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'American Idol' Final 3: Why Phillip Phillips Should Win

The 21-year-old heartthrob from Leesburg, Ga., has the musical chops to seize the season 11 title.

Phillips Phillips PR
Nino Munoz / FOX

Some might say Phillip Phillips had us at hello. Specifically: that fateful first audition in Savannah, Ga., some 200 miles from his hometown of Leesburg, when the 21-year-old looker sang Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as it never had been sung before. Strumming an acoustic guitar like his life depended on it -- even breaking a string midway through -- he revealed an unexpected blue-eyed soul in two minutes flat. 

The judges were wowed, and clearly so was America because here we are, some four months after that first impression, and Phillip is one of three left standing, the American Idol crown clearly in view. And in this Idol Worshiper's opinion, he deserves the title. Here’s why:

If there was ever an Idol contestant who marched to the beat of his own drummer, it’s Phillip Phillips. From captivating covers of the unlikeliest of songs -- Genesis’ “That’s All,” Usher’s “U Got It Bad” to name just a couple -- he brought a sense of unpredictability to a show that some might consider among television’s most predictable. And even when his performances didn’t quite hit the mark (his British pop week choice of “Time of the Season” left a lot to be desired), there’s no denying artistry and musicality, two things that will go a long way toward commercial success outside of the Idol bubble.

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He didn’t listen. One of the biggest challenges when it comes to competing on Idol is having to decipher who to listen to and whose advice to ignore. Phillip chose to trust himself, both when it came to song choice and onstage style (or lack thereof). Nigel Lythgoe, Jimmy Iovine, Tommy Hilfiger -- despite impressive credentials, they held little sway over Phillip the Idol hopeful. And that’s how it should be: real, not staged, because once the multimillion-dollar production is not your backdrop, it’s a dramatically different picture.

A little marketability goes a long way … and Phillip has it big-time. With artists like Gotye and fun. moving the needle back from dance and electronic music toward more organic instruments and a rock sensibility, someone like Phillip -- who’s influenced by the acoustic sounds of Dave Matthews and Damien Rice -- might be the perfect fit for the next pop trend. It’s all about timing, after all, and even if he is a WGWG (white guy with guitar -- four have won Idol in just as many years), that says something about what the masses want to hear.

There’s something to be said for being easy on the eyes. No point in beating around the bush: That Phillip is phoxy, and with Idol’s audience being predominantly female, a Team Phillips win should satisfy many millions of women come hump day. (OK, maybe there was a better way to say that.) Point being: In this business, good looks can only help when it comes to selling music, both out the gate and over the long haul.

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In the great tradition of Idol risk-takers, Phillip stands among them. David Cook, Adam Lambert, Taylor Hicks, Blake Lewis -- all were Idol game-changers who rewrote the rules while staying true to their own musical identities. It wasn’t always easy and required the sort of creative fortitude that, let’s face it, a 16-year-old simply could not pull off. Think: Cook’s cover of Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby,” Lambert’s “Mad World,” Lewis taking on Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and Phillips doing “In the Air Tonight” or “U Got It Bad” or “The Letter” or … you get where this is going.

Bottom line: All three finalists can sing. Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez might even be more polished vocalists than Phillip, but when it comes to rock star potential, imperfections are worn as a badge of honor. Phillip Phillips is not perfect. He doesn’t wear shiny things or flaunt any flash, he had flip-flops on at his audition, and few things in life make him happier than his trusty six-string and a song with meaning. Let’s hope he never changes.

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin