LOS ANGELES—The “battle of the opposites” comes to a close Thursday as viewers choose between the powerhouse singer and the quirky crooner in the season 11 finale of “American Idol.”
Jessica Sanchez chose power ballads, while Phillip Phillips went with an indie vibe as the two diverse “Idol” finalists sang on Wednesday for the hearts and votes of America.
The two performed three songs: A choice by “Idol” creator Simon Fuller; their favorite of the season; and a new song that would be their potential future single should they be crowned “American Idol.”
Right after the show, many Filipino-Americans across the United States voted for Sanchez, who at 16 might yet make it as the youngest and the first contestant of Asian descent to win in the popular singing competition.
Sanchez’s mother Editha Bugay is a Filipino married to Mexican-American Gilbert Sanchez, a member of the US Navy.
Before an estimated audience of 7,000 at Nokia Theatre, Sanchez opened round one of her showdown with Phillips with a powerful rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” Phillips followed with Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” Two of the judges, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, declared Sanchez as the victor in round one.
Standing ovation for Phillips
In round two, after Sanchez’s rendition of Celine Dion’s “The Prayer” and Phillips’ take on Billy Joel’s “Moving Out,” Steven Tyler went for Sanchez, Lopez for Phillips and Jackson for both.
In the final round, the judges liked Sanchez’s performance but not the pop ballad “Change Nothing.” Phillips sang “Home”—a song that mixed the style of folk-rock band Mumford and Sons with Paul Simon and featured a marching band—which earned him the night’s only standing ovation from the three judges.
“That’s your best performance of the night. That was amazing,” said Jackson. “You were perfect tonight, and I think you are the man,” said Tyler.
Lopez, however, said the contest “was tough one. It’s like a battle of the opposites.”
More Fil-Ams challenged
The judges’ apparent endorsement of Phillips in the final round may have challenged more Fil-Ams to vote for Sanchez and to more aggressively encourage families and friends to cast their votes.
On Wednesday, Facebook was abuzz with status updates urging friends to vote for the small girl with a powerful voice from Chula Vista, California.
Fil-Ams hosted voting parties in their homes and the social or meeting rooms of their condominiums and apartments.
With a father who is Latino, Sanchez also drew support from the Mexican-American community. Many pundits predict that what was going against Sanchez was the “WGWG” (White Guy With Guitar) syndrome, which saw the triumph of contestants like Scotty McCreery, Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen and David Cook in recent years.
After the showdown, Sanchez and Phillips appeared chummy backstage as they fielded questions from the media.
Sanchez, usually composed onstage when she sings, appeared the teenager that she is. “I feel like we are just having fun right now—win or lose,” she said.
Sanchez, asked to clarify that statement, answered, “Of course we want to win. Nobody has gone this far for a 16-year-old.”
She described her rival “as goofy and funny” but “an amazing artist.”
She gave this message to her Filipino supporters: “I love you. Thank you for your support!”
Talent, not ethnicity
On the eve of the “Idol” season finale, townmates of Sanchez’s mother in Samal, Bataan, were beaming with excitement and were hoping that talent, not ethnicity, would be the deciding factor in the popular singing competition in the United States.
“We’re already in the 21st century. What matters is that you have talent. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Oriental or black or Latino,” said Mayor Generosa dela Fuente.
Dela Fuente said while finalist Phillip Phillips is a good singer and has charisma, they believe Sanchez would be named the next “Idol.”
“The girls love [Phillip] but Jessica is more versatile. She can sing anything. She has the X factor,” she said.
Early Wednesday, young people initiated a street dancing activity followed by a prayer rally in Samal’s covered court at 8 a.m. A motorcade also went around the towns of Orani, Samal and Abucay.
“We did this to invite the community to join us in watching the showdown of Jessica and Phillip in the finale. It was also done to show that there’s unity not just in Samal, but in the entire province of Bataan,” she said.
Dela Fuente said cable television provider Cignal sponsored the viewing of Wednesday’s performance episode and today’s live finale.
‘Hotbed of insurgency’
Before Samal shot to the nation’s consciousness because of Sanchez’s “Idol” stint, Dela Fuente said the town was a “hotbed of insurgency” in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“But slowly, reforms were made, and this has continued to this day. Our constituents are slowly trusting the government again. We’re seeing the light of progress,” she said.
Dela Fuente said Sanchez’s inclusion in the competition’s finals had brought Samaleños together and inspired them to unite.
Dela Fuente said Bataan mayors would invite Sanchez to visit the province after her “Idol” stint. “Samaleños are clamoring for her to come home… It’s going to be a red carpet event,” she said.
“But whatever happens, Jessica is already a winner. Nothing will change. If she comes here, she’ll be welcomed with a huge homecoming,” Dela Fuente added.
Judges’ impact limited
But the judges’ impact is limited to potentially swaying audience votes by phone, text and online after the show Wednesday. Results will be announced at the end of a star-studded two hour finale Thursday.
Based on social media buzz and Twitter postings going into Tuesday’s final, Sanchez had a 17-percent lead in Yahoo! searches, the Internet search engine said.
She also generated 60 percent more mentions in social media than Phillips, according to a survey by analytics company General Sentiment.
But Phillips, whose goofball humor has charmed millions of young female viewers, has never been in “Idol’s” bottom three.
Sanchez, who is sometimes criticized for failing to connect emotionally with her lyrics, was saved by the judges from elimination in April after coming bottom in the public vote.
Sanchez has thousands of supporters in the Philippines, while Phillips has won sympathy for a kidney problem that has plagued his health during the show. “Pheel Better Phillip” read one poster in Wednesday’s audience.
This year’s winner will receive a guaranteed recording contract, putting him or her on a potential road to the stardom enjoyed by early champions Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
But more recent winners have fared less well and audiences for “American Idol” have fallen by 23 percent to an average 19.2 million viewers.
The season’s grand finale will be broadcast live in the Philippines today (Thursday) at 8 a.m. on ETC and Star World, with replays at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. on ETC. With reports from Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Central Luzon and Reuters