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'American Idol' Recap: Change Nothing

Jessica Sanchez and Phillip Phillips make last stands

May 23, 2012 9:30 AM ET
american idol jessica
Jessica Sanchez performs in front of the judges on 'American Idol.'
Michael Becker / FOX.

This week, season 11 of American Idol comes to an end. No, really, it does.

I know it's felt like a lifetime, but that's just because one of the most talented groups of singers this show has ever had the good luck to amass on one stage (like an actually talented flash mob) was forced to slog through weeks of vague theme shows, judges who seemed mostly incapable of putting together a coherent (let alone helpful) sentence, and a distracting amount of product integration.

And yet here we are, on the cusp of crowning yet another American Idol. Whether it is Phillip Phillips or Jessica Sanchez who ends up as the winner, they will have bested some of the most talented contestants to ever grace the Idol stage. Just this once, I'm even including Hollie Cavanagh in that assessment.

Ryan Seacrest is stirring up the rivalries on tonight's finale: Not only is it boys against girls, but it's also east coast versus west coast. He says that as if Biggie and Tupac are going to rise from their graves to bust a cap into some Phillip Phillips fans' asses. Maybe his hologram will fist-fight Biggie's hologram and James Cameron will film it? In these crazy modern post-Coachella times, who knows what will happen!

Speaking of having no idea what will happen, Phil-Phil versus Jessica Sanchez is truly too close to call. Phillip has the teen lady vote cornered, but Jessica can, you know, sing the melody all the time, which Phillip can't. Plus his mysterious illness has reportedly hampered some of his performances and while it is likely that adrenaline will carry him through the finale, I say again, who know?

Photos: 'American Idol' Season 11

(By the way, Phillip's kidney stones have their own Twitter account, because those are the times we live in. Sample tweet: "RT @PhillipsStones I am passing through Phillip's kidneys as we speak. He deserves pity votes, because, trust me, I hurt like a motherfucker." Follow along at home, kids!)

The judges are way too lethargic to get off their duffs for Jessica, despite the fact that her version of Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" was perfect. It's not just that they are lazy, but that this note-hitting perfection is what we've come to expect from Jessica, and near-perfect becomes same-old same-old pretty quickly when it comes to heartfelt pop ballads. It's funny that Whitney Houston, who most contestants wouldn't even bother attempting, is an easy slam-dunk for Jessica. She's just that naturally talented.

Phillip follows that performance with a subdued and subtle version of "Stand By Me," which is pretty, but certainly lacks any wow factor. Oh god, I think the judges have infected me with "wow factor" needs. Ryan then asks the judges if anyone won round one, and obviously Randy thinks Jessica took it. For once I could understand him, and also for once I agree with him. What is happening to me? Thank god this is the finale.

Not only is tonight the final performances for the Idol contestants, but it is also the culmination of Jason Derulo's weird "Undefeated" project that he and Coca Cola have been pimping all season. The song is catchy enough (perhaps catchier than anything the Idol contestants have produced so far), but why is he here and what is he undefeated at? Who knows! And frankly, who cares.

J. San is back to sing "The Prayer," the super-modern and relevant Celine Dion song that earned her a spot in the top 24. It's from 1999! I am not even sure if Jessica was born in 1999. It's a good song choice for her, but way to stay current.

Phil-Phil follows with a Billy Joel song ("Movin' Out," for those playing along at home) that sounds so much like Dave Matthews you wonder if Dave is secretly mentoring him during Phil's frequent trips to the hospital. Like how gangsters would meet up at the dialysis center to talk Cosa Nostra biz. Anything is possible in the wacky world of show business, right?

For the record, I am aware that "Movin' Out" is a way older song than "The Prayer," but Billy Joel has an ironic chic that Celine Dion sorely lacks. See also: Hollie Cavanagh. Also, when you do a Billy Joel song you get to show off the sexy saxophone player who has been alongside Phillip for all his best performances. You can't take her home with you, Phillip! Well, maybe if you win you can. The judges give round two to Phillip, but they could just be saying that because, you know, tension, drama, ratings, etc.

The judges then throw Jessica out of the ring and more or less anoint Phillip the winner by declaring that they hated her performance of "Change Nothing." And, truthfully, there was a lot to hate. She belted out the age-inappropriate lyrics from the edge of a piano, from which she did not budge for the entire performance. This round of songs is meant to be the winner's first single, so if Jessica Sanchez takes the title expect to hear all the kiddos singing, " "Should have shut my mouth and kept it all to myself" or whatever the weird lyrics are. Jennifer Lopez assures Jessica that she "will make a record, you'll make many records." Just not that one, hopefully.

Phillip, on the other hand, knocks his final performance out of the proverbial ball park, and when I’m speaking in sports metaphors, you know it has to be really good. The song, "Home," is filled with lyrics ripped from 50 Shades of Grey – "I'm going to make this place your home" and "trouble might drag you down" – but Phillip will personally save you and love you and keep you safe. Needless to say, the ladies love it. He is accompanied on stage by an entire drum corps, too. The judges give him a standing ovation, calling him a "true artist" and giving shout-outs to Mumford & Sons and pretty much ensuring his victory.

As we wrap, the dreary Scotty McCreery sings "Please Remember Me" as a video of the past season rolls past featuring many people we don't remember at all, despite Scotty's plea.

So who takes the title? Based on the final song, it's going to be Phillip. He's talented enough with a shrug-filled charisma that makes the girls go wild. And Idol is all about making the tweens go crazy and rack up texting charges on their mom's phones. That's why five innocuously handsome, non-threatening white boys have won this competition in a row, which is exactly why Jessica should win. But do Idol fans know what is good for them? Probably not. So come back tomorrow and watch Phillip Phillips take the crown, sash and recording contract.

Last episode: Man's World?

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