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'American Idol' season 11 recap: Phillip Phillips gets 'Tonight'

It's time for some real talk – the kind that the “American Idol” judges seem incapable of this season.

The Top 3 are all pretty good, each with strengths and weaknesses that make future success possible, but not guaranteed.

The weakest of the three is the judges' favorite Joshua Ledet and their oversized favor for him makes him even weaker. He was the only one who received a standing ovation from the judges this week, for a good version of Etta James' “I'd Rather Go Blind.” The problem is that Rachel Crow handled the song better and with more emotional maturity on “The X Factor” last season.

Oh, and she was only 13 at the time.

The song put Ledet out to an early lead in the Judges' Choice round, as they lobbed him a softball. Continuing the baseball analogies, they threw the high heat at Jessica Sanchez's head, giving her the extraordinarily difficult “My All” from Mariah Carey. It didn't break her, but it did throw the 16-year-old for a loop, magnifying the weakest parts of her voice and withholding any big notes for her to knock out of the park. Jennifer Lopez said she wanted the song to bring out “the tenderness” in Sanchez's voice. Yeah, right. Maybe “Nessun Dorma” couldn't be cleared in time.

Similarly, the judges gave Phillip Phillips an intentional walk, offering up the bland “Beggin',” a Four Seasons song filtered through the Euro remake by Madcon. Yes. Of all the songs the judges could possibly have given Phillips, they gave him a Madcon single. That seems fair and balanced, right?

And yet, even then, Phillips turned it into something vaguely cool, which prompted Steven Tyler to say, “I'm hoping you write your own songs... You could be a new age Boss. You could be the next Springsteen.” Um, wait. WHAT!?

It did seem like Tyler was trying to short-circuit the weird unevenness of the Judges' Choice Round by over praising Phillips and saying that Sanchez was the likely winner.
Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson and the producers may think that “American Idol” voters won't notice that bit of preferential treatment, but they will.

And that's why Ledet will go home tonight in a shocking, SHOCKING result. The judges may be inconsolable and J.Lo may decide that she can't be on the show another season. But seriously, even when the odds are stacked in Ledet's favor, he can't pull off a clear victory. His worst performance of the night – the relatively restrained “aiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeee!” version of John Lennon's “Imagine” – was the song he chose for himself. The most interesting parts of his version of Mary J. Blige's “No More Drama” were when he took off his jacket dramatically, which also pulled out his ear monitors, then the part when he started ad-libbing about demons.

Sanchez, however, was best on her own song choice, the gutsy decision to sing Aerosmith's “I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing” in front of Tyler. Her final note, a vast improvement over Tyler's already-impressive original, should seal her entrance to the finals. She also did well with Jimmy Iovine's pick for her, The Jackson Five's “I'll Be There,” which also included a tough vocal bit that involved her to sing in a low register then zoom up the scales. “You needed Jermaine in that one little part,” Lopez said.

That's true. You'd think they'd want to give her a song that would help her shine all the way through, but that's not how we're playing on “Idol” this season. Jackson said she should have done the Mariah Carey version, which is right, but seeing as she only got handed the song this weekend, maybe there was not enough time to rework it. “There was never a moment-moment,” he complained. “It's like, you know, I mean, it needed like a moment-moment moment.”

The lack of reworking time may have helped Phillips, who turned Iovine's choice – Bob Seger's “We've Got Tonight” – into a stripped-down ballad so stunning that it didn't even matter that he flubbed a line at the end Phillips only gets to the most attractive part of his voice when forced, which is actually endearing. His kinda creepy take on Matchbox Twenty's “Disease” was actually interesting, if not the “Idol” “moment-moment moment” that Jackson was looking for.

Nevertheless, Phillips is a shoo-in for the finals (and probably the win). That leaves Sanchez and Ledet to choose from and they're kind of evenly matched at this stage in their careers. I think the judges' season-long love affair with Ledet will actually hurt him and that the bulk of Hollie Cavanagh's supporters will ride with the other young girl.

You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. Aiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeee!

THE RANKINGS

Phillip Phillips, “We've Got Tonight”
Jessica Sanchez, “I Don't Want to Miss a Thing”
Jessica Sanchez, “I'll Be There”
Joshua Ledet, “I'd Rather Go Blind”
Phillip Phillips, “Disease”
Joshua Ledet, “No More Drama”
Phillip Phillips, “Beggin'”
Joshua Ledet, “Imagine”
Jessica Sanchez, “My All”

ELIMINATED: Joshua
SHOULD BE ELIMINATED: Joshua
ACTUALLY ELIMINATED: Joshua

Tags: American Idol , Phillip Phillips , Jessica Sanchez , Joshua Ledet , Jimmy Iovine , Jennifer Lopez , Randy Jackson , Steven Tyler

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