Well, that wasn't very close, was it? It's the final performance night on "American Idol," and one of these contestants had to be damn near perfect to win, and she wasn't. In order...
Katharine McPhee, "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree": This was one of my two favorite Kat performances of the season, and a smart choice for her to reprise, but it felt like she was holding back vocally throughout. I've listened to the MP3 of the original a few dozen times in the last couple of weeks, and her voice has this raw, letting it all hang out quality that was completely lacking here. I started to wonder if she was losing her voice during her third performance, but when they showed the dress rehearsal footage during the montage at the end of the episode, it was obvious Kat had already lost it before the show began. Given that, this was better than it should have been, but not a patch on the first time she did it. (Also, good call getting up off her knees; given what was coming next, she didn't want to be known as The Girl on the Floor.)
Taylor Hicks, "Living for the City": This was my favorite Taylor song of the finals, even though he smiled like an idiot through it the first time. He had the goofy grin at the start here, but quickly shut it down once he got moving. Yes, Taylor has three or four moves that he repeats ad nauseum, and yes, he's a predictable doofus, but the boy has stage presence and he understands the limits of his voice much better than Katharine does and makes every note count.
Katharine McPhee, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow": On the one hand, this was far and away the best thing she did all season. On the other hand, she did it last week. Diana DeGarmo did this with "Don't Cry Out Loud" in the season three finals and got killed for it. (Oddly enough, Diana also had a malfunctioning earpiece when she reprised "Don't Cry"; cue the conspiracy theorists...) Given what bad shape her voice was in, this was really quite lovely, maybe even a bit better than last week (if nothing else, her expressions were less smiley). You can argue that she should have done "Someone to Watch Over Me" or "God Bless the Child" or something else we haven't heard in months, but this was her one perfect moment tonight.
Taylor Hicks, "Levon": As my sister points out, this is a song about a rich jerk whose son can't stand him, and Taylor believes "it's about family values." Whatever problem he may have parsing the lyrics isn't apparent when he sings it. We're back with Sad, Quiet Taylor again, and I like this incarnation of him. Not quite on par with "Over the Rainbow," but much closer than Simon tried to make it sound in the hope of creating some suspense for the final round.
Katharine McPhee, "My Destiny": And her voice is just totally gone on this maudlin pile of goo. There are parts where she's just talking, and one painful big note towards the end where she gives up halfway through and looks like she'd just like to go home and watch "The Notebook" on DVD and eat a gallon of Chunky Monkey and pretend like this whole night never happened.
(By the way, no matter how much I hate Randy Jackson for the way he wastes time and oxygen every week, I will always have some affection for the D-A-double-G for his insistence, year after year after year, on pointing out how awful the coronation single is. Of course, when you just signed a contract extension, you're not really at risk, are you?)
Taylor Hicks, "Do I Make You Proud": I can't tell if his song is marginally better than hers, as Randy suggests, or if it's just that Taylor once again manages to apply his personality and bluesy growl to it, but this was a vast improvement, performance-wise. Fantasia's "I Believe" is still the only coronation song performance I enjoyed completely, because of the way she gave herself over to the stupid emotions about rainbows and puppies and balloons, but this is the only other time I haven't wanted to change the channel when a finalist was singing it. And then, just as I've rediscovered my affection for Taylor in his moment of victory, he has to go and dash the goodwill by yelling out "Soul Patrol!" 85,000 times in a row, just in case his fans didn't already understand how much he loves and understands them.
Should win: Taylor. In a walk.
Will win: Only two scenarios in which I can imagine Kat winning: 1)We get another phone line jam like season two and she has more text messages than him; or 2)The tween girls who are the show's dominant voting bloc (and who I'm sure drove Carrie's victory over Bo last year) just can't bring themselves to vote for the funny-looking guy with the grey hair.
I'm writing a live story for Thursday's paper about the results show, which, given the deadline constraints, will have to be written like a liveblogging entry. And since I can't rob from Peter (the column) to pay Paul (the blog), I'll have to come up with something else after I finish the column tomorrow night. (Assuming Taylor wins, not sure I'll have much to say, anyway.) And having to cover the finale live means I won't get to watch "Lost" until the following morning. Sorry.