Jessica Sanchez and Phillip Phillips belt out an impressive finale
Credit: Fox

They’re from different coasts. They share the same drive. They share the same dream. They share the same overused turn of phrase about not letting said dreams slip out of their hands/slip away. They even share a love of the fountain pen and ornate writing on super heavy card stock. But wait. Oh no! Did the ink bottle fall over because it looks like it’s pouring out. Or is that blood? Is this a metaphor for Phillip Phillips’ future kidney surgery? Or is tonight going to turn into Hunger Games and only one person will survive? Is Jessica about to shoot a bees nest to make Phillip start hallucinating?

Phew. Nothing like the introduction of our judges to bring me back to reality. And there was Randy in a jaunty orange blazer, Jennifer Lopez wearing my 18 month-old’s onesie with one sleeve cut off and the rest of it covered in black lacy stuff. And Steven Tyler, fresh from being mocked by Mick Jagger on Saturday Night Live, in a delightful mauve patterned suit that seemed to clash with the mauve-colored tanner that La Lopez must have applied in a very poorly lit room. Ryan Seacrest was the sole beacon of style, in a slick suit, flash of tie square color, and a tie pin. Man, I love a good tie pin.

Even before the finalists Jessica Sanchez and Phillip Phillips came out, the audience was going crazy. There were former contestants from the season, Jordin Sparks or someone who looked just like Jordin Sparks, and lots of people with fan posters. Or possibly just one person with a fan poster that read “Pheel Better Phillip.” Our friendly American Idol camera operator sure loved that one ’cause he or she cut back to it no fewer than three times.

And then it was time to see “our” top two. Out came the 21-year old pawn shop worker (how very cable channel series of him!) and the 16 year-old power singer and all I could think was how much I loved Jessica’s dress strapless black gauzy dress. Full disclosure: I wasn’t a huge Jessica fan until she sang “And I Am Telling You.” To me for me for you, it felt like the judges were hyping her a little too hard. Sure, she had a big voice, but no personality ever came across. But when she sang Jennifer Holliday proud, I was a convert. I was a crying lump of goosebumps after that performance and wanted to see her in the finale. Phillip, on the other hand, won me over early on and continued to impress me throughout the season. Not that I ever rewound his performances and watched them over and over (and over and, okay, over) as I did with Jessica’s. So my heart was up for grabs tonight.

NEXT: Does Jessica have nothing, nothing, nothing?

Here’s how it went down.

Round 1: Simon “where the hell have I been all season?” Fuller’s choice.

Jessica sang Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” The cult of swaying limbs were in full force, which detracted from what could have been a beautiful tribute. I thought Jessica sounded partially nervous, partially cocky, partially beautiful. In my humble opinion, you don’t deviate that far from Whitney’s vocal arrangement. But love love love that dress. I think I just sounded like Paula Abdul and I’m not comfortable with that.

Phllip sang “Stand By Me” in his own Phillip singer-songwriter-arrangement, which incorporated sounds including “Awww,” “rrreen,” and “wraaaaa.” The performance was good, but I spent those minutes thinking about Tommy Hilfiger, and how his insides must have been wound into a (Hamptons-yacht-friendly) knot seeing Phillip wearing an overstretched white undershirt underneath a rumpled blue cotton button-down shirt that looked like it had just come out of a frat house dryer.

Phillip’s adorable dad, tonight sans holster, loved it and was on his feet. The judges didn’t feel the same way. Randy thought round one went to Jessica. Jennifer agreed. Steven wasn’t allowed to speak.

At this point in the show we were asked to care about Jason Derulo. No offense, but why were he and his folding chair even there? I tuned in to see the finalists and the finalists alone. I was feeling a little confused until the commercial break when a certain sponsoring cola used his song in an ad. Yes, it’s all coming together now. I’m onto you, evil marketing machine!

NEXT: Is Phillip movin’ up or movin’ out?

Round 2: Contestants’ choice

Jessica chose to sing Celine Dion’s 1999 song “The Prayer.” Because that’s how you stay relevant: a Celine Dion song from last millennium. She urged all us listeners to “remember we are all God’s children…reaching out to touch you…reaching to the sky.” She definitely hit crazy notes way up high in heaven and I imagine some kind of deity was looking down and saying, “Damn, girl, that note even got me!” No doubt her vocal skill is killer, but, boy, what a snooze of a song.

Phillip came back with Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out,” again sung with the vocal stylings of the hit rearranging “artist.” It was great and all, but all I could think was “Hey, there’s the blond saxophonist chick back on the Idol stage! How I’ve missed her all night!” Phillip looked dapper, did his trademark heel-clicking and face-scrunching and during some big moments his forehead vein got so jumpy I started to worry it was going to pop out of his head. And boy, that wouldn’t pheel good at all. Jimmy Iovine loved it! He gave it a standing ovation as Phillip smiled, knowing he rocked it. Which is saying a lot about a Billy Joel song.

What did the judges think? Finally, 36 minutes into the show, Steven was allowed to speak. Why? So he could utter some useless verbal dropping about “tonight he hatched some. But I would have to say Jessica took it again.” Mind you, he’s incapable of having an original thought and can simply repeat the most recent thing he’s heard. So during round one everyone loved Jessica so he just spit that back. Randy called it a dead heat and Jennifer gave the round to Philip. “I’ve seen Jessica do that before,” she said. “That was authentic Phillip.” Well, technically, she’s seen both of them do those songs before…but I’m not gonna argue with a lady who can rock a onesie with leather pants.

NEXT: The ‘Home’ stretch

Round 3: “Potential winning singles”

Jessica sang her “Change Nothing” single from atop the “dramatic moment piano.” It might have been the worst Idol finale song ever. It actually made me miss those trite, faux-inspirational lyrics from seasons past. I won’t even insult my keyboard by retyping some of those lines…just plain lame. She sounded fine but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to hear that song again. Randy “did not love the song.” The audience booed. Seriously, people? Jennifer reiterated what Randy said about the godawfulness of that pop ballad. Steven, as usual, repeated the most recent thing he had heard. Hell, even Jessica hated the song. “I definitely agree with them,” she sheepishly admitted, saying she would have done something “more urban” but she wanted to show off her vocal skills. In other words: Screw you, music and lyrics, as long as I sound good. Her confession gave her the stench of being an icky, calculated, pageant girl who would do whatever it took to win.

On the absolute opposite end of the spectrum was Phillip’s “Home.” It had some of that feel-good Idol finale song in it (“Trouble it might drag you down; If you get lost you can always be found”) but damn if Phillip didn’t turn it into the best finale song in the show’s run. The marching band was equal parts random and fabulous and Phillip’s vocal was incredible. The crowd justifiably went crazy and the judges gave their only standing ovation of the night. “Dude, I loved that song. I love you. I loved the marching band. Everything about that was perfect,” Randy said. Jennifer agreed, adding how there’s nothing on the radio like that now. Steven started coherent, saying he heard some Paul Simon in there, but then he contradicted everything else he’d said all night by commenting, “You were perfect tonight. I think you are the man.” Uh, didn’t he say Jessica beat him the first two rounds? Whatevs.

But my favorite moment of the night had to be watching Phillip’s face after he sang. And yes, I’m going to get gushy here. You could see his eyes darting from section to section in the audience, taking in the applause, the smiling faces, the fact that he’d done himself proud, that he never sold out.

Overall, really good finale. And if there was a moment of not loving it, those last few minutes of watching Scotty McCreery singing his see-ya-you-were-just-voted-off song reminded me of last year’s lame finale and made me love tonight all the more. What did you all think? Do you all pheel like I do that Phillip won it with that beautiful phinal song?

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Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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