LOS ANGELES — The three "American Idol" finalists earned nearly uniform votes of confidence Wednesday from the show's judges. Now it's the audience tally that will determine which two compete for glory in next week's finale.
If the night had a teacher's pet, it was Joshua Ledet, 20, who delivered what Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler deemed flawless performances. Each contestant performed three songs: One picked by the judges, one by producer-mentor Jimmy Iovine, and one chosen by the singers themselves.
Ledet's gritty version of Etta James' "I'd Rather Be Blind" had the judges on their feet, a common reaction to the Louisiana gospel singer. He also impressed the panel with John Lennon's "Imagine" and Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama."
"This is another Joshua moment," Tyler said after the James cover, adding that Ledet sounded like an "American Idol" winner.
Jessica Sanchez, 16, of San Diego, didn't disappoint the judges on their pick for her, Mariah Carey's "My All." It drew what verged on another Tyler prediction.
"When you sing, you make people hang on your every note. ... You'll be the last one standing here, I believe," the rocker said.
There was praise as well for Sanchez's take on "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," from Tyler's band Aerosmith, but Randy Jackson found her performance of the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" just "OK," differing with his colleagues.
Bluesy, guitar-strumming Phillip Phillips, 21, of Leesburg, Ga., had the audience swooning over his version of "Beggin'" by Madcon.
"Can you believe this guy?" Tyler said, gesturing toward the cheering crowd and suggesting that Phillips could be the "next Springsteen" if he wrote his own songs.
Phillips faltered with Matchbox 20's "Disease," which the judges deemed subdued and unimpressive, but he rebounded with Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight."
"The perfect song, at the perfect time, and your best performance on the show ever," gushed Jackson.
The audience vote will be announced on Thursday's show, which is to feature Lisa Marie Presley and former "American Idol" finalist Adam Lambert.
Hometown victory laps by the trio of finalists were chronicled Wednesday, starting with Ledet's trip to Westlake, La.
"They are really acting like I'm Barack Obama," a wide-eyed Ledet said of the police escort that shepherded him from the airport.
Sanchez, who got a lift from Los Angeles to San Diego by helicopter, was cheered during a dockside visit to the USS Midway and saluted her father, who she said served overseas as a naval reservist.
Phillips had an emotional reunion with his dad, Phillip Phillips Sr.
"To see your children doing what they love to do with integrity and passion, it's a dream come true for me," the elder Phillips said.