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Phillip Phillips Backstage at 'Idol': 'I Was Scared to Death'

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May 23, 2012 | 5:15am EDT

ALTFor weeks, I’ve been insisting that Phillip Phillips is the ladies’ choice for the next American Idol. But, last night, during the penultimate episode of the reality series, the contestant proved that he could be the nation’s choice for the next American Idol.

Before cameras rolled inside Nokia Theater, it seemed that the competition could be at a stalemate — screams for both Phillip and Jessica Sanchez filled the room in equal measure. Would the audience choose the next Dave Matthews or Beyoncé? It was difficult to tell… until Round 3 of the competition.

In fact, round 1 made me question everything I thought I knew about American Idol fans. Unlike in past weeks at the much-smaller CBS Television City, the Idols were going to have to work hard in front of a crowd of 7,000 in order to get a standing ovation. When Jessica sang Simon Fuller’s choice, “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston, it took the audience until the end of the performance to get on their feet and cheer for her.

Phillip had no easier time attracting standing ovation-worthy enthusiasm from the crowd during his first performance of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” He did, however, elicit screams when he checked his mic during the commercial break, and had the whole crowd singing along with his cover. Still, no one stood up until the tail end of his performance. And this was after Cory Almeida, the warm-up comic, told everyone it was okay to go nuts during the first commercial break.

Backstage, Phillip admitted that he was suffering from stage fright before his first performance in the larger theater. "I was scared to death," Phillip said. "But I went out there and finally loosened up throughout 'Stand By Me' and the rest of the show. It was so fun."

The audience remained restrained until Round 2, during which Jessica and Phillip sang their favorite songs from the season. From the moment Jessica sang the first note of “The Prayer,” the audience finally latched onto the contestant, screaming “San Diego Loves You, Jessica!” and whistling for every single one of her high notes. Even Jennifer Lopez was clapping her hands in the air as the crowd rose to their feet.

Phillip looked more relaxed as he strummed his guitar before his second performance of Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out.” He won over the judges immediately as J. Lo swayed back and forth in her chair and Randy Jackson, as usual, nodded his head along to the music. But while Jessica excited the crowd with “The Prayer,” “Movin’ Out” scored the loudest cheers of the night thus far. Following the performance, Phillip looked satisfied and made sure to greet his band members as he walked off stage.

Looking back at Idol history, the first single round can make or break a contestant — it’s the moment the Top 2 can show voters that they’re more than just cover artists, or falter enough to prove that they’re unable to soar outside the Idol stage.

Jessica selected the ballad, “Change Nothing,” attempting to wow the crowd once again with her powerhouse vocals. The audience, however, seemed to have trouble connecting with the underwhelming song, but she did elicit a few cheers when belting out its high notes. Even though the judges noted that they didn’t love her selection, they all looked mesmerized looking at Jessica atop the piano. After the performance and judges’ critique, she turned back to Ryan Seacrest who offered her a supportive arm around her back as they left the stage.

Phillip may have made his smartest choice in the competition by choosing his single, “Home.” The song was reminiscent of Mumford & Sons and Dave Matthews — yet, he still managed to make it his own. This was also the first performance of the night that made audience members like yours truly feel like we were attending a real concert at Nokia Theater — even some overzealous teenage girls sang along to the chorus of the unknown song by the end of the performance. He left the stage to near-deafening cheers as a group of grown women behind me screamed, “2-4-6-8 who do we appreciate? Phillip!” There was no question; the studio audience had chosen their winner.

Regardless of who takes the crown tonight, Jessica admitted backstage she and Phillip already feel like winners. "I feel like we're just trying to have fun right now. It's the finale, Top 2, win or lose, we both won,” Jessica told reporters. "Of course we all wanted to win, but no one makes it this far, for a 16-year-old and someone like Phillip. He's goofy and funny and an amazing artist and person overall!"

Did you like Phillip’s single as much as the studio audience? Are you ready for the next American Idol to be named? Come back tomorrow for the backstage scoop from the Season 11 finale!

[Image Credit: FOX]

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