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MAY
17
3 YEARS

'American Idol': Jessica Sanchez, Phillip Phillips Are Season 11's Final Two

Thursday's elimination show also featured appearances by Adam Lambert and Lisa Marie Presley along with the ceremonial coin toss to determine performance order for next week's finale.

American Idol season 11 top 2 jessica sanchez phillip P
Michael Becker / FOX

One thing was certain going into Thursday night’s American Idol results show: Next week’s final two was far from a foregone conclusion.

Unlike in  past years, when the final showdown was all but predetermined -- Adam Lambert vs. Kris Allen, Carrie Underwood vs. Bo Bice, Scotty McCreery vs. Lauren Alaina – next week’s Season 11 finale could have featured any combination of the top three. Such was the extraordinary talent exhibited by Joshua Ledet, Phillip Phillips, and Jessica Sanchez.

However, somebody had to go home.

PHOTOS: 'American Idol' Season 11 Finalists' Hometown Visits

Before that could happen, though, we fans had to sit through a very long, drawn-out hour of Idol. Then, finally, 90 million votes later, following performances by Lisa Marie Presley (doing her best lounge-y Lana Del Ray impersonation) and the sublime Adam Lambert  -- sporting an Elvis Presley look as he sang "Never Close Our Eyes" from his new CD,  Trespassing  – Ryan Seacrest made the big reveal: Ledet, the 20-year-old Steven Tyler declared one of the “top two Idols of all time,” the recipient of 16 (!!!) standing ovations, was sent packing.

Left standing were phoxy Phillips, 21, Leesburg, Georgia’s favorite son, and Sanchez, 16, the wunderkind from Chula Vista, Calif., to compete for the title on Tuesday's performance finale. Phillips, who won the show's ceremonial coin toss, chose to perform second on next week's show.

According to Jimmy Iovine, Phillips all but locked up the finale with his commanding, dark and sexy performance of Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight,” and Sanchez deserves a spot singing on the Grammy Awards.

Unfortunately, that made Ledet the odd man out.

“Joshua had a good night last night -- not his best night, but very good,” said the music industry veteran.

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All three judges looked shocked, even mournful, as Ledet stood center-stage and brought down the house  -- earning ANOTHER standing ovation -- with a reprise of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s World.” Tyler and Jennifer Lopez were in tears as Ledet laid it all out on the stage one last time with his mother by his side.

Many had predicted Ledet could be the winner. So, what did him in? Iovine, who said the Louisiana gospel belter “100 percent” belonged in the finale, believed it was song choice.

“There was something missing, and I know it was the material,” he said.

Iovine also called out all three judges for being overgenerous in their praise of Ledet on Wednesday night. This may have turned off Idol voters in the most critical weeks of the competition. In particular, Iovine harshly criticized the judges’ standing ovation after Ledet’s take on Etta James’  “I’d Rather Go Blind.”

“I was lying down at the time!” he quipped, adding “[The song] showed me nothing about where Joshua could go in his career.”

We agree. What was Randy Jackson thinking giving Ledet such an old-school song on one of the most important nights of the contest? Ledet needed something modern. He is so capable of doing it – think back to when he did “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars. Ledet was dynamic that week. Surely Jackson could have come up with something to excite the teen fan base?

And Ledet didn’t do himself any favors with his choice of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

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“I actually believe that Joshua is the most exciting showman we have in the contest right now,” Iovine said. “But [“Imagine”] has a simple melody, and he overcompensated with riffs and runs...It was like having a Ferrari on a racetrack and leaving it in first gear.”

Iovine claimed responsibility for failing Ledet with Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama.” Interesting critique, since most Idol bloggers felt it was Ledet’s best performance of the season.

 “That song didn’t have enough melody. Joshua needs a melody,” he said.

Lesson learned. Hopefully Iovine will take his own advice and find Ledet melodic songs for his debut CD. Until then, we look forward to Ledet on this summer’s tour and next week’s finale. Will Mantasia duet with Season 3 champion, Fantasia Barrino? That would be something!

In other Idol news, auditions for Season 12 will be held in Los Angeles, June 7, New Jersey, June 23 and Chicago, July 12.

Twitter: @micheleamabile