The votes are in and a Southwest Georgian — Phillip Phillips — is the new American Idol.
The singer/musician literally struck a chord with the nation as thousands voted — some individuals voted thousands of times — for the Southern gentleman from Leesburg who exemplified the best of the South in his demeanor, talent, work ethic, humility and perseverance. And despite a nagging and often painful health issue, you would never have known he was enduring it in observing his performances. Phillips has an “aw shucks” air about him that reveals the fact that the heady company he’s keeping and the overnight fame hasn’t corrupted the characteristics that make him what Southerners refer to as “good folks.”
Not that he hasn’t had opportunities to acquire an ego. Tuesday night, he sang an original tune, “Home,” that will be released on radio. When he had finished the bluesy, drum-driven mid-tempo song, the “American Idol” judges were on their feet.
“I loved the song! I love you! I love it!” Randy Jackson said. “That was amazing. You are a true artist.”
“You are the man!” Steven Tyler added.
“It was so different,” Jennifer Lopez remarked. “You didn’t sound like anyone else. You were Phillip Phillips.”
The standing ovation he earned from Tyler, Jackson and Lopez in his final performance of the competition — the only standing O of the evening — foreshadowed the announcement Thursday night that he had won the competition in a journey that started in his hometown, moved to Savannah, where he tried out for the show, and ended on the stage of the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.
Throughout the contest, there were indications that Phillips was on a dream run. He was the only contestant who never fell into the endangered bottom three on any week. He was compared to the likes of Springsteen and Dave Matthews, pretty heady company.
And that was what made Lopez’s observation so significant. For a successful career, Phillips needs his own unique voice, one he may have demonstrated in that last song. It’s fine to be compared to Dave Matthews, but his success will come from being the first Phillip Phillips, blazing his own musical trail.
When the announcement came last night, the cacophony of cheers that went up in Lee County High School stadium from the thousands who gathered to watch their favorite son seemed as if it would carry from downtown Albany to downtown Americus.
Winning the title of the American Idol marks the end a remarkable sojourn for Phillips, an experience he no doubt will appreciate more and more as the years pass. But more importantly, it marks the beginning of a new, even bigger phase of his life, one that has unlimited potential. “American Idol” was the thruster that recognized he had something special about him and launched him into a new career orbit.
For Phillips, the ride isn’t over. Indeed, his adventure is only beginning.