When his tears fell during Wednesday’s ‘American Idol’ finale, Phillips instantly became the most relatable champ in the show’s history.
By James Montgomery
I think I’m finally coming around on Phillip Phillips.
Yes, I’m aware that I’ve spent the past 19 weeks making fun of his grouting delivery (that’s “growl/shouting,” for the uninitiated), criticizing his every performance and referring to him as “Kris Allen 2.0,” but none of that comes into play here. Because what changed my opinion of Phillips had nothing to do with his singing — in fact, the moment of reconsideration actually occurred when he wasn’t singing. It happened when he was crying.
See, when Phillips broke down in tears during his performance of “Home” on Wednesday night’s “American Idol” finale, it wasn’t just the show’s most touching moment in years, it was the most personal he’s gotten all season. It taught me more about him than any hometown-visit piece or expertly edited contestant-confessional vignette ever could. For the entire season, he’s been an enigma, a slightly scruffy oddball who never really seemed to be that interested in actually winning (or taking Tommy Hilfiger’s fashion advice). Early on, he built a wall around himself, and he never let viewers get a glimpse at what lay inside — until he finally allowed himself to get lost in the moment of triumph, as the confetti fell and the audience cheered. That’s when the wall came down and the tears began to flow.
And that’s when I realized that everything I knew about him was probably wrong.
Because Phillips isn’t some aloof, obstinate singer/songwriter dude who’s been to a ton of DMB shows. He doesn’t possess the supreme ego required to believe that his words are poetry and his songs can save the world. He is just a regular kid from Leesburg, Georgia, one who says stuff like “Music’s fun, dude,” and one who was overcome with the emotions of the moment and the sheer magnitude of his “Idol” win, to the point where singing his coronation song became secondary and all he wanted to do was share his triumph with his family. And that’s exactly what he did, performance be damned. In other words, he acted exactly like you or I would, had we just won an internationally famous singing competition and suddenly become a star.
In that instant, I realized that Phillips has never had a day of stage training in his entire life, that, unlike pretty much everyone else who auditions for “Idol,” he hadn’t been dreaming of this moment since he was a talent-competition tyke. He truly never believed he could win, because normal people never would. And so he started crying, real genuine tears, the kind that seize your body and make everything else an afterthought — the kind that professional entertainers rarely get, mostly because they prevent them from entertaining. I’ve never been able to fathom how a person could cry and sing at the same time, and yet, each year on “Idol” (and on stages around the world), I see trained talent do exactly that, shed crocodile tears while still nailing the chorus. It is oddly robotic, not to mention slightly off-putting. I’m glad Phillips didn’t try to do it, and now I know why.
I’m not sure if his “Idol” victory is good for the show (probably not), or if he’ll be able to buck the recent trend and actually become a superstar (though “Home” is a nice start), but for one night, I wasn’t concerned with either of those things. Phillips’ emotional outpouring may very well have been the Cry Heard ‘Round the World, serving notice that he’s much more than the realest “American Idol” champ in history: He’s an actual human being. In that moment, he became instantly relatable, even to his staunchest of detractors (like me). And because of that, I’m willing to let my icy heart thaw just a little bit and wish him the best. And even though it goes against my every willfully difficult impulse I’ll close with this: All hail Phillip Phillips, the People’s King. Long may he reign.
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