LOS ANGELES—After losing to Phillip Phillips in the world record viewer-voting finale of “American Idol” on Wednesday evening (Thursday morning in Manila), Jessica Sanchez appeared genuinely happy for the bluesy Georgia guitar man, the fifth male “Idol” winner in a row.
“I gave him a big hug. I love him so much. He has worked harder than most of us,” the young vocal powerhouse said of rival Phillips backstage at Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
Sanchez, a 16-year-old high school student of Chula Vista, California, said Phillips had a health issue and “has gone through mental and physical challenges.” She was referring to the abdominal pains the pawnshop worker from Leesburg reportedly endured throughout the competition.
Phillips himself confirmed that he would undergo kidney surgery before the start of the “Idol” concert tour this summer in the United States.
Sanchez, who is of Filipino and Latino heritage, took a measured view of the outcome, one that she said had solely to do with music.
“I don’t blame it on anything,” she said. “Phillip has his fans, and I have mine. We’re totally two different people. Our genres are completely different.”
“He’s more like the indie, alternative rock kinda guy, and I’m more urban R&B pop …. It’s just the number of our fans,” she said, adding that she expected to be the runner-up.
“That moment, I told him, ‘You’re gonna win this.’ I was smiling at him the whole time. I was ready to just give him a big hug, and that’s what I did when they announced it.”
The show’s host, Ryan Seacrest, announced that a staggering 132 million votes were cast, which was a “world record.” The vote count for each finalist was not announced, typical of the contest.
Phillips, 21, looked stunned when Seacrest announced his name as winner, then wordlessly accepted a hug from Sanchez and congratulations from his fellow finalists.
“I have no idea why I won, man,” he said in his backstage dressing room. “I guess some people liked the music that I was doing. I’m just lucky… I was just doing my thing each week.”
“I am not a great singer,” he added. “I just love to have fun.”
He said one of his top priorities would be to address his health. “We will get that (surgery) done,” he confirmed.
Phillips, who was overwhelmed by emotion and broke into tears when he sang “Home” after his triumph, did not finish singing the song. He went down from the stage to hug his family. “I might cry some more,” he said. “It feels good sometimes.”
His victory extended the “Idol” winning streak for men to five consecutive seasons. The last female to win, and the last nonwhite, was Jordin Sparks in 2007.
Sparks was among the guest stars who helped fill out the two-hour finale show, among them Rihanna, Neil Diamond, Reba McEntire, Chaka Khan and John Fogerty. “American Idol” judges Steven Tyler, with his band Aerosmith, and Jennifer Lopez also performed.
Besides music, there was a marriage proposal for Season 11 finale. Two former contestants stole the show when Ace Young, a season five finalist, told Seacrest that he and Diana DeGarmo, a runner-up in season three, had just moved in together. Then Young got down on one knee and popped the question to her.
Dave Matthews clone?
Phillips has more in common with the last four winners—Scotty McCreery, Lee DeWyze, Kris Allen and David Cook—than gender. Like them, he is a young Caucasian guitar player, also known to “Idol” watchers as WGWGs or white guys with guitars.
Although some critics dismissed Phillips as a Dave Matthews clone, viewers embraced him for his humility, his on-camera mugging and his memorable acoustic covers of songs like Usher’s “U Got It Bad.” In weekly tallies, Phillips never fell among the low vote-getters.
On performance night, he earned consistently high marks from the show’s judges.
He had better luck with his final song, the slow-tempo, acoustic tune “Home,” which the judges said recalled artists like Fleet Foxes, Paul Simon and Mumford & Sons. At one point during Phillips’ final performance, he was accompanied by a marching band.
It was a hit, bringing judges to their feet. Jackson, beaming, exclaimed: “I love the song. I love you. I love the production. I love the marching band. Everything about that was perfect.”
Lackluster 3rd song
Sanchez said she thought it would come down to Phillips and Joshua Ledet for the final two, with the former winning the “Idol” crown. “He has this humble side,” she said.
During the three-song showdown the other night between Phillips and Sanchez, the show’s judges praised the former’s performance across the board. Sanchez was faulted for a lackluster rendition of her third song, “Change Nothing.”
Sanchez had no regrets about what could have served as her first release, “Change Nothing.” The three judges, Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler, panned the song.
“I agreed with them (the show’s music producers and mentors) to pick the single,” she said, noting that she should have gone more “urban” with her song choice. Sanchez herself told Seacrest she would be more actively involved in choosing her record material in the future.
“American Idol” mentor and music producer Jimmy Iovine acknowledged backstage that “Change Nothing” did not work for Sanchez.
“The original song for Jessica bombed,” Iovine said. “There was a bunch of songs to choose from. This song had a melody. We didn’t have time to tweak it. It didn’t work as much as Phillip’s song.”
“Jessica could have said no, of course,” Iovine answered when a reporter asked if Sanchez had a choice in picking her potential winning song. “We don’t force the kids to do these things. It came down to one song.”
Iovine praised Sanchez and Phillips as “young people with great roots and great humility.”
Iovine gave the definitive answer to why Phillips earned more votes: His young girl fans and country music following which comprise a significant voting bloc in America.
Tyler said backstage that he thinks Sanchez has a bright future ahead and hopes she finds the right material.
Sanchez rebounded on the finale show with her show-stopping duet with Jennifer Holliday, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” which several critics praised as one of the best performances in “American Idol’s” history. Holliday originally sang the song in the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls.” After watching the duet, the media folks gathered backstage broke into applause and cheers for the first time.
Even Phillips told the reporters afterward, “Did you see how Jessica sang [that song]?” Sanchez broke into a smile when the media complimented her on the duet. She said, “Performing with Jennifer was amazing. She is a monster of a singer.”
Chaka Khan, one of the guest performers in a star-studded line-up, endorsed Sanchez backstage. “Is there any question?” the singer asked.
‘I want to be Rihanna’
“I don’t know what to expect,” Sanchez replied when asked about her vision for her future. “I was in an ‘Idol’ bubble and now, it has popped up. I don’t know what I will do and where I
will go. I can’t wait to perform for my fans and do an ‘Idol’ tour.”
She was more definite about whose careers she wants to emulate. “I want to be a Rihanna and Beyoncé,” she said. “I want the urban R&B stuff, too.”
Legendary record producer Tommy Mottola is reportedly interested in taking her under his wings.
When asked what she will do when she wakes up to her first day without the grueling “Idol” competition schedule, Sanchez said with a big smile, “I’m doing press. I’ll work on my future album.”
Iovine said the most difficult part for Sanchez right now “is to leave this behind and make her first album.”
Phillips himself says Sanchez “has a big future ahead of her.” With a report from AP