American Idol Top 12: Jessica Sanchez makes Whitney Houston proud

Last night's episode of American Idol wasn't nearly as awkward as we had anticipated. With the ladies required to perform songs from the late Whitney Houston's catalog (and the men required to do Stevie Wonder), we expected there to be more sensitivity surrounding the singer and her recent passing. Rather than questions of it being to soon for even Idol to do Whitney, the general response by judges and the live audience was positive.

The judges' shining star of the night was Jessica Sanchez yet again, proving in the first two weeks of the live show to be an early favorite as a top three finalist. Sanchez sang the mother of all Whitney songs, "I Will Always Love You." The mentors for the week, Jimmy Iovine and Mary J. Blige, seemed to have relatively little advice to offer the contestant -- or so it seemed from the footage that was aired, anyway -- and with good reason. Sanchez's performance was easily the standout in last night's show: so raw, such a connection, such justice to Whitney's legacy.

Even better than the performance itself was watching Jennifer Lopez's enthusiastic reaction once it ended; she jumped up and down, was "speechless" in her evaluation and could give nothing but complements. Steven Tyler, creepy as he was, even told Sanchez she "may be the one. You just made 40 million people cry." For once, he wasn't being overly-Paula-Abdul supportive. He was right -- about the first part, at least.

Judging from the other contestants' performances, we can't help but wonder if they had witnessed Sanchez rehearse -- because most other contestants underperformed this week. Case in point: Shannon Magrane, who could likely go home tonight since her nerves got to her with a performance of "I Have Nothing."

As for the men, Phillip Phillips offered a rockier version of "Superstition" -- far from what we saw from him during the rehearsal with the mentors, when he seemed a bit lost in the song, though Mary J. Blige liked that about him. No matter, during his live performance, he led the song, and his backing band, like a seasoned pro. Steven Tyler at one point looked like he was afraid Phillips was coming for his resident Idol rockstar throne.

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