"American Idol" co-judge Steven Tyler is singing the praises of contestants Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez as the season 11 race heats up.
Phillips, a 21-year-old Georgia rocker, is known for his guitar performances and shares a mostly teenage female fan base with fellow contestant Colton Dixon. Sanchez, who is 16 and from San Diego, California emerged as a front-runner early in the competition when she sang "I Will Always Love You," the song that made Whitney Houston famous worldwide, weeks after the singer died.
"There are so many good singers. Look at Jessica. Look at Phillip," the show judge and Aerosmith singer told OnTheRedCarpet.com after his collaborative fashion show with Andy Hilfiger at a Los Angeles shopping mall.
"I'm liking ... that America is liking the way Phil Phillips sings and not ripping him apart for being so different and strange," Tyler said. "Middle America is weird. But I think we've got you sold this time. The talent is so good that you almost can't - I can't judge it at this stage. You know, I can tell them they picked the wrong song but at this stage now, they're all good. It's up to America."On Thursday, April 12, one of the remaining seven hopefuls is expected to be eliminated. The day before, Phillips performed Maroon 5's "Give a Little More." Tyler compared his look to Steve McQueen and Johnny Cash and praised how he evolved musically. However, his performance did not appear to impress co-judges Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson, who said he sounded the same as previous weeks.
Phillips and fellow rocker Elise Testone also performed a duet of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know." "That was beautiful," Tyler said. "Good for you for picking that."
Sanchez performed "Stuttering" by Jazmine Sullivan.
"You slay it every time," Tyler said.
"What you did tonight to me is you set the bar really high," Jackson said. "Dude, that was superb. That was like at the highest degree. You did an amazing job on this song and to me, right now, you slayed the biggest fish of the night."
Sanchez also sang "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," by "American Idol" season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson, with fellow contestants Hollie Cavanagh and Joshua Ledet, who earned a standing ovation from all three judges for his earlier performance of Bruno Mars' "Runaway Baby."
Thursday's episode is also set to feature performances from "American Idol" season 3 finalist and Oscar and Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson, season 10 finalist James Durbin and Ne-Yo and Rick Ross.