This is the big one, for all the marbles, the brass ring. It's win-or-go-home time, time to give 110 percent, take it one note at a time and just execute.
Cliches exhausted, let's see how our final two "American Idol" contestants handle one last round of performances.
Singer: KATHARINE MCPHEE
Song: "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree"
My Take: She's up off the floor, and I'm kinda wondering if she shouldn't have stayed on her knees like she did a few weeks ago. She's a little bit breathy in a couple of spots, but the bigger house and bigger stage don't seem to faze her. A strong finish cancels out the slightly sketchy bit in the middle.
Deputy Dawg, MC Skat Kat and Simon Say: Randy isn't excited to hear it again but thinks she actually sang it better this time. Paula reminds Katharine that America loves her. Simon thinks it's a good (with a small "g") warmup.
Singer: TAYLOR HICKS
Song: "Livin' for the City"
My Take: Taylor's jacket looks is the same color as a chair my grandma used to have, but he's in full-on Soul Patrol mode with the song that brought the house down during Stevie Wonder week. As with Katharine, the second time around doesn't pack the wow factor of the first one (at least for me) but the crowd, including Taye Diggs, is squarely in his hands.
Deputy Dawg, MC Skat Kat and Simon Say: Randy digs how Taylor makes the song his own, and proclaims his first hot one of the evening. Paula, wearing a multicolored stripey thing, yelps, "We match tonight!" (They don't.) Simon pretty much just smiles, knowing criticism is pretty much useless at this point.
Song: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
My Take: Now Kat takes a seat, but despite barely moving she commands the camera. She struggles a little bit with a couple of high notes, but tries to compensate with a couple of runs and a really strong last note. Still, this is not the goosebump-inducing moment it was last week. This may be a function of letting the two finalists do their greatest hits as much as anything; I'm thus far thrilled they haven't had to sing some godawful "Idol"-factory single, but it'd be nice to hear something fresh.
Deputy Dawg, MC Skat Kat and Simon Say: Randy thought it was going to be anticlimactic but is happy to hear it wasn't. Paula rambles on about possession, or some such, and says every dad in America is crying for her, and every little girl. Sheesh. Simon says this performance, not last week's, was her best of the competition.
Brief sidebar: While Kat was explaining the problems with her ear monitor, we get a closeup on Seacrest's hand, which he apparently put through a glass table yesterday and which various breathless showbiz-news outlets breathlessly called a "medical emergency." Dude didn't even need stitches, and he's wearing just a big Band-Aid. I don't think it qualifies as a medical emergency unless at least a butterfly bandage is necessary.
My Take: Taylor first sang this way back in the semifinals in February, so his performance doesn't induce the oh-this-again feeling the previous ones have. He's also, for the most part, in Restrained Taylor mode. He keeps the gyrating to a minimum and lets his voice do the work, and though he squeaks a little on a couple of the higher notes, I like this performance better than his first.
Deputy Dawg, MC Skat Kat and Simon Say: Randy likes the song choice but decides to keep it real, saying Taylor was a little pitchy. Paula responds that Taylor's nature is to be pitchy. Simon notes that Paula hasn't made any sense, but thinks it's now all square.
Song: "My Destiny"
My Take: Oh lord. Here comes the dreaded "first single" song. It's every bit as terrible as every other "Idol" finale song that's preceded it, but to Kat's credit, she sings it with conviction. It's also a song tailored to some of her strengths, allowing her to hit several power notes and showcase the control she has over her instrument. She still has to reach for a couple of the high notes, though. And if they make Taylor sing this, Kat wins.
Deputy Dawg, MC Skat Kat and Simon Say: Randy has three things: She looks amazing (true), sounded really good, didn't love the song. Paula notes the fact that it's a crappy song isn't her fault. Simon thinks she's fallen from brilliant to quite good with this performance, and her fans should remember the second song.
Song: "Do I Make You Proud"
My Take: This one sucks too, but at least the powers that be realize that Kat and Taylor are too different to try to force them to sing the same song. But sweet Jesus, these two songs are just awful. Would it kill them to write something that swings a little? As for Taylor's performance, he's again Restrained Taylor, possibly because there's a choir flanking him. He hits his notes and finishes well, but both he and Kat have been done a major disservice by having these songs be the last thing the audience hears tonight.
Deputy Dawg, MC Skat Kat and Simon Say: Randy thinks this is a slightly better song -- he's probably right -- and praises the way he made the song his own. Paula agrees and throws in a "Soul Patrol" shoutout. Simon says that if his scorecard is right and it was tied going into the last song, Taylor has just won "American Idol."
TONIGHT'S BEST: For Kat, probably her encore of "Over the Rainbow." "Levon" sounded best for Taylor.
IN DANGER: Aside from the ears of the record-buying public who purchase the first single from either finalist? I'm going to have to agree with Simon and lay odds that Katharine will come up short, making Taylor the most unlikely "Idol" winner in the show's five-year history.