“American Idol”‘s final three contestants — Phillip Phillips, Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez — faced off against each other Wednesday night in an epic battle that saw them each perform three numbers: one they chose themselves, one chosen by the judges and one chosen by mentor Jimmy Iovine. Viewers were also treated to footage of all three contestants visiting their respective hometowns this past weekend.
As far as the performances went, there was mostly praise all around, but there was also a near prediction from Steven Tyler as to who would take home the crown. Here’s how it went down.
First Round: Judges’ Choice
Randy Jackson chosen Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” — which he incorrectly called “I’d Rather Be Blind” — for Joshua Ledet. Joshua turned in his usual gritty, soulful performance and earned a standing ovation from all three judges. “After 70,000 people, there’s only one American Idol,” said Steven Tyler. “You sang like that one tonight.” Jennifer Lopez said he brought down the house again, while Randy called it “amazing.”
Jennifer chose Mariah Carey’s “My All” for Jessica Sanchez, who was wearing a floor-length blue gown, to perform. The teen seemed to have a bit of trouble with the low notes, but the judges didn’t notice. Noting that it was a hard song to sing, J-Lo said that Jessica still managed to “do it so beautifully.” Randy, who never misses a chance to remind people that he’s worked with Mariah, called it the best rendition of one of her songs ever performed on TV.
Steven, though, couldn’t contain his enthusiasm.
“When you sing, you make people hang on your every note … You’ll be the last one standing here, I believe,” he said.
When Ryan Seacrest asked him if he’d just made a prediction that Jessica would win, Steven quipped, “Don’t I always?”
Steven chose “Beggin’,” by Madcon, for Phillip, he said, just to see if he’d sing the original melody. The Georgia singer started the song out acoustically, but then the band kicked in and things picked up. However, he changed the melody yet again. Jennifer called it great, but teased him, saying, “You just gotta change the melody!” Steven said he hoped that Phillip would go on to write his own songs, because he could be the “New Age Boss, the new Springsteen.”
Second Round: Contestants’ Choice
Joshua chose John Lennon’s “Imagine,” which he said he’d randomly heard on the radio in the past week and connected with. All the judges praised Joshua for his connection to the lyrics, his vulnerable performance, and the fact that he reined in his voice a bit.
“Beautiful … Another ‘thank you God’ moment,” said Steven, while Randy called it “stellar.”
Jessica tempted fate by singing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” In the past, Steven Tyler has been hard on contestants who attempted to sing one of his own hits, but he was full of praise for Jessica, saying, “You took a great song and made it greater.”
Phillip performed an acoustic version of Matchbox Twenty’s hit “Disease,” and none of the judges liked it very much. While they said he sang well, Randy said it was too “subdued,” while Jennifer said it wasn’t the “wow performance” that’s needed at this point in the competition.
Third Round: Jimmy Iovine’s Choice
Jimmy chose Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama” for Joshua to sing, and the Louisiana native really took it to church, earning raves from the judges. Steven said he saw “the last 40 years of the music business” in Josh’s performance, while Jennifer praised him for knowing exactly what he’s doing onstage at all times, but still being able to completely let go emotionally. Randy said people should “stand up and vote for” Josh because of everything he’s done up to this point in the competition.
For Jessica, Jimmy chose The Jackson 5′s version of “I’ll Be There” — Mariah Carey, of course, also had a hit with it. The song allowed Jessica to show off her entire range, both high and low. Jennifer thought it was a good choice, but Randy said he didn’t love it — it was “just OK, it wasn’t like ‘Ohmigod.’”
Thanks to Jimmy, Phillip sang Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” and though he looked incredibly awkward without his guitar — he kept on rubbing his hand against his leg — he actually sang the melody, and the judges gave him a standing ovation.
“The perfect song,” said Randy, calling it Phillip’s “best performance on the show ever.”
Jennifer said 20 million girls wished that he was singing the song to them, and Steven was so overwhelmed that he let an expletive fly and was bleeped out. Praising Phillips “passion,” the Aerosmith front man said, “You sang like you didn’t give a s**t,” and added, “Let them edit it out at home.”
Someone’s going home Thursday night, when the final two will be revealed, and season eight runner-up Adam Lambert will take the stage to perform.