Joshua gets a hug from Jennifer.
The three kicked off with a jazzy performance of the Beatles song, "Got to Get You Into My Life." They stood on podiums in bright colors, with color block lights behind them. In contrast, they all wore black and white. It was a very '60s sort of staging. Of the three, Jessica took the most liberties with the song, which makes me wonder if she was familiar with the original.
In this week's Ford ad, to the song "Cinema," the contestants were silent movie stars, with Jessica playing a burglar who opened a safe while Joshua, as a cop, slept at the desk. Once more, Phillip was not included in the video, presumably due to health issues.
Host Ryan Seacrest asked the Top 3 how they were feeling. Jessica Sanchez said she was nervous and excited and just wanted to know who the top two are. Phillip Phillips said that it was an honor just to be there. Joshua Ledet echoed the sentiment, saying that if he didn't make it, he would be voting for both of the others.
Joshua was called first to center stage for a review of last night and music mentor Jimmy Iovine's reaction. Jimmy said that the judges were very generous on "I'd Rather Go Blind," which was just in the middle. He wouldn't have given it a standing ovation: "I think I was lying down at the time." About "Imagine," Jimmy said he believes Joshua is the most exciting showman in the competition. He said that, because of the simplicity of the song, Joshua overcompensated with riffs and runs, which didn't work. "It's kind of like putting a Ferrari on the racetrack and leaving it in first gear." About his third song, "No More Drama," Jimmy said that last night there was something missing, and he knew it was the material. The song didn't have enough melody, he said, and he would take 100 percent responsibility for that. But did Joshua belong in the finale? Jimmy said, "100 percent he should be in anyone's finale."
In a taped segment, the characters from "Ice Age: Continental Drift" were calling Jennifer Lopez looking for "Shira," a saber-toothed tiger who is voiced by Jennifer, looking for tickets to the "American Idol" finale. Cute. Then singer/songwriter Ester Dean asked them (including Hollie Cavanagh, who was in the Top 4) to sing on back-up on a track she wrote for "Ice Age: Continental Drift," sung by Jennifer, Drake and Queen Latifa.
After the taped segment, Ryan introduced some "rock royalty," Lisa Marie Presley (the daughter of Elvis), singing her new single, "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet." It was a Goth number with a rockabilly beat. My God she looked like her father, wearing a floor-length black dress on a dark stage with smoke and pin lighting. He certainly lives on in her: especially in her eyes and nose. Her rich alto voice, combined with the retro-sounding song, could spell a hit. [LISA MARIE PRESLEY'S PERFORMANCE]
Next, Ryan brought Jessica center stage for a look at her songs from the night before. About "My All," Jimmy said that everyone needs a "shock and awe" moment. The song has tenderness and Jessica is a powerful singer, but he still didn't think it was enough. About "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," Jimmy said that he was looking for more than he heard in that song. To win, if she makes it to the final, she needs to have "the most magical moment she's had so far." About her final song, "I'll Be There," Jimmy said that Jessica often reminds him of Michael Jackson's voice. He apologized for this song choice, because he forgot that Jermaine had sung the chorus and the song required two voices. But he said that, if she doesn't make it into the finale, she should sing at the Grammys.
Asked to respond to the Queen of Disco, Donna Summers' death earlier that day, Ryan spoke in the audience to Rita Wilson and Carole Bayer Sager, as well as Jimmy. All three praised her work and said that, according to Jimmy, "Everyone in the dance music business today owes something to Donna Summer." "American Idol" fans might remember that Donna was a guest judge in Season 3 and performed on the Season 7 finale.
Next up, Adam Lambert, the runner-up for Season 9, performed his single, "Never Close Our Eyes," wearing a gray velvet jacket with black leather pants and a bright yellow T-shirt. This song wasn't his best, but it was fun to see him on the "Idol" stage again. A giant eyeball on the back screen keeps watch during his performance.
