The 21-year-old pawn shop worker from Leesburg, Ga., defiantly wore gray after style adviser Tommy Hilfiger deemed it too drab. He shrugged off musical mentor Diddy's mandate to dance.
And he turned out a growling "Movin' Out" during an evening of Billy Joel tunes on the Fox talent contest Wednesday that Randy Jackson called "one of the best renditions of that song ever."
"You took that song and you Phillip Phillips-ed that," beamed Steven Tyler.
Other singers who impressed the panel included 16-year-old San Diego student Jessica Sanchez with a touching rendition of "Everybody Has a Dream"; 28-year-old teacher Elise Testone, of Charleston, S.C., with a soaring take on "Vienna"; and 20-year-old alt-rocker Colton Dixon of Murfreesboro, Tenn., with a classic version of "Piano Man."
"You sing with pure feeling," Jennifer Lopez told him. "I had goosies from head to toe the moment you started."
Deandre Brackensick of San Jose, Calif., opened the show with "Only the Good Die Young," but it was 26-year-old disc jockey Erika Van Pelt of South Kingstown, R.I., who nabbed everyone's attention by debuting a shorter and darker hairstyle during her performance of "New York State of Mind." Lopez said Van Pelt's new `do gave had "a Pat Benatar vibe."
Lopez wasn't feeling the delivery of "She's Got a Way" from soulful 19-year-old singer Joshua Ledet, of Westlake, La., though. She told the gospel singer that he needed to be "connected more to the lyrics."
She was more pleased with the twangy take on "Shameless" from 18-year-old country rocker Skylar Laine of Brandon, Miss. "You're not shameless," said Lopez. "You're fearless."
The panel later targeted the pitch problems that 18-year-old singer Hollie Cavanaugh of McKinney, Texas, experienced on "Honesty." They were also in agreement that the over-the-top version of "My Life" from 22-year-old nonprofit organizer Heejun Han, of New York, was entertaining but outlandish. Jackson called it a "good time" but admitted the vocals were "missing a bit."
"At some point, you've got to take it more serious," Tyler sternly warned the goofy Han.
One of the top 10 finalists will face elimination Thursday.