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‘Idols’ prove themselves standards bearers

Rod Stewart helps out the kids with some old-fashioned tunes. By Craig Berman
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

The TomKat baby finally arrived on Tuesday, and if early reports are true it was indeed a silent birth. That's a shame, because it probably means the family missed "American Idol," which indicates baby Suri's first memory may be of her crazy father or a Scientologist lackey instead of one of the sweet, wholesome "Idol" finalists, not one of whom has yet jumped up and down on Oprah's couch.

Yes, it's true; everyone on "Idol" was wholesome on Tuesday, even alt-rocker turned crooner-for-a-day Chris Daughtry. There was no danger of scaring anyone, even a small child — everyone sang songs that have been heard at celebrations in all 50 states and probably all nine planets in the solar system at this point.

It was Rod Stewart night on the show, and the finalists all picked selections from his "Great American Songbook" series. The result was a night of performances that were almost all outstanding. It was also an unprecedented night of positivity from the judges, who acted like the Church of Scientology had told them Katie Holmes was watching and any negativity would scar her baby for life. Even Rod Stewart was positively giddy, hugging everyone and predicting great things for all the finalists. Of course, he and his wife did just have a baby, so that could be the lack of sleep talking.

At any rate, Mimi Rogers, Tom Cruise's ex-wife, was in the studio audience and seemed to be having a heck of a time. Aaron Spelling, Marilu Henner and Michael Rappaport were there as well, and with Stewart as the musical guest, that clearly indicates that a "Love Boat 2006" special is pending. Maybe Ryan Seacrest can take over the Gopher role.

Chris Daughtry, 26, McLeansville, N.C.: Simon took all the credit for Daughtry's rendition of "What a Wonderful World" — shocking, considering he takes credit for everything good in the known universe. He said weeks ago that Daughtry needed to show another style besides the one where he screams into the microphone, pleasing his fanbase but scaring newborn babies and their grandmothers. Daughtry's performance impressed the judges because it was both sensitive and simple. He didn't sing it like an alt-rock act covering a classic, or a Louis Armstrong cover band. He just sang it like Sensitive Man. Well, Sensitive Man with an edge, but it's as close as he gets to that standard. Grade: AThe judges: "For everyone that thought there wasn't another side to Chris, you showed them something tonight. You showed your sensitive side, and it was The Bomb." – Randy Jackson. Stay or go: It's normally bad news to lead off the show, but Daughtry shouldn't have anything to worry about.

Paris Bennett, 17, Fayetteville, Ga.: Bennett continued to put the pressure on the singers to follow with a surprisingly strong rendition of "These Foolish Things." It's hard for a 17-year-old to cover Billie Holiday without sounding like she's in a high-school talent show singing for scholarship money and gift certificates, but Paris pulled it off and impressed all three judges on a night when she really needed to show some star quality.Grade: AThe judges: "You bewilder me. You talk like Minnie Mouse, and yet you sing in this very grown-up voice." – Simon Cowell. Stay or go: Bennett could go, because at this stage of the competition everyone besides the obvious favorites are in trouble every week. But she probably sang well enough to avoid elimination. She could, however, possibly find herself among the bottom three vote-getters.

Talyor Hicks, 29, Birmingham, Ala.: Hicks had an impossible task: to perform Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" without sounding like he was playing at someone's Sweet 16 party. Since Hicks has always been more of an entertainer than a vocalist, it was hard for him to make the performance original – until he saved it in the second half of the song by flashing things up a bit and breaking out the trademarked dance moves. Unlike Daughtry, Hicks has found his style and is sticking to it – he'll win or lose this competition on personality, performing and moxie. Grade:  B+ The judges: "It started, and I thought 'lame cabaret.' And then … magic." – Simon Cowell.Stay or go: Hicks is in no danger.

Elliott Yamin, 27, Richmond, Va.: Yamin sang "It Had to Be You," and it was the Elliott Yamin "American Idol" experience in a nutshell. The vocals were very good, and he tried very hard, but his performing skills just aren't equal to the rest of the competition when everyone's at their best.  He did well, but he made up no ground on the leaders, a dangerous situation for someone who's been in the bottom three two weeks in a row.Grade: B+The judges: "What a difference a couple of weeks make. Very, very nice."– Randy Jackson.Stay or go: Elliott could go any week from here on out.

Kellie Pickler, 19, Albemarle, N.C.: Pickler's hopes hinge on her personality, because her performance of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" was bad, brutal and barbaric. It was so atrocious that her first comment after finishing was "I butchered it." She was totally out of synch with the music, and sang like she hadn't rehearsed it at all. On the positive side, she did apologize afterwards.Grade: DThe judges: "You gotta give it up for the fashion, at least … you look exquisite." – Paula Abdul. Stay or go: Based on this week's performances, Pickler should go. But the odds of that happening are almost nil.

Ace Young, 25, Denver, Colo.: It was like Young has heard all the comments that he's only in this competition because of his looks and decided to change up his image. He slicked his hair back and into a ponytail for "That's All," which looked ridiculous. The sound itself was fine, though not enough to keep him from a nervous 24 hours before Wednesday's results show. Grade: BThe judges: "It wasn't bad. It was a little bit nasally in the middle of the song, but it was … a charming performance. – Simon Cowell.Stay or go: Young was praised by both Simon and Rod Stewart. That might be his last good "Idol" memory, however, as he'll likely find himself among the bottom three voters and may be the one voted off the show.

Katharine McPhee, 21, Los Angeles: McPhee sang "Someone to Watch Over Me" like she'd spent a lifetime practicing the classics. Oh, wait. Her mom is a voice teacher. She has indeed spent a lifetime practicing songs like this one, and it showed. She was the most polished of the seven finalists, and she would be the clear favorite to win it all if the producers decided to make this about songs that last hit the charts when the singers' grandparents were young.Grade: AThe judges: "I really think you made the others look like good amateurs." – Simon Cowell. Stay or go: McPhee was the second-lowest vote-getter a few weeks ago after Simon offered similar praise for her performance. She's unlikely to land in the bottom three this week.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.