version of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know."
Famous singer he most suggests: He's got the gravel of Dave Grohl -- but a little wimpier -- and the charm of John Mayer.
Handicapping: This baby is Phillips' to lose: Those twinkly eyes, that smile, his solid voice and his harmless demeanor so closely resemble the last few years' winners that all he has to do now is avoid a KONY 2012-style onstage meltdown. Most oddsmakers have him winning handily. Whether he'll survive the music business that has used and discarded most past winners/runners-up is another thing.
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox.