‘American Idol’: Jessica Sanchez dethrones Phillip Phillips atop rankings

Who’s king of the top 12?

For the first time in our “American Idol” season 11 rankings’ three-week history, we have a new #1 — and there wasn’t really any contest who it would be.

There’s no question that Jessica Sanchez gave a stellar cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” and she also brought a number of other factors to the table that helped her to likely receive even more votes this past week — including going late in the show and taking on one of the most-challenging songs of all time.

Here’s where all of the top 12 stand, and there are some pretty important shifts from our rankings last week. As per always, our rankings are based on performance quality, audience support, and even the nature of the singer’s edit on the show as a whole.

12. Jermaine Jones (last week: #13) – After doing a good-but-rather boring Stevie Wonder cover this past week, there’s no reason that we have to move Mr. Gentle Giant from the bottom of the rankings. He’s got a deep, soulful voice, but at times it seems desperate to dive off of a happy cloud and into jagged rocks.

After seeing Jermaine’s reaction to Jimmy Iovine’s comments during the results show, we also think that he could pick up a few pointers here and there in humility.

11. Shannon Magrane (last week: #6) – Maybe we cursed Shannon by ranking her #2 a couple of weeks ago, as since that point she has slowly and surely spun out of control. She has done two ballads in a row, and they went from being sleepy (“Go Light Your World”) to downright dreadful (“I Have Nothing”).

We still think there is more potential here for one of the show’s youngest contestants to improve, but at this stage of the game there are no real excuses for botching notes. If she doesn’t pick it up during the upcoming “songs in the year of your birth” week, she will fly out the door sooner than Ryan Seacrest can say “here we go.”

10. Elise Testone (last week: #10) – Right when we were starting to think she could be a contender, Elise had an off night with a Whitney Houston song that frankly didn’t suit her voice in the slightest.

The good news about “I’m Your Baby Tonight”? Even if the song was wrong, Elise was actually on pitch pretty much throughout. In some ways, this was reminiscent of a Haley Reinhart performance from last season, just before she started to figure out her sound on stage and exploded in popularity. We don’t know if Elise can find that same footing, but the talent is there.

9. Colton Dixon (last week: #8) – We are trying to find a way to say this without sounding terrible, but Colton is probably the most overpraised contestant on the entire show at the moment. His vocals are pretty good, but there’s nothing here outside of the look that’s altogether exciting.

Take for instance his cover of “Lately” — the notes were there, and there was also some emotion, but in the midst of some mind-blowing covers of the track in the past (see Stefano Langone), there was nothing here that made us want to even think about picking up our phone to vote for him.

8. Erika Van Pelt (last week: #12) – If we are to rank all of the singers based solely on the emotion in their performance, than Erika would probably be near the top of the list. We actually thought her “I Believe in You and Me” was one of the best of the night, and showed a sort of maturity that many of the other women (Shannon) could not find in their song.

Unfortunately, what’s still holding Erika back is the sense that she will never be good enough for America. She was still in the bottom three girls this week after getting into the top 13 as a wild card, mostly because there is so much competition within that female group.

7. Heejun Han (last week: #7) – No offense to Heejun, but if this was a competition based solely on singing, Erika would probably be ranked higher than him. However, you cannot ignore the impact of having a big personality.

We think that there are ways that Heejun can become a better singer (especially if he can work on some clarity and phrasing issues), but we really aren’t sure that there is enough time in this competition for him to actually get better. “All in Love is Fair” was a solid but not spectacular performance, and so long as he at least stays at this level he is bound to finish in around this spot.

6. Hollie Cavanagh (last week: #5) – Hollie seems to be at risk at times of falling into Pia Toscano “always a ballad” territory, but when her voice is this good it’s hard to really complain about it.

To see how good Hollie is, just listen to the video below. The problem? Listen to how good all of the women are this season, and remember that most “Idol” voters are teenager girls trying to select which guy they like the most.

5. DeAndre Brackensick (last week: #11) – Where did this come from? We had no idea that DeAndre had this version of “Master Blaster” in him — it was funky, thoroughly entertaining, and probably showed off his versatility better than any singer who performed last week.

Most importantly, the voting public took note here and the guy was not even in the bottom three guys one week after being handed a wild-card spot. DeAndre could become a dark horse to win this whole thing if he continued to be creative with his song choice, and makes sure he knows when to use the falsetto and when not to.

4. Phillip Phillips (last week: #1) – After spending two straight weeks at the top, Phillip dropped back to earth with an overrated take on “Superstition” that was really accented most by his screaming the entire second of the song rather than singing any of it.

Musically, Phillip is a great performer, but what he has to do here (and we’re serious about this) is go and read what some “Idol” recappers are saying about him online. The judges overpraised another recent musician on this show in Casey Abrams, and this caused him to not improve some of his weak areas (as in the excessive growl) and would have been eliminated early were it not for the judges’ save.

3. Joshua Ledet (last week: #4) – In “I Wish,” Joshua gave what was actually the best performance of the night this past week. While it was not a ballad, he put so much control, performance quality, and vocal technique into a song that was equally challenging in that it could have come across as karaoke with a lesser talent.

The reason Joshua is not at the top of the list? We don’t know if it is because he was the first singer out of the gate, but the voters put him among the bottom three guys in what is a baffling move. Don’t do this to us, America!

2. Skylar Laine (last week: #3) – If Skylar can keep up her performance quality, we would not be stunned at all to see the confetti rain down on her in May. America loves country singers, and she is the only one left in this competition.

Compare her performance of “Stay with Me” last week to Lauren Alaina’s “Georgia Peaches” during the results show and you may come to the same conclusion we did — Skylar is better than Lauren, both vocally and as a performer. In taking on a ballad this week, she also proved that she is versatile.

1. Jessica Sanchez (last week: #2)  – Singing a near-perfect version of “I Will Always Love You” is almost a guarantee of getting to the top of the rankings. Remember when Jordin Sparks won this show so many years ago? It almost seems like a distant memory now, but Jessica has to be the front-runner at the moment to end the streak of male winners.

Are we still concerned about her consistent fanbase? If for no other reason than that she has performed near the end of the show for two weeks in a row. We’re not sure if voters will always love her … but they sure seem to love her an awful lot now.

Who is your favorite among the top 12? Be sure to take our poll below, and check back next week when we return to look at what will then (pending a judges’ save) be the top 11.

Photo: Fox

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