Can Jessica Sanchez be an ‘Idol’ for her times?

Vocal competitions have never been purely about voices. We know that. There are things like verve and charisma and emotional connection. The last factor, of course, is linked with a host of other things: your age, your geographical location, your lifestyle, your mores or religion and, yes, let’s not forget, your race.

Several forecasts say American Idol Season 11 is for Phillip Phillips to lose. There are varied reasons given:

1) The soft-rock hunk from Georgia has never landed in the bottom of this competition, where voters can vote a gazillion number of times until their fingers and wrists tire of the effort. In contract, Fil-Mex-American Jessica Sanchez had to be saved by judges from premature exit.

2) Phillip has natural charm just on the right side of rebellious. He is equally adept at flashing killer smiles as at making goofy faces. Retiring Jessica covers her lips when she smiles, perhaps an offshoot of less than stellar dental work or just an Asian thing.

3) Both are known for their work ethics. But while Phillip was a regular guy working for pistol-packing Dad’s humble pawnshop, home-schooled Jessica has apparently been singing for a living since childhood. The first falls right smack with patriotic American lore; the latter probably gives some folk concern, given the sad turnout of so many child stars.

4) Phillip carries on the tradition of white guys with guitars being crowned Idol and then dumped a few years down the road. (Yes, the tweens easily outgrow their idols for the badder bad boys of rap and R&B. Jessica’s fave male singer is… Eminem.)

Sound choices

Poll after social media poll has given Jessica a large lead. The Toronto Sun notes:

Based on social media buzz and Twitter postings going into Tuesday’s final, Sanchez had a 17 percent lead in Yahoo! searches, the Internet search engine said.

She also generated 6o percent more mentions in social media than Phillips, according to a survey by analytics company General Sentiment.

But it is a fact that not all of those who answer these polls are American Idol voters (It’s not really clear just how people found ways of voting from outside America via Skype or the magicjack or getting social media accounts registered in the US). It seems safe to say that, where Idol is concerned, at least, those who invest time and energy in posting tweets and Facebook posts about their idols will pour in the same to vote for them.

Even on weeks when Phillip was at the bottom of those polls, he didn’t just survive – he was safe. Jessica almost fell by the wayside on a week these polls were placing her at either top or second rank. So yes, the petite singer has a lot to overcome.

It is probably strange that 350 words into the article, I have not mentioned voice. Or performance. Or, as the judges love to stress, the song choices.

When we come down to it, their choices tonight – on the second, “reprise” round — were stellar.

Jessica eschewed the more flashy but overdone “I Will Always Love You” (Whitney Houston) for The Prayer” (Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion). A great choice; having been performed very early in the season, it had not gotten that much exposure. It also allowed Jessica to express her more lyrical side, coming off the R&B ballad, “I Who Have Nothing” (Houston).

The arrangement, with its sudden chord change, could have tripped up a lesser singer. But Sanchez sailed through with the added benefit of not sounding like anyone’s copy. It also has lyrics that could invoke uncomplicated emotions –even a 13-year old should be able to handle peace and fraternity. Best of all, it had range AND dynamics, leading to that memorable end swoop from on high to the softest of falsettos.

Phillip, who skirted close to disaster with a poor first round, broke back with “Moving Out,” the angry Billy Joel screed that highlights his working-class roots. Phillip brings the sexy back to rage, although his voice is a bit thinner than months back, his lines more rushed, vocals more strained on the higher notes.

Yet, it also seemed more infused with Phillip’s famed dark side – the part that makes JLo and the cougars squirm and speeds up the hearts of budding femmes.

If it hadn’t been stacked against “The Prayer,” Phillip’s song would have won the night. But Jessica simply had the more beautiful performance, though these two, sometimes distant singers, connected with their choices. (For the rest of the article, pls press link)

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