CHULA VISTA, Calif. -- A petite 16-year-old Chula Vista girl with the huge voice may be less than a week away from becoming the next "American Idol.''
Jessica Sanchez beat out tens of thousands of hopefuls who auditioned nationwide for the 11th season of the popular Fox TV program, including an estimated 9,000 who jammed Petco Park last July. In October, a vetted crowd was invited to sing for celebrity judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler aboard the USS Midway Museum.
"Idol'' host Ryan Seacrest announced Thursday night that viewers selected Sanchez and 21-year-old Phillip Phillips, Jr. of Leesburg, Ga., to be the last two contestants in the competition. Her finalist status appeared to bring Sanchez both shock and joy.
"Being in the position I'm in now is more than I could have ever asked for,'' she said in a statement. "I've been looking forward to auditioning for `American Idol' 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.''
Until this season, Sanchez was ineligible to compete on "American Idol'' because the minimum age restriction for contestants is 16. She was about 5 when the show started and is now the youngest contestant in "Idol'' history to become one of two finalists. If she wins, she will be the first female singer to win since Jordin Sparks won in 2007, when she was 17.
Based on viewer votes, Sanchez almost went home a few weeks ago, but the judges used their one save to veto the viewers' vote and keep her in the contest.
Sanchez, a homeschooled high school junior, is the second recent contestant from San Diego County to make it deep into the "Idol'' competition.Adam Lambert,who graduated from Mt. Carmel High School in Rancho Penasquitos, rocked his way to a runner-up finish three years ago.
A two-night season finale of "Idol'' is scheduled to air Tuesday and Wednesday on Fox5. The winner receives a $1 million recording contract.