The season set a record when 132 million votes were gathered for the finale. On May 23, 2012, Phillip Phillips became the winner of the eleventh season of American Idol, beating Jessica Sanchez, the first female recipient of the judges' save.
A helicopter view of American Idol auditions at Petco Park, San Diego, July 8, 2011
^Note a The New Jersey audition episode was not aired due to scheduling changes.
The New Jersey audition was a late addition to the schedule, the audition was held although the attendance was reportedly low. However, the audition episode was not shown, the first time that a scheduled audition that had taken place was not shown. Contestants known to have auditioned in New Jersey were listed as having auditioned elsewhere on the official American Idol website, for example Alex Wong who auditioned in New Jersey has San Diego listed as his audition city on the official website.
The Hollywood rounds of auditions were held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium starting December 12, 2011. There were 309 contestants at the start of Hollywood Week. The contestants performed solo for the first round, and 185 made the cut. Amongst those sent home included actor/comedian Jim Carrey's daughter, Jane Carrey. Another contestant, Symone Black, collapsed and fell on stage, but made the cut. The second round involved group performances, and a number of contestants became ill and collapsed in the auditorium. 98 contestants moved on to the third and final round, which were solo performances accompanied by a band or instrument. The contestants were then separated into four rooms, where one room of 28 contestants were all eliminated, while the 70 contestants in the other three rooms all advanced to the Las Vegas round.
After Hollywood, the contestants went to Las Vegas for a challenge round where they performed traditional late 1950s song in groups with Elvis Presley "Viva, Elvis!" show as the backdrop. 28 of the 70 contestants were eliminated. Next came a solo round accompanied by an instrument at the stage for Le Rêve at the Wynn Las Vegas. After the 42 remaining contestants sang their last solo at the Wynn Las Vegas hotel, they were called one by one to hear the final judgement. Twelve guys and twelve girls were initially announced as the semi-finalists; however, the judges announced plans to add a thirteenth male semi-finalist between Jermaine Jones, Richie Law, Johnny Keyser and David Leathers Jr. The following week, after the male performances, Jermaine Jones was revealed to be the thirteenth performer.
The semi-finals round started on February 28. Below are the two semi-final groups (males and females) with contestants listed in their performance order. The top five males and top five females, along with the three wild card choices by the judges, advanced to the finals. The males started the semifinal round, and the females continued on following night's episode, the contestants perform songs of their choice (there was no particular theme). This season, long-time vocal coach Debra Byrd was replaced by Jimmy Iovine's own team in the live shows.
Following those ten singers advancing on Thursday, March 1, six of the remaining 25 semi-finalists were selected by the judges to compete in the Wild Card round. The Wild Card round immediately began, following the announcement of the ten finalists. Following another performance by each Wild Card contender, the judges then selected three contestants to advance to the final group of 13.
Jessica Sanchez (born August 4, 1995) is from San Diego, California. Sanchez auditioned in San Diego. She performed "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" with DeAndre Brackensick and Candice Glover in Las Vegas. During the Sing For Your Life green mile round, Sanchez performed "The Prayer" by Andrea Bocelli. Before Idol, she was known for her appearance on the first season of America's Got Talent where she was brought back by judge Brandy during the show's wildcard round. Sanchez also participated in the YouTube edition of "We Are the World" along with 56 other YouTube artists, including American Idolseason 10 finalist Thia Megia. She was saved from elimination by the judges after receiving the lowest number of votes in the top seven round, making her the first female contestant to be saved by the judges. Sanchez was announced the runner-up on May 23, 2012.
Hollie Cavanagh (born July 5, 1993) is originally from Liverpool, Merseyside, England but grew up in McKinney, Texas. She originally auditioned for season 10, but she was eliminated in the green mile round and was encouraged by Jennifer Lopez that she could win the competition in a couple of years with practice. Hollie sang "Mr. Sandman" with Naomi Gillies and Marissa Pontecorvo in Las Vegas. Hollie's only appearance in season 11 was during the Top 42 green mile round. She sang "Change" by American Idol season four winner Carrie Underwood for the Sing for Your Life round. She was eliminated on May 10, coming in fourth place. She auditioned in Galveston.
