'American Idol' finale recap: Phillip Phillips takes the win
After a record-breaking 132 million votes were tallied -– and just for perspective, that's more votes than were cast in the 2008 presidential election -- the winner of "American Idol" Season 11 is Phillip Phillips.
Not Jessica Sanchez.
Most of us probably aren't terribly surprised -– yes, the cute white guy won again, for the fifth straight year -– but perhaps, we can be forgiven for feeling a little disappointed. It would not only have been gratifying to see a young woman snap that streak; it would have been particularly pleasing to see Sanchez, the 16-year-old singer with the preternaturally powerful voice, be the one to snap it.
VIDEO: A season of songs from Phillip and Jessica
She was a hard worker, a proud child of a military man, an American of Mexican and Filipino heritage, a come-from-behind contender who had returned strong after her near-elimination. Sanchez was the antithesis of the white male who coasts to victory –- or perhaps is carried there by a bevy of smitten teenyboppers.
Which is not to say that Phillips, of whom I am an avowed fan, didn't earn his win. Struggling with health issues throughout the competition and eschewing some of the show's more crass aspects, he stayed unwaveringly true to himself and his talent. But he also allowed himself to grow, stretching his range, testing his voice, embracing different sorts of music and bigger production values.
Both contestants, the winner and the runner-up, in their best performances, could make the fine hairs on the backs of your arms stand up. (Jennifer Lopez has ruined that gauge of talent with her "goosies" references, but that doesn't stop us from feeling that tickle.) And yes, both stand to stake out stellar careers in the music biz.
Each of their talents was amply on display during the finale Wednesday night. Phillips' guitar-strumming duet with Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty –- on "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" and "Bad Moon Rising" -- seemed to suit him like a favorite flannel shirt. Sanchez's "I Will Always Love You" solo was impressive, but her duet with "Dreamgirls" star Jennifer Holliday on "And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going" blew the roof off the place.
On a night that also included performances by Rihanna, Jennifer Lopez, Aerosmith, Fantasia Barrino (who sang with third-place-finisher Joshua Ledet), Chaka Kahn, Neil Diamond, Jordin Sparks (who performed with Hollie Cavanagh, who came in fourth this season), Reba McEntire (who sang with Skylar Laine) and (repeatedly) this season's top 12, the Sanchez/Holliday number was unrivalled in its power and excitement and pure vocal virtuosity.
It was a propitious marriage of voices, and the evening also offered the promise of a real marriage between two former "Idol" contestants: Diana DeGarmo (second place, Season 3) and Ace Young (seventh place, Season 5). Yes, with Ryan Seacrest supervising from just a few feet away, Young got down on one knee and proposed to DeGarmo, ring and all. (After Seacrest faked us out, making us briefly think he was proposing to his girlfriend, Julianne Hough, the other week, it may have taken viewers a few seconds to believe Young was popping the question in earnest.)
But the biggest moment of the evening, of course, was the big reveal. After a few words of thanks from the two finalists, Seacrest issued his request that the lights be dimmed.
"After a record-breaking 132 million votes, the winner of 'American Idol' Season 11 is … Phillip Phillips."
How did Phillips take the news? He wept like a champ, getting through only part of his "winner's song," "Home," which we can probably look forward to hearing under next season's departing-contestant highlight reels, before becoming too overcome with emotion -– as the confetti tumbled from above –- to continue. So he left the stage and headed straight into the audience, where his family awaited him.
The 21-year-old crooner from Leesburg, Ga., had brought home the win and was heading home a victor. But the music and his bright future would have to wait. First, he just needed a hug from his mom.
I hope Sanchez got one from her mom too.
-- Amy Reiter
Photo: Runner-up Jessica Sanchez embraces Phillip Phillips on "American Idol." Credit: John Shearer / Invision / AP