“Phillips has a far less conventional voice than Sanchez, relying on a series of tics and moans that can suggest Dave Matthews suffering from a monumental migraine.”
——Jim Farber


The Southerner Tops California Teen and Diva-in-Waiting Jessica Sanchez
The 11th season finale of American Idol is in the books. Following a record-breaking vote of 132 million, according to Ryan Seacrest, 21-year-old Georgian Phillip Phillips outpointed 16-year-old SoCal belter Jessica Sanchez.

The big moment climaxed a star-studded two-hour event featuring John Fogerty, Chaka Khan, Rihanna, Neil Diamond, Jennifer Holliday and Aerosmith, who debuted their new single "Legendary Child" (see Rumor Mill). Phillips was joined by Fogerty on the Creedence classics "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" and "Bad Moon Rising," while Sanchez performed "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" with Holliday.

Here’s what the dailies are saying about the show…

Jim Farber, the N.Y. Daily News:
Phillips' gender may have had something to do with his win. The last five Idol winners have all been male, reflecting the especially feverish voting of the show's screechy, young female members.

The area of Phillips' birth may have given him a boost as well. He's from Leesburg, Ga. Nearly every winner in Idol history has come from the South or the Midwest. Sanchez hails from Chula Vista, Calif.

In some ways, 21-year-old Phillips represents the odder choice. He has a far less conventional voice than Sanchez, relying on a series of tics and moans that can suggest Dave Matthews suffering from a monumental migraine. By contrast, Sanchez has a beautiful tone, lungs of steel and, when she's given the right song, a soulful edge. At times, she can sound like radio's ideal mash-up of Mariah, Whitney and Beyoncé.

Sanchez's loss robbed Idol of a number of firsts. Had she won, she would have been the series' first Latina winner, as well as its first of Asian heritage. (She's Mexican-Filipino.) She would also have been the youngest Idol ever…

Regardless of the winner, Idol has already suffered some major losses. It saw nearly 25% of its audience flee this season. In 2010, 24.7 million people tuned in a typical week. This year, that figure was down to 19.2 million—still a humongous tally but a big dip by its lofty standards.

Todd Martens, the L.A. Times:
Where's a werewolf when you need one? Raspy-voiced legend John Fogerty was the latest in a long line of credible artists who agreed to lower himself to the level of American Idol. Fogerty sounded fine on "Bad Moon Rising," but Phillips grimaced through every verse, curling each phrase as if he was singing a question. The Idol, sporting what looked to be a beige drape with a collar, was better when he did less, and he largely stayed out of the way in "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" But hey, not everyone thought it was cringe-inducing, as cameras caught Carrie Underwood smiling away.

Hey America, we're sorry this guy didn't win: Nearly 25 minutes into the finale there was nary a sight of Sanchez. Yet third-place finisher Joshua Ledet sure was given prominent positioning. He was brought out to sing Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot” with Fantasia, but this wasn't the soul scorcher's best performance. The last few verses of the song were little more than the two of them trading yelps, like attack dogs playing chicken with each other.

Rihanna, from one extreme to the other: Rihanna is best when her dance songs unfold like she's trapped in some sort of futuristic cyber-heist. Her performance of "Where Have You Been" started with the star caught in a Tron-like teepee, but once she broke free of the lasers and the video game imagery, the song -- and the production—went south. The clothes came off, circus performers came into view and the svelte electronics were drowned out with an army of needless percussion.

More Neil Diamond: Just when you're ready to completely write off the show, especially after the Idol boys were bouncing around singing "I'm a Believer" like they were in a Chuck E. Cheese commercial, Diamond gracefully entered the stage and stoically sang "Sweet Caroline," showing that his voice is in as sturdy good shape as ever.  

Jon Caramanica, the N.Y. Times:
If Phillip Phillips had been craving a victory on American Idol this season, he did an outstanding job of hiding it. Phillips is a secret sophisticate, often going to great lengths to mask his evident gift. Throughout the season, he was shy and humble, even as his fingers, as applied to his guitar, displayed serious dexterity, and his voice, scratchy and earthy, showed real range and power.

Generally, when he was given free rein to choose his own songs, he went small. He covered Damien Rice and the Box Tops and, with a straight face, Matchbox Twenty. Offered fashion advice, he stuck to his guns, which is to say he smiled, then ignored. On Tuesday night, while the other finalist, Jessica Sanchez, was dressed for a pageant, Phillips was dressed for a kegger.

Phillips is the fifth fundamentally sensitive white male singer in a row to win the show, a fact probably indicative more of stagnation in the Idol voting base than in a resurgent interest in tepidity. It is no small thing, and worth noting, that of these white men he is easily the best, not a dullard or a mook or a boy made good. He was steadily great throughout the season, never once in the bottom three, and even when he underwhelmed, he came off as a bored genius in a remedial class, going through the motions and hoping to sneak through.

Tuesday’s finale wasn’t a showdown so much as the convenient intersection of two arcs—Sanchez’s ascendant but flattening, and Phillips’s steady as she goes. With a mature but not deep voice, Sanchez, 16, delivered flamboyant performances throughout the season, but on Tuesday, she appeared rushed, her gale-force vocals less overpowering than usual. She sang her three songs in the exact same fashion: Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli’s “Prayer,” and “Change Nothing,” a new song.

While she had Phillips beat in volume, and maybe also in commitment, he was lithe and sly, performing as if there were no competition. His take on Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” was restrained and appealingly slippery, and on Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song),” he let loose a roar near the end, a reminder that his modesty is just a pose…
Apart from Phillips, the other winner on Wednesday night was Joshua Ledet, who placed third and was easily the most professional-sounding and downright invigorating singer in the competition. A tightly wound soul man transported directly from a 1950s pulpit, he was often astonishing, and became more emotionally impactful as the season progressed. In recent weeks, when he and Phillips were performing the forced duets the show cruelly imposes on contestants (and viewers), Ledet looked as though he were singing for his supper. Phillips looked as if he were waiting for it to be delivered.
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How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?

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