Round 1 - "I Have Nothing" vs. "Stand By Me"
First up were songs chosen by American Idol creator Simon Fuller. I would disagree with the judges' conclusion here. Jessica Sanchez certainly was competent in her performance of the Whitney Houston classic "I Have Nothing," but, when compared with her performance earlier in the season of "I Will Always Love You," she seemed somewhat lifeless. There is a huge amount of emotion in the words to this song, and Jessica Sanchez conveyed very little of the wrenching sentiment. By comparison, Phillip Phillips was able to breathe some much needed life into "Stand By Me," a classic that has been covered many many times by others. He struck the right balance between the song's memorable melody and his own interpretive notions.
Advantage - Phillip Phillips
Watch Jessica Sanchez sing "I Have Nothing"
Watch Phillip Phillips sing "Stand By Me"
Round 2 - "The Prayer" vs. "Movin' Out"
Jessica Sanchez rebounded with this round and the songs chosen by the contestants as their favorites from the entire season. Clearly "The Prayer" is a song that she genuinely feels, and it is age appropriate, too. The sheer beauty of her voice shone clearly here. Unfortunately, Phillip Phillips chose a song, Billy Joel's classic "Movin' Out," in which he shows off the most frustrating and annoying aspects of his performing style. He seems to see the song as something of a show off novelty, instead of the piece of social criticism that it is. His performance had the impact of making faces at the camera. A more subdued Phillip Phillips is a much more compelling Phillip Phillips as shown when he performed Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight."
Advantage - Jessica Sanchez
Watch Jessica Sanchez sing "The Prayer"
Watch Phillip Phillips sing "Movin' Out"
Round 3 - "Change Nothing" vs. "Home"
As seems to so often be the case on American Idol, and, frankly, in the recording industry in general, the difference in round three came down to song choice. These are the songs that will be released as official singles in the event either Jessica Sanchez or Phillip Phillips wins. I have to agree with the judges that "Change Nothing" was a boring song that Jessica Sanchez did her best to overcome. Pop ballads are out of fashion in today's music industry, so the result was something that sounded not only boring but old-fashioned. Phillip Phillips' peformance of "Home," on the other hand, felt completely contemporary. The judges struggled to say which artists they were reminded of. For me it was something that split a middle ground between Mumford and Sons and Coldplay. It wasn't as stunningly brilliant as Randy Jackson seemed to indicate, but it did sound contemporary, and I can imagine hearing it on the radio, and that is what American Idol is looking for.
Advantage - Phillip Phillips
Watch Jessica Sanchez sing "Change Nothing"
Watch Phillip Phillips sing "Home"
Overall at the finale, to my ears it seemd like Jessica Sanchez had a somewhat off, unusually subdued night. I don't know if that was due to nerves, bad song choices, or something else entirely. Phillip Phillips delivered one of the most solid nights for him of the competition. He seems to be learning to tweak his style just slightly in favor of pleasing the audience which will do him well if he does win, and American Idol could also use a winner with a strong sense of their own artistic direction. Based on the performances when placed in the most glaring of spotlights for the finale, I would give my edge to Phillip Phillips, and, perhaps for the first time in the entire competition, he was the best performer of the night.
2012 American Idol champion - Phillip Phillips