Posted at 05/11/2012 8:56 AM | Updated as of 05/11/2012 1:53 PM
MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Staying true to the vow she made in her memorable performance of "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going," Jessica Sanchez is staying as she made it to the Top 3 of "American Idol" on Thursday night (Friday morning in Manila).
She is, however, going back to her home city of San Diego, when she makes her "hometown hero" appearance, a tradition for the show's Top 3 contestants.
Sanchez has now matched the success of Filipino-American Jasmine Trias, who also made it to the Top 3 during the third season of the hit US TV show.
But unlike Trias, who drew negative comments from "Idol" fans after she outlasted R&B singer LaToya London to make the Top 3 -- then judge Simon Cowell bluntly told the Hawaii-based teener that she had gone as far she could -- Sanchez was not only expected to make the Top 3, TV critics are now predicting a finals showdown between the 16-year-old and judges favorite Joshua Ledet, who was also declared safe on Thursday.
Readers of Digital Spy even had Sanchez as their top pick in the entertainment website's weekly poll.
Although Sanchez became an early frontrunner this season after her pitch-perfect rendition of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," her performance on Wednesday was a pivotal moment in her journey on
With her contrasting song choices -- Etta James's jazzy "Steal Away" and the "Dreamgirls" showstopper "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" -- Sanchez was in full competition mode.
And it paid off. She once again received a standing ovation from the judges --– her first since she sang a duet with Ledet on "I Knew You Were Waiting For Me." Judge Randy Jackson even used two of his favorite rave comments -- "you can sing the phone book:" and "you're in it to win it."
On Thursday, record producer and mentor Jimmy Iovine praised Sanchez for her two performances, particularly the "Dreamgirls" number.
"She brought all her artillery in the right proportion. She brought her growl, used them in the right way, she brought her power, her dynamics. Everything she chose and inspirationally did was flawless. She murdered it," Iovine said.
"As a matter of fact, a friend of mine, Tommy Mottola, that helped start the careers of Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey, e-mailed me immediately and said, 'I'm going to her first concert. This is the real thing.' You know what? I agree with him," he added.
But Iovine, who is known for making very blunt comments about the contestants, also gave some advice to Sanchez.
While saying she did "a great job" on the Etta James song, he also noted that Sanchez "ended up going back to that trick of hers, of growling, that we saw she learned when she was 5 years old."
"After a while, the trick gets old. Everyone knows the rabbit is gonna come out of the hat. When she does her album, I would encourage her to leave that rabbit in the hat a little more often," he said, hinting that, win or lose, Sanchez is probably going to get a record deal.
Meanwhile, after surviving five bottom three appearances, Hollie Cavanagh was finally eliminated on Thursday's results show, after host Ryan Seacrest announced that the last contestant in the Top 3 was acoustic rocker Phillip Phillips.
According to Seacrest, more than 70 million votes were cast for this week's Top 4.
"Idol" conspiracy theories, which appeared on the Internet prior to Wednesday's telecast, actually predicted Phillips to be going home this week, after an official "Idol" photograph of this season's contestants showed the contestants arranged in the exact order of elimination -- up to Skylar Laine, who left last week. Phillips was supposed to be next, followed by Sanchez, with Cavanagh in the final two and Ledet as the winner.
Moreover, Thursday's results featured a performance of "American Idol" winner David Cook, who sang his new single, "The Last Song I'll Ever Write For You." Cook, like Phillips, also plays guitar and sings rock tunes.
According to this theory, the "Idol" producers make hints on who's leaving with the week's guest artist. When Sanchez got the lowest votes -- and was saved by the judges from elimination -- her idol Jennifer Hudson performed on the show. Last week, when Laine was eliminated, fellow country singer Carrie Underwood performed her new single, "Blown Away."
Cavanagh's elimination this week, at least, debunked those two conspiracy theories.
Actually, TV critics agree that this season is quite tough to call, given the high quality of the contestants.
And Iovine is just as torn when asked for a prediction.
"Last year, I knew Scotty (McCreery) was gonna win the whole thing. This year, I haven't gotten a clue on who's gonna be in the finale. Any one of them with the right song and the right note can steal the show and then eventually America's vote," he said.
The final two will be announced next Thursday.