Exactly what would Jessica Sanchez's win mean to the reality singing juggernaut that is American Idol? If the 16-year-old emerges triumphant, she would be the youngest winner in the show's history, its first female champ in five years and its first with Asian and Latin roots.
Before all this, Sanchez, whose father is Mexican and mother is Filipino, was just a high-school student in San Diego, California. Now she's on the brink of winning the biggest competition in the history of television, securing a record deal and eventually "becoming the greatest singer in pop music", according to New York Magazine.
What pressure Sanchez must feel. Her countrymen in the Philippines, for one, are pulling out all the stops for her win. The fate of American Idol contestants is dictated by a public vote, and while only US residents are officially allowed to submit votes, thousands of Sanchez's Filipino fans have been dialling long distance or calling in votes via Skype, changing their location from the Philippines to the US in the software's dial pad.
Last week, no less than the Philippine President Benigno Aguino III urged Filipinos living in the US – who number close to four million – to vote. "Hopefully she really reaches the top," he told reporters. A statement released by his spokesman said: "The entire Filipino people have united in enthusiasm over Jessica Sanchez. As we move on to the final stage of the competition, we stand in solidarity with her as she shows the world what Filipinos are capable of."
The 20-year-old international sensation Charice, the Philippines' most successful singing export, and the first Asian to land in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 charts, expressed her support of Sanchez early this week. "I really feel she's going to win," Charice told reporters. The world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao announced he will attend the finals at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles to cheer for Sanchez. "I believe, and I'm praying she will win," he said.
Renowned Filipino fashion designers have volunteered to dress up Sanchez, sending their unsolicited sketches and portfolios to American Idol's showrunners. In last week's show, Sanchez wore a gown by the US-based Filipino designer Oliver Tolentino. Rajo Laurel, the Philippines' most successful fashion designer in the past decade, scrambled for weeks to get in touch with Sanchez. More than a week ago, he flew from Manila to Los Angeles to personally deliver a dress he designed, hoping she would wear it on Idol. "It's a personal quest," he said in a TV interview.
In the US, the likes of Beyoncé, Billy Joel, Gwen Stefani, Mary J Blige and P Diddy have expressed their admiration for Sanchez's talent. The music industry honcho Tommy Mottola, whose protégés include Diana Ross and Mariah Carey, proclaimed her "the real thing".
"Being in the position I'm in now is more than I could have ever asked for," Sanchez said in a statement. "I've been looking forward to auditioning ever since the first season. It's crazy what you can do when you put your mind and heart to it! I don't know what could be better than this."
A win for Sanchez will not come easy. She's up against the staggeringly popular 21-year-old Phillip Phillips, who has captivated viewers with his bluesy rock vibe and a vocal style many have compared to that of Dave Matthews. As early as the audition rounds, the US press had already tipped him to win the crown. After all, attractive guitar-playing male vocalists fare well on Idol – proof are its past four winners, David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze and Scotty McCreery. Not that a loss would remarkably affect Sanchez's forthcoming career. Two of Idol's most successful products, Jennifer Hudson and Adam Lambert, did not win their seasons. (Both are, incidentally, fans of Sanchez.) Whether she comes out of this victorious, Sanchez ought to move beyond being the best technical singer the show has ever seen towards becoming a full-fledged entertainer, a stylistic innovator American Idol has yet to produce in its 10 years on air. From a pop puppet to someone still relevant in a decade – because let's be honest, do you recognise any of those last four winners? It is Sanchez's real test.
American Idol's final performance show is broadcast tonight at 9pm, followed by the results show on Thursday at 9pm, on OSN First