Finally, it was time to break down Phillip's performances. About "Beggin'," Jimmy said that Phillip did a great job: it was entertaining and fun. He thought that Phillip is becoming more and more original. About "Disease," Jimmy said that he likes that Phillip's willing to risk everything just to experiment, but this song choice was a "snooze fest." He said it's not a strong enough song to sing at this point in the competition. About "We're Got Tonight," Jimmy said that Phillip won the night with that song, and that it was the best performance he's done of the entire season. "He hit notes that I didn't think he could hit... He was flawless." He said that there was a dark mood and aching soul that he pulled down and brought up. There was a depth to it that he hasn't seen all year from Phillip.
Ryan brought all three to center stage and asked the judges to set up the stakes for "this massive moment." Randy said they are three of the best "we've ever had," all talented in different ways with big careers in front of them. Jennifer said it's been such a journey from the very beginning. "To lose any one of you tonight is heartbreaking for me and, I'm sure, most of America." Steven said that "I love you guys so much because you have the courage to have a dream. And if you don't have a dream, there's no way to make one come true." Deep.
Finally, after a break, it's time for the results. The first person to compete in the Season 11 finale, after nearly 90 million votes, Ryan announced, is Jessica! Reaction shots of the judges, the rest of the Top 10 and Jessica's family. The person going head to head against Jessica is... Phillip. He looked a little bemused as he hugged Joshua. This meant it was good-bye for Joshua. Ryan told him he was an incredible talent and it had been amazing to watch him.
Probably accidentally, Joshua stepped out of the light while watching his good-bye montage, so his reaction shot was removed. Of course, his swan song was "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," and the audience responded with cheers when they heard the first strains of it. Joshua gave hugs to his fellow contestants and made his way to the judges' table, where Jennifer insisted on a hug. Then he walked into the audience, grabbed his mother by the hand, and brought her up on stage. That's sweet, especially since he credited her for helping him find the emotion in that song.
Why didn't Joshua make it into the Top 3? This is one of the most unpredictable races to the top I've seen in all my years of watching the show. Joshua consistently received standing ovations for his performances from the judges, and Jimmy said he should definitely be in the finale. Definitely, Joshua was strong in terms of his singing and performance. However, that may also have been the problem.
Joshua did so well every week that he set an almost impossibly high bar for himself. At this point, he would have had to do better than he did with James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" in order to impress viewers. What's worse: anything less than that was considered to be not up to par. Since the judges gave him standing ovations so often, their jumping to their feet no longer met anything and had little ability to influence voters. There has also been a historical backlash against any contestant who is perceived as being "pimped" by the judges.
Other factors include:
The show line-up. Joshua went first, meaning that the other contestants got a chance to make a stronger impression on viewers. If his position with Phillip had been reduced, it's entirely possible the results may have been different.
The fan bases of his competitors. Jessica may have once been at the bottom, but ever since, she's had people pulling for her. Yesterday, her official performance videos received twice as many hits as either Phillip or Joshua. This meant that, while Jessica was practically a lock-in, the competition for the final slot was between the two guys, who would also be expected to split the very powerful southern vote.
Likability. Despite bonding with his "bestie" Hollie, Joshua has been perceived as being "remote" and "snobbish" throughout the season. While he and Hollie were good friends and shouldn't be blamed for bonding, it might have helped his perception with viewers if he'd shown more warmth towards the other contestants, during results shows, video segments and any other opportunity. Historically, "Idol" voters favor "nice guys" with humility. And finalist Phillip's "aw shucks" personality has probably helped him at least as much as his performances.
Marketability. While Joshua has undisputed singing skills, the sort of songs he's sung, and the way he's sung them, has not had as much mainstream appeal as Phillip. If you need proof, go to AmericanIdol.com and listen to Phillip and Joshua's performances from this week without watching the screen. Then consider which of those artists you'd be more likely to hear on current Top 40 radio. I'm wagering the answer will be Phillip.
Song choice. While neither the judges nor Jimmy was probably deliberately sabotaging Joshua -- and he certainly wasn't sabotaging himself -- this week's song choices were either too dated or not a great fit for his vocal skills and style. Despite Randy's assertion that a great singer "can sing the phone book," it still helps to have a good song.
While Joshua didn't make it into the top two, he shouldn't despair. Millions of people were exposed to his talent, and Jimmy has already promised to sign him. He may not have won Season 11, but something tells me his career is far from over.
It's always about more than the singing.