From left, Heather Smith and Hayden Garza watch the final performances of “American Idol” Season 11 on a 30-foot screen on the floor of the Albany Civic Center along with other Phillip Phillips fans during Tuesday night’s voting party. Phillips’ final performance earned a standing ovation from the judges and cheers from the crowd.
ALBANY, Ga. — Crowds filed into arenas in Los Angeles and Southwest Georgia to watch the first night of the"American Idol" grand finale.
Inside the Albany Civic Center, hundreds gathered to cheer on hometown crooner Phillip Phillips in the latter stage of his journey from auditions in Savannah to the final show of the season. There were screams and applause every time Phillips appeared on the screen, and a polite — but soft — acknowledgement of his competition, Jessica Sanchez.
At the opening of the show, Phillips looked into the camera and said, "I feel like my dreams are coming true." And everyone in the Civic Center crowd looked as if their dreams for Phillips were also coming true.
Once on the big stage of the Nokia Theater, Phillips and Sanchez turned their attention to the music, competing in three rounds of performances that judge Jennifer Lopez described as "a battle of opposites."
Phillips first performed "Stand by Me," originally recorded by Ben E. King. The song was selected for him by Simon Fuller, creator of "American Idol."
But the judges, Lopez, Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler, preferred Sanchez's rendition of “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston in round one.
In the second segment, Phillips took on "Movin' Out" by Billy Joel, a song he sang in the week of Top 10 performers. Sanchez took on Celine Dion's "The Prayer."
The choices split the judges. Tyler picked Sanchez, while Jackson said it was a dead-even round. Lopez backed Phillips in round two.
The final songs Phillips and Sanchez performed were original songs that will be sent to radio, depending on who is crowned the winner. Sanchez sang a pop ballad called "Change Nothing" and the judges admitted that while she sang the song well, the song itself was not what they were hoping for.
Phillips took on a bluesy, drum-driven mid-tempo song called "Home," complete with a drumline. It had the judges on their feet.
"I loved the song! I love you! I love it!" Jackson said. "That was amazing. You are a true artist."
Lopez agreed. "It was so different. You didn't sound like anyone else. You were Phillip Phillips."
Tyler kept it simple. "You are the man!" he said.
And the audience in L.A. and inside the Albany Civic Center agreed. Loud cheers were heard long after the song was complete.
The hometown crowd was full of smiles as the show came to an end and they began to file out of the Civic Center. Many were texting in or calling in votes as they left, in an effort to ensure that Phillips will be crowned the next "American Idol" tonight.
Officials say that overall, they were pleased with the turn out and excited about the show.
Tonight, the final show in the "American Idol" finale will take place, with a large event planned at Lee County High School. Gates at the football stadium will open at 6:30 p.m. and seating will be available for 3,000 people on a first-come, first-served basis. Local Fox affiliate WFXL will have a Phillips' tribute at 7:30 p.m. on the stadium screen, followed by the broadcast of the two-hour show starting at 8 p.m. The winner will be announced near the end of the broadcast.