Colton Dixon (born October 19, 1991) is from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. He auditioned in North Charleston with his younger sister, Schyler. He originally auditioned for season 10 along with Schyler in the Nashville, Tennessee, auditions, but she was cut in the group round and then he was cut in the green mile round. Dixon returned in season 11, however he did not plan to audition, initially planning to simply accompany his sister Schyler to her audition. The judges implored Dixon to audition as well, where he sang David Cook's "Permanent". Colton performed "Dedicated to the One I Love" with Skylar Laine, Chase Likens, and Cari Qouyeser in Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, Schyler was eliminated, bringing Colton to tears. He performed the Coldplay song "Fix You", and dedicated it to his sister. He was eliminated on April 19, coming in seventh place. Prior to his elimination, Dixon had never been in the Bottom 3. His debut album A Messenger was released on January 29, 2013.
Heejun Han (born April 20, 1989 in Anyang, Gyeonggi, South Korea) is from Flushing, New York. He and his family migrated to Queens, New York when he was a child and then moved to Flushing, Queens, New York during his teenage years. Before American Idol, he was a non-profit organizer, working with children with special needs. He has spoken of suffering from emotional depression and credited the children that he worked with for helping him to recover from his illness. He has also said that the children motivated him to audition for American Idol. He auditioned in Pittsburgh with "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You". His audition brought Jennifer Lopez to tears, and Steven Tyler stated "I think you are really great. I think you could be the American Idol". He is the first Korean American to make the finals on American Idol. He was eliminated on March 29, coming in ninth place.
Jermaine Jones (born November 18, 1986) is from Pine Hill, New Jersey. He auditioned in Portland, Oregon. He attended Overbrook High School. Before Idol, he worked as a vocal instructor at Highest Praise Performing Arts Center. Jones was not originally chosen for the semi-finals, but he was called back after the top 24 selection filming, making him the 25th semi-finalist and thirteenth male semi-finalist. Standing 6 feet 8 and a half inches tall, he was dubbed "The Gentle Giant" on the show. His musical influences are his mother and John Legend. On March 13, he was disqualified for concealing arrests and outstanding warrants. He is the second Idol contestant to be disqualified during the finals, as Corey Clark was disqualified in the second season, and he came in twelfth place.
In this season, maintaining the previous season's format, there are 12 weeks of the finals and 13 finalists, with one finalist eliminated per week based on the American public's votes (exceptions include Top 13-week, where the judges were able to decide who would go home based on the lowest votes between the male and female contestants, and Top 12-week, where Jermaine Jones was disqualified). Previous season's winner Scotty McCreery recorded the Tim McGraw song "Please Remember Me" as the send-off song played when a contestant is eliminated. Jimmy Iovine resumed duties as a weekly mentor to the contestants, frequently assisted by guest mentors. This season, the fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and Soyon An were employed as image advisers for the Top 10 finalists.
On March 7, 2012, the women performed Whitney Houston songs and the men performed Stevie Wonder songs. Ryan Seacrest stated that it will be a competition between the male and female contestants. As a result, the bottom three of each gender, as well as the male and female contestant who received the lowest number of votes amongst their gender, were announced the next night, and the judges chose who went home. However, this will not count as the supposed "Judges' Save" which can only be used once in the competition before the Top 5. Between Jeremy Rosado and Elise Testone, each of whom received the lowest number of votes for their respective gender groups, the judges used the Top 13 Save on Elise Testone and chose to eliminate Jeremy Rosado from the competition.
Due to a hidden criminal past, Jermaine Jones was disqualified prior to the Wednesday performance show. Footage of executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick confronting Jones was shown in what would have been his performance slot, in between Van Pelt's and Laine's performances. A clip of his rehearsal, singing "Somewhere Out There", was shown after his removal from the competition. Voting continued as scheduled with one of the remaining 11 contestants eliminated in addition to Jones, unlike the season 2 disqualification of Corey Clark.
^Note 1 : The 'Top 13' results featured 'Bottom 3' groups for each gender, with Testone and Rosado receiving the least votes among their respective genders. The judges subsequently opted to save Testone, thereby eliminating Rosado from the competition. ^Note 2 : Jones was disqualified for failing to disclose his full criminal history prior to the voting rounds commencing. ^Note 3 : Due to the judges using their one 'Judges' Save' per season, in order to save Sanchez, the 'Top 7' remained intact for another week.
On March 14, finalist Jermaine Jones was disqualified for concealing arrests and outstanding warrants. Jones, however, denied that he had concealed his previous arrests, as he admitted his arrests when he signed up for Idol. A police official in a New Jersey town where he was the target of two arrest warrants said that "the case wasn't big enough to merit going after him in California", and a New Jersey legislator commented that for the show "to expose, embarrass and interrogate a young man without an attorney in front of 40 million viewers was an outrage". Critics suggested that the show may have staged the disqualification to boost ratings. When asked about speculations that producers had prior knowledge of his criminal past and that the producers were simply out to exploit him on-air, Jones replied that "I haven’t even taken my mind into that and why they did what they did, because then I’ll drive myself crazy".
