American Idol Season 11 Performance Finale: A Play-by-Play of Jessica Vs. Phillip!

jessica sanchez phillip phillipsWe’ve survived 38 episodes, more than 150 live performances from the Top 25, and heaping portions of wilted word salad from Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler. And now, we’ve reached the final two episodes of American Idol‘s eleventh season.

Yep, it’s all come down to the dolphins-vs.-egg beaters matchup that finds pint-sized diva Jessica Sanchez and Her Deadly Heels competing against swampy guitarist Phillip Phillips and His Roguish Flash of Chest Hair, and I’ll be live-blogging the whole blessed hour! So keep hitting that refresh button throughout the telecast to get my up-to-the-minute thoughts on how the duo is faring as they each tackle a song picked by Simon Fuller, a Season 11 encore, and their (hopefully radio-friendly?) debut singles!

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8:00 Amazing pre-audition footage of Jessica and Phillip FTW! The “poetic” ink spillage (waiting for the strains of “Unwritten”)? Not so much FTW.

8:02 What in the what is J.Lo wearing? It’s like an Olympic skating costume is giving birth to Tour de France pants. (All in “tasteful” black, of course.)

8:03 Phillip, forever true to himself/his thudding lack of style derring-do, in a white v-neck t-shirt and rumpled unbuttoned Oxford. Sigh.

8:05: Shocker! The 137th rendition of “I Have Nothing” in 11 seasons of Idol. Plus Swaybots. I am literally about to punch a puppy.

8:06 Not really making this her own, but that’d be like a McDonald’s worker trying to put a special twist on the Big Mac. Kinda impossible. Jessica certainly hit every note with power and finesse — and that gown is Rated D…for Divine!

8:11 I hope this doesn’t turn out to be the Jessica Sanchez Sabotage Hour.

8:12 Phillip is covering “Stand By Me.” Well, at least the lyrics to “Stand By Me.”

8:13 I appreciate risks generally, but not sure about this one specifically. Why take such a pretty refrain and scoop out its center like an overripe melon?

8:14 “Now let’s gossip.” –Ryan Seacrest, asking for judges’ input

8:15 J.Lo uses up 60 seconds of airtime dodging the idea of critique: “How do you compare?” Jessica has amazing vocal prowess, power, control, grit, and beauty. Phillip has soulfulness, originality, and artistry. How much does she get paid to read these lines?

8:16 Randy, mercifully, calls Round 1 for Jessica.

8:19 Back from commercial, J.Lo seconds Randy’s opinion that Jessica won Round 1. Steven Tyler remains eerily silent, in wicked anticipation of Jason Derulo’s “Undefeated.”

8:21 Wait a second. Coca Cola sponsored this whole Jason Derulo songwriting competition, and all they’re springing for is a metal folding chair as his main set piece?

8:23 Where’s Joshua Ledet to sweep this stage with this foolio?

8:24 Maybe if he’d made this a duet with his girlfriend Jordin Sparks, I’d have liked this better? Or maybe if…uh…I have nothing on this one, sorry.

8:26 I’m gonna need Round 2 to be a LOT better. Maybe with Simon Fuller’s picks out of the picture, there’s hope?

8:27 FLIP YEAH! Jessica is doing an encore of her VEGAS SOLO, “The Prayer.”

8:28 Minute One: SUBLIME!

8:29 SING HEFFA! I think that glory note might’ve won her the competition.

8:30 Jessica finessed that like Eric Ripert treats a rainbow trout: With subtlety, artistry, and perfection.

8:34 Phillip’s encore — another wise choice — Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song).” Just him and his acoustic guitar and not a lot of distraction for the opening verse.

8:35 Sexy saxophonist and the band join in! (He’d better let her share the confetti shower if he wins on Wednesday.) Phillip sounds really great on this, I can’t lie. And there’s a looseness and impish energy this time that wasn’t quite there the first time around. Nice.

8:37 For a quick, nauseating second, I thought it was that kindergarden-age girl holding up half of the “We’ve Got Tonight, Why Don’t We Stay?” poster. Thankfully it was just an illusion.

8:38 Randy calls Round 2 a dead heat. Steven says something about hatching eggs and says Jessica has the edge. J.Lo gives it to Phillip, and then Ryan — in a moment of pure poetry — cuts her off after the word “authentic.” (You know she was hoping to giggle and reduce Phillip to a hot chassis with a guitar, but no dice, Gigli star!)

8:41 Live-blogging always makes the backs of my knees sweat. #BloggerOvershare

8:42 Jessica gets assigned another ballad — a song called “Change Nothing.”

8:43 Hrmmm. I might’ve changed the key. The verse seems pitched just a little low for her, no?

8:44 Er, and the chorus is a little…sharp? But on the plus side, this sounds like an actual real song, not a hideous piece of treacle written specificially for an Idol coronation.

8:45 Randy thought the song was “just okay.” J.Lo wouldn’t have picked a straight pop ballad for Jessica’s lead single, either. “Everything has to be you, Jessica!” Jimmy Iovine looks mildly embarrassed. Steven didn’t feel it was the proper song, either. Ummm…couldn’t Uncle Nigel have let her end her set with “The Prayer”?

8:46 Even Jessica agrees in the real world, she’d prefer to record something a little more “urban.”

8:48 Look, I don’t disagree that “Change Nothing” probably isn’t the best first impression Jessica could make at radio — hey, Iovine, it’s not too late to find her something with a little more edge before June comes around — but it also seems a bit disingenous for the judges to hammer her for a composition that I can pretty much guarantee she had no say in covering. Know what I mean?

8:50 I swear, Ryan emphasizes the “Lee” in Leesburg, Georgia, everytime he introduces Phillip’s hometown.

8:51 Speaking of hometowns, Phillip’s original single is called “Home,” and it’s got a driving beat and a melancholy melody that’s a little reminiscent of…hrmmm…help me out here, Idoloonies.

8:52 Enter marching-band drummers. And cue standing ovation from the judges.

8:53 Selected Randy-isms: “Everything about that was perfect!” “True artist’s performance!” “Brilliant! Genius!”

8:54 J.Lo already offering congratulations, and given the choice of material, she may be right. That song was a perfect fit for Phillip, and the staging was spectacular, without ever feeling inauthentic. Not even the perfect little pout on the final “home.”

8:57 Scotty McCreery’s “PLease Remember Me,” live, and serbing as a backdrop to Season 11 highlight reel. Plus Swaybots.

8:59 Why is the highlight reel being minimized? Need more semifinalist footage up close for my aging eyes! I swear it’s like a postage stamp on the envelope of my TV screen!

FINAL THOUGHTS
Winner of the Night: Phillip
Should Win the Season (not counting Joshua): Jessica
Will Win the Season (in an upset): Jessica (call me crazy, but I think her fan base is gonna help carry her over that incongruous final ditty.)

What did you think of the Season 11 performance finale? Hit the comments with your thoughts, and come back Thursday to TVLine.com to read my full episode recap!