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My Last ''Idol'' Report Card of 2006 (With Podcast Info)

By RD Heldenfels Published: May 23, 2006

Here's tonight's podcast link:

And here are my notes from earlier:

Based purely on salesmanship, including how you close the show and how ''American Idol'' decides to sell you to the audience, it sure looked as if Taylor Hicks led his Soul Patrol to victory on Tuesday night's performance show. Simon Cowell said as much near the end of the show. [Wednesday morning addition: The analysis on also shows Hicks winning easily.] But my report card was a little different.

First, some of the non-vocal things we got in the show: Taylor in a purple jacket of astonishing hideousnes, Paula abandoning any pretense of fairness to lead the crowd in support of Taylor, Katharine McPhee in a pair of jeans so tight I am amazed she was able to bend down in them, celebrity sightings -- Ben Stiller, Christina Applegate, Tori Spelling -- plugs for the ''Idol'' tour/CD/ringtones, Simon wearing a jacket, Ryan Seacrest clean-shaven again and Daniel Powter performing his ''Idol''-driven hit, ''Bad Day.''

And, in a moment of staggering obviousness, the videos of the two finalists' ''journeys'' were accompanied by ''Don't Stop Believing'' -- by Journey. I kept waiting for Randy to remind us that he had been in Journey. Maybe he already hit his reminder limit for the season.

As for the music, let's start with the sad, sad fact that once again the singles for the ''Idol'' finalists are dreadful songs: ''My Destiny'' for Katharine, ''Do I Make You Proud'' for Taylor. Every season I dread the unveiling of the singles, and this was as dreary as usual. That said, as icky as they were, Taylor did more with his than Katharine did with hers. But we'll come back to that.

First round: Taylor's won the coin flip, so Katharine has to go first. She resurrects ''Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.'' She stands up more than in her on-the-knees performance from earlier in the show, maybe because of those jeans. She also sings better than before. Last time around, I heard KT Tunstall too much in my head; this time, Katharine seems more confident and assured. I gave it a B plus. The judges, not so impressed.

Taylor follows with ''Living for the City,''  which he did well on the show before. This time, he doesn't seem as good (hideous purple jacket aside) and I gave him a B. But the show was selling him a lot harder, the crowd is with him and the judges love it.

Round two: Kat hits ''Over the Rainbow'' again. And does it well. Another B plus on my card, and the judges are in her camp this time. Of course, the judges -- and the show -- also don't want this to look like a runaway, and it was Simon who first chose ''Over the Rainbow'' for Katharine, so she's bound to do all right here. Taylor comes back with ''Levon,'' and he's not very good. Can't seem to put it across. C on my card, Randy complains about pitchy parts and Simon says it's Katharine's round. (Paula sees Taylor's essence. Paula is also especially goofy, but she seems to have recovered from the ouster of former fave Elliott.)

Third round: The singles. Big production, choirs backing the singers, we're supposed to be one with the songs -- and ... blah. Randy is actually critical of both songs (if not the singers). But this is the moment when an ''Idol'' performer has to prove he/she can sing anything, no matter how stupid. Taylor is marginally more credible.

I took a break to podcast and am now back. My podcasting buddy, Amy Carlson Gustafson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, is displeased that Katharine and Taylor did not have to sing the same single at some point, contending that's unprecedented -- and my memory cells weren't strong enough to provide an argument. Having done some online checking since the podcast ended, I think Clay & Ruben were spared overlapping songs on their final confrontation in Season 2. (And they did release different singles.) But even if they did the same song -- or switched, so Taylor did ''My Destiny'' and Kat did ''Do I Make You Proud'' -- Taylor probably would have sold it better.

So I won't be surprised if the vote goes to Taylor. But on my card, Katharine had the edge tonight.

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