By Andrea Burzynski
NEW YORK (Reuters) - He brought the "American Idol" judges to their feet, but Joshua Ledet couldn't win over fans and was sent home from the top-rated TV talent show on Thursday, leaving Jessica Sanchez and Phillip Phillips to battle for the crown on next week's finale.
The elimination of Ledet - through audience voting and not by the judges - sets up a final showdown between Sanchez and Phillips to determine who will be named the next "American Idol," a distinction that has belonged to hitmakers such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, among others.
Sanchez has impressed the judges from the beginning of the current season with her technical mastery of music, despite being the youngest contestant at age 16. Singer-songwriter Phillips has won plaudits for bringing his own distinctive style of guitar playing music to other artists' songs.
The finale will consist of a two-hour performance episode on Tuesday, May 22, followed by a results episode on Wednesday, May 23. The winner will receive a recording contract.
Ledet was gracious in defeat. He closed the singing contest Thursday with his rendition of "It's a Man's World," replicating one of his most popular performances of the season.
Audience voting was based on Wednesday episode that included three performance rounds of contestants singing songs chosen by the judges, then picking their own songs and finally belting out a tune chosen by mentor Jimmy Iovine for the third round.
Judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson chose Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind" for Ledet's first performance.
In his feedback, Tyler predicted Ledet would win the show, but his later responses to Ledet's other songs was not as enthusiastic.
Though Lopez praised him for communicating the meaning of the lyrics in John Lennon's "Imagine," Iovine thought he went a bit too far, describing his performance as "slightly overblown and over-emotional."
Iovine then took some responsibility for what he thought was Ledet's less-than-stellar performance of Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama," saying that he should have chosen a song with more melody.
For her Wednesday routine, Sanchez sang Aerosmith's "I Don't Want To Miss a Thing," and Tyler, the rock band's lead singer, told her "you just took a great song and made it greater." And Iovine said it was worthy of singing at the Grammys.
Phillips's songs included "We've Got Tonight," with Iovine and Jackson agreed it was his best performance to date.
Thursday's results show included performances from two artists with new albums out this week - Lisa Marie Presley and "Idol" season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert. Presley sang "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet," off her album "Storm and Grace," and Lambert did "Never Close Our Eyes" from sophomore album, "Trespassing."
Now in its eleventh season, "Idol" continues to be the most-watched reality show in the United States. Audiences vote for their favorite performers by phone and text message each week as contestants are challenged by a variety of musical styles.
(Reporting By Andrea Burzynski; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)