Philip Phillips, The Leesburg, Ga. native, became the 11th winner of American Idol last night beating out California’s Jessica Sanchez after a record 132 million votes were cast. The record number of votes, however, may be something of a pyrrhic victory as the hugely successful singing contest franchise’s ratings have dropped nearly 25% this season.
The show’s ratings for the first time since 2003 dropped below 20 million viewers losing nearly a quarter (23%) of its audience. The drop-off was even more pronounced amongst the coveted key demographic: viewers aged 18 to 49.
One criticism leveled at the show is its predictability: Phillips, is the fifth winner in a row who can be categorized as a “white guy with guitar.” And his win marks the fourth time in five years that the winner is likely suited to a career in the adult-alternative radio format, following David Cook, Kris Allen and Lee Dewyze.
The New York Times reported that Kevin Reilly, the president of entertainment for Fox, said there would be some “creative reinvigoration” of the “Idol” franchise for next season.
Last night, however, predictability mattered little to the soft-spoken Phillips, who was visibly moved during his performance of “Home,” his winning song, breaking into tears and becoming unable to finish out the song, instead opting to break away early to embrace his family offstage.
Jessica, the 16-year-old whose big voice and ability to replicate divas like Mariah, Whitney and more with ease won her a devoted and vocal fan base, took the news of her runner-up spot in stride, beaming as her fellow finalist was congratulated and while he performed his winning number.
Both Phillip and Jessica seem on the path to stardom. Jessica has stated her intent to record urban-styled material, while the folk sensibility of Phillip’s “Home” suggests a leaning toward the folk genre.
The announcement of the winner capped off a two-hour finale that featured 12 of the show’s 13 finalists (minus the disqualified Jermaine Jones) and multiple established stars in the music community — and even a marriage proposal.
Most notable was judge Steven Tyler’s performance with Aerosmith, the band premiering new single “Legendary Child” from the “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” soundtrack. “I’ve been waiting two years to say this,” prefaced Ryan Seacrest before the performance. “Ladies and gentlemen, Aerosmith!” The rockers also threw in the classic “Walk This Way” for good measure.
The “Idol” finalists had plenty to do during the broadcast, including a group performance of Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby” that, unsurprisingly, saw Joshua Ledet take the lead. The men of the group began with a medley of Neil Diamond tunes, flanked by the Hall-of-Famer for “Sweet Caroline.” Added was a tribute to fallen Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb, who died just days prior, with Joshua reprising his soulful take on “To Love Somebody.” The group’s females also got the chance to sing with a legend, performing some of Chaka Khan’s best songs before the Queen of Funk emerged, sounding excellent on “I’m Every Woman.”
Steven Tyler wasn’t the only “Idol” judge to catch the performing bug. Jennifer Lopez also sang two songs, the first the dance-oriented “Goin’ In” from the upcoming film “Step Up: Revolution.” The Latin-flavored “Follow the Leader” followed, with J-Lo joined by reggaeton duo Wisin y Yandel.
As is custom with the “Idol” finale in years past, a few contestants got the opportunity to sing with some of their own idols. Phillip and CCR frontman John Fogerty were a dual threat on the guitar with “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and “Bad Moon Rising,” while Jessica was joined by Jennifer Holliday on a positively breath-taking rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” setting itself among the best of the evening. Jessica also did a number by herself — the acclaimed “I Will Always Love You.”
After being compared to her for much of the season, Skylar Laine finally got to sing “Turn on the Radio” with Reba McEntire, and Hollie Cavanagh and former “Idol” winner Jordin Sparks united for “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Speaking of former winners, Fantasia also surfaced, delivering a feverish vocal with Joshua on Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot.”
Phillip and Jessica returned for a duet of “Up Where We Belong,” but by then, the telecast had nearly run over schedule and many were merely anticipating the announcement of the winner, which happened just moments later.
In what seems like a strange sidestep in retrospect, Rihanna appeared on the show to perform new single “Where Have You Been,” flanked by lazers and a tribal theme.
The night wasn’t just a happy moment for Phillip. Former “Idol” contestants Ace Young and Diana DeGarmo, who began dating after meeting on the Broadway stage, appeared next to Seacrest in the second hour, and just about anyone could see where the moment was headed — until Young knelt on one knee and proposed to the seemingly-surprised DeGarmo. She said yes.