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Phillip Phillips Backstage at 'Idol': 'I Was So Nervous, I Didn't Know What Was Going On'

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May 10, 2012 | 6:16am EDT

ALTForget California dreaming. Last night, at CBS Television City — where I sat watching the show — it was all about American Idol dreaming. At least, the vision of a confetti shower must have been dancing through our Top 4’s heads — as the four contestants took the stage, the audience did indeed see that these singers were in it to win it, as our dear Randy Jackson would say.

From my seat inside the theater, it was clear the audience had their favorites (hello, Jessica Sanchez and Phillip Phillips!), but, if you listen to the judges, it was still anyone’s game. Singing a song that they wish they had written and a hit based on the Golden State, each contestant proved they’re aiming for gold during at least one of their performances.

Phillip kicked off the night with his rendition of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Even as teenage girls screamed, Phillip looked relaxed as he took the stage and gave Debbie Williams, the stage manager, a high five moments before his performance. It didn’t take him long to get the whole audience on their feet — even Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson were grooving along. But the enthusiasm might have been short-lived — the first major audience boos came when Randy mentioned the performance’s pitch issues. From that moment forward, the crowd was amped.

Phillip took the stage again later in the night to sing Damien Rice’s “Volcano.” Even though he designed a performance with a simple set (no, inside the theater, we did not see TV’s hologram-esque treatment), girls still continued to screech for the artist. Jimmy Lovine claimed that Phillip had found himself this week — and the crowd found a Phillip they adored. For the first time this season, Phillip could be seen laughing during the commercial breaks and giving a lot more love to the audience. In fact, there was a major “aww” moment when he hugged a young fan before his second performance. So much for his feeling under the weather.

Backstage, Phillip said he also noticed the difference tonight with his performances. “Tonight I felt good. I had fun on the first one and I was so nervous I didn't know what was going on,” he said. “But I pushed through it and the second song — I was just really into that. I love Damien Rice.”

Hollie Cavanagh’s first song, Journey’s “Faithfully,” may have been her strongest performance yet in the competition, at least from where I was sitting. Nearly everyone in the audience was singing along with her — but then again, isn’t that a requirement for all Journey music? Randy and Jennifer quickly whispered to one another during her performance, but Steven didn’t look away once, swaying in his chair. After receiving the positive judges’ feedback, Hollie gave a quick fist bump to Ryan Seacrest before exiting the stage.

Unfortunately, Hollie’s second performance may cost her the competition. While Jennifer looked impressed during the opening lyrics, the contestant stumbled near the end of the song. The big notes were stellar, sure, but she failed to truly captivate the crowd in the same way as the other performers. After the judges criticized the number, Ryan was there to give her a supportive pat on the back.

Hollie still seemed worried regarding the judges’ comments about her own connection to the music. "It's tough only because it's not good to get bad criticism at this point," she said backstage. "I felt it, I felt the lyrics in it. They can tell me I didn't feel it, but I felt it.”While Joshua Ledet may not have started out as fan favorite (at least in the theater), he was able to turn it around by the end of the night, receiving some of the loudest audience cheers. His final performance of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” was a home run for the crowd, who was just as eager as the judges to give him a standing ovation. Jennifer, for one, was literally bouncing out of her seat.

His first performance of “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban had a slightly less intense reaction from the audience — still, people sitting in the rows around me couldn’t take their eyes off him. What you didn’t see on TV? The planning that went into Joshua’s pedestal. During the commercial break, a stagehand practiced the lift and then showed Joshua exactly where to stand.

Finally, Jessica took to the stage to sing Etta James’ “Steal Away” and Jennifer Holliday’s “And I’m Telling You.” From the early footage of Jessica singing to her jaw-dropping final performance, this week, Jessica proved that the judges were right to save her. Talk about peaking at the right time.

And then there were those duets. The girls might have taken the prize last week, but their other half was far superior during Top 4. How could you not love watching goofsters Joshua and Phillip belt out “This Love?” Jillip, anyone?

However, Hollie and Jessica had more difficulty connecting with their fans. While it was fun to see the girls on ridiculously giant swing set, their song choice failed to captivate the crowd. The judges themselves never seemed to truly become invested in the performance either, criticizing it as Jillip snuck out onto the set.

And as all you gossip mongers loved seeing Wednesday night, Julianne Hough, Ryan’s girlfriend, was in the audience to promote her upcoming film, Rock of Ages. While Ryan joked on camera about popping the question, it was clear to anyone with a B.S. meter that the host was messing with us — even if some of the teenage girls were on the edge of their seats. But Ryan did make the effort to visit his girlfriend in the audience several times throughout the night.

Did you like this week’s themes? Or should they have just made it a full-on Rock of Ages cross-promotional night? And who will go home tonight? Come back Friday for all of the inside scoop from tonight’s elimination!

[Image Credit: FOX]

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