"American Idol" top 3 finalist Phillip Phillips finally had his "giant moment" on Wednesday's episode of the FOX singing contest series and the season 11 race has now become closer than ever.
Following weeks of several toned-down performances, the 21-year-old Georgia musician, who has been compared to Dave Matthews, earned a standing ovation from the judges for his rendition of legendary rocker Bob Seger's 1978 ballad "We've Got Tonight." Show mentor Jimmy Iovine picked the song for him.
"The perfect song at the perfect time and your best performance on the show ever!" said Randy Jackson, who has been Phillips' harshest critic among the three judges. "Here is why - finally in the end, in this moment, where you need moments ... You had a giant moment."
"We've been saying - 'Will he sing the melody?' 'Cause he always does his own thing with it. So what you just showed everyone - 'Hey, I can sing the melody, too. I just choose to do something else,'" he added. "Yo! You got 'em, dude, you got 'em! You got 'em! You got 'em! This boy right here is in it to win it and he's ready! He is ready, Jennifer, he's ready!"
Co-judge Jennifer Lopez said: "I only know one thing: There's about a million girls out there - 20 million girls out there - who wish you were singing that song to them. It was really, really sweet. Just like a lullaby. Beautiful."
Co-judge Steven Tyler echoed her comment and could not help but swear, as he has often done on the show.
"There's no other word but 'beautiful,'" he said. "When you first came out, you sang like you didn't give a (expletive) - you sang like you just didn't care. Let 'em bleep it at home. But I'll tell ya what - you just showed you've got all that passion wrapped up inside of you and it doesn't matter if you hit the notes or not. It's about the passion you've got. And you just nailed it with over the top - we can all relate to that."
The other remaining contestants are Joshua Ledet, who is 20 and from Westlake, Louisiana, and Jessica Sanchez, a 16-year-old resident of San Diego, California, who was eliminated and saved by the judges in a rare move earlier in the season.
Phillips was also praised for his performance of Madcon's 2008 song "Beggin,'" which is a cover of a 1967 Four Seasons song. However, the judges were less impressed with his acoustic rendition of Matchbox Twenty's 2002 single "Disease." Jackson said he didn't like it, calling it too "subdued."
On Wednesday's episode, Ledet earned a standing ovation, the latest in many he had received over the past few weeks, for his performance of the late Etta James song "I'd Rather Go Blind." He was also praised for his cover of the John Lennon song "Imagine" and for his rendition of "No More Drama" by Mary J. Blige - Iovine's pick for him.
"At this point it doesn't matter what you do, what you sing, you have laid everything on this stage that there is to lay," Jackson said. "People should just stand up and vote for you anyway."
Sanchez, who emerged as a frontrunner earlier in the season, has drawn comparisons to Mariah Carey. On Wednesday's episode, she sang one of her songs - "My All," earning praise from the judges. Jackson later said she should have sung Carey's version of another track she performed - "I'll Be There" by the Jackson Five. Sanchez also sang "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing" by Aerosmith, Tyler's band.
You just took a great song and made it greater," he told her. "Thank you."
On Thursday, May 17, one of the top 3 contestants is expected to be eliminated. Also, season 8 finalist Adam Lambert will perform his new single "Never Close Our Eyes" and Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of the late Elvis Presley, will perform her new song "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet."