The American Idol finale may be two weeks away… But that didn’t stop Jessica Sanchez from coasting to the finish line. Instead, the pint-sized phenom performed like a champion.
During Wednesday’s night two-hour episode, the 16-year-old half-Mexican singer seemed to be taking the motto “go big or go home” to heart by performing the iconic music of two divas: Etta James and Jennifer Holliday.
For her first performance—dedicated to songs from artists or bands from California or tracks about The Golden State—Sanchez performed a rousing rendition of Etta James’ “Steal Away.” Sitting atop a piano and dressed in a black and white top and pants with blue accessories, including a pair of sparkling earrings, Sanchez growled and rasped her way through the songs like a seasoned pro.
“You just nailed that,” declared Idol judge Steven Tyler, while Randy Jackson proclaimed, “Your vocals are ridiculous.” Meanwhile, Jennifer Lopez complimented Sanchez on her grownup growl.
“It was in full effect tonight, by the way,” said la Lopez. “That was crazy, crazy, crazy some of the things you did in there.”
Later, Sanchez returned to the Idol stage to perform The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” with fellow finalist Hollie Cavanagh, looking angelic while swinging on white fabric.
“You both have sweetness and you both have power,” said Lopez after Sanchez and Cavanagh duet, which received a standing ovation from the audience. “And I think showed up both of those things in that song.”
Then Sanchez and Cavanagh joined the other finalists, Joshua Ledet and Phillip Phillips, to perform Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl like You.”
But it was Sanchez’s last performance, as part of the “Songs I Wish I Wrote” theme, which proved to be the night’s most impressive.
Dressed in a color-block dress with a single sleeve, Sanchez tackled a monster song, Jennifer Holliday’s “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going,” a song that helped former American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson win an Academy Award. From the get-go, Sanchez wowed the audience with her mesmerizing rendition of the emotional tune that she’s been singing since she was 7—and earned a much-deserved standing ovation from the judges.
“With a performance like that… there’s just nothing to say,” confessed Lopez, who called Sanchez’s performance a “real moment.” “Your vocal ability, it’s not something that you see all the time.”
Meanwhile, Jackson complimented Sanchez on taking such a big risk.
“This is one of the hardest songs in the world to sing… It’s been sung like crazy on this stage,” explained Jackson. “And, you know what, you got up there and you just slayed it!”