Tonight's pre-credits sequence is about the final two. It's all diary-themed because this is their "story," and the onscreen text reminds us that their auditions were on opposite coasts. I think that's possibly the least significant way in which Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez are opposites.
After the titles, the judges come out, followed by Ryan with an unusually frozen smile. Tonight's taping is in the Nokia Theater, he informs us, which looks rather larger than the dinky little auditorium they're usually in. Ryan polls the audience by applause to find out whether Jessica or Phillip has more fans, and it sounds like a dead heat, possibly thanks to some excellent on-the-fly sound mixing. Ryan calls them out onstage, and in honor of the occasion, Jessica's wearing another prom gown while Phil has troubled himself to put on black pants under his t-shirt and open button-down. Fancy.
Ryan dismisses them for now and tells us about the three rounds tonight. First will be Simon Fuller's choice of songs for them, then each of the contestant's favorite songs and then each of their "potential winning songs," whatever that means. Also, each finalist has four phone numbers, which won't be confusing for anyone at all, in the four-hour voting window after the show.Phil won the coin toss after last week's show (using some kind of commemorative American Idol coin, as we see in a flashback), and has opted to go second. And Simon Fuller has opted to have Jessica open the show with "I Have Nothing" by Whitney Houston. Of course he has. She starts off a little weak, maybe due to the nerves and maybe because she's starting off in too low a key. Not really what she needs tonight. But then, at this point, I don't think any performance is going to change the minds of anyone who's bothering to vote in the first place. She gets through a pretty straightforward performance, and then Ryan tells us that the judges will sit tight until the end of Round One for some reason.
It's Phil's turn after the ads, and Simon Fuller has assigned Phil "Stand By Me." I'm starting to suspect that Simon Fuller doesn't know all that many songs. Unlike Jessica, Phil's brought his A-game to Round One, opting for a soft, dreamy arrangement that sounds like lazily floating down a river of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Ryan gives Phil's voting numbers (his end with even numbers, and Jessica's odd), than shoos him off the stage.
"Now let's gossip," Ryan tells the judges, and asks Jennifer what she thought. Jennifer, who was clearly called to the stage in the middle of a poorly-timed metamorphosis into a flock of ravens, yammers about the differences between the top two. Ryan asks who they think won, and after some hemming and hawing from the table, Randy gives the round to Jessica. Not that it matters.