The music video of Jennifer Lopez's song, "Dance Again", which aired on the program, was criticized as inappropriate for younger viewers. Dan Gainor of the Culture and Media Institute wrote, "Even the supposedly family-friendly TV shows like American Idol are never safe in the hands of Hollywood," and went as far as saying her "skanky new video shows how desperate she is to retain her fame despite her fading relevance. Such sexualized videos aren't appropriate for any children to watch, including Lopez's own twins." Jenna Hally Rubenstein from MTV Buzzworthy also commented about the video's content not being appropriate for a family show, "we thought "Idol" was a family show? This video is less "sit on the couch and chill with dad" and more "call your boyfriend over immediately." Ed Masley from AZ central.com said that the video was on the verge of being too "steamy" for the show.
Phillip Phillips became the fifth consecutive white male to win the show, which led to some viewers and critics accusing American Idol of having gender and ethnic biases. The bias towards the so-called "white guy with guitar" (WGWG) has been widely commented on before and after the result was known, with some complaining about the predictability of the likely winner. The string of white guitar-playing male winners includes David Cook, Kris Allen, Lee DeWyze, and Scotty McCreery who won seasons 7, 8, 9, and 10 respectively. Just hours before the finale, Richard Rushfield, author of the book American Idol: The Untold Story, said, "You have this alliance between young girls and grandmas and they see it, not necessarily as a contest to create a pop star competing on the contemporary radio, but as…who’s the nicest guy in a popularity contest," he says, "And that has led to this dynasty of four, and possibly now five, consecutive, affable, very nice, good-looking white boys."
Thirteen of the contestants from season 11 auditioned for the subsequent season and made into the Top 40. Ten of them made into the voting rounds. On March 8, 2013, only Janelle Arthur, Candice Glover, Curtis Finch, and Amber Holcomb made into the Top 10 and have guaranteed a spot on the Summer Live Tour. Aubrey Cleland later made it as well.
Amber Holcomb – auditioned in Houston, cut on the performance challenge in the Las Vegas rounds
Aubrey Cleland – auditioned in Portland, cut at the Top 24 selection
Bryant Tadeo – auditioned in San Diego, cut on the last day of Hollywood week
Candice Glover – auditioned in Savannah, cut on the performance challenge in the Las Vegas rounds, and won the twelfth season.
Cortez Shaw – auditioned in Houston, cut at the Top 24 selection
Curtis Finch, Jr. – auditioned in St. Louis, cut on the performance challenge in the Las Vegas rounds
Elijah Liu – auditioned in San Diego, cut on the group day of Hollywood week
Janelle Arthur – auditioned in Houston, cut on the performance challenge in the Las Vegas rounds
Johnny Keyser – auditioned in St. Louis, cut on the performance challenge in the Las Vegas rounds, however, Keyser was called for a surprise twist along with three eliminated hopefuls including Jermaine Jones, but Jones took the final spot
Mathenee Treco – auditioned in Aspen, cut on the performance challenge in the Las Vegas rounds
Nick Boddington – auditioned in New Jersey, called back for the judges in Portland, cut on the performance challenge in the Las Vegas rounds
Tenna Torres – auditioned in Pittsburgh, cut on the performance challenge in the Las Vegas rounds
Vincent Powell – auditioned in Houston, cut on the last day of Hollywood week
The premiere was watched by 21.93 million viewers. While at the time it drew the second largest audience of any entertainment program in the television season, it was down 16 percent from the previous year's premiere, which was watched by 26.23 million viewers. After seven consecutive years as the most watched program on primetime television (eight years in the 18/49 demo), the eleventh season of American Idol came in second place to NBC Sunday Night Football in total viewers, as well as in the 18/49 demo. The Wednesday episode (ranked second for the year) averaged 19.811 million while the Thursday episode (placing fourth during the same year) averaged 18.332 million. The show's continued strengths in its Wednesday and Thursday timeslots, however, helped Fox attain its eight consecutive season in its winning streak in the 18-49 demographics, the most in U.S. television history.
^Note a This episode was shown on Sunday, January 22, 2012, after the NFC Championship Game, but was repeated on Tuesday, January 24, 2012 with ratings of 5.7/9 overall and 3.4/9 for the 18/49 demographic. Overall, the episode averaged 9.64 million viewers.