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Sizing up the ‘American Idol’ final three

Remaining singers are the Entertainer, the Siren, and the Underdog
/ Source: contributor

Just when everyone thought that this might be a controversy-free season of “American Idol” Chris Daughtry-gate erupted after he was voted off the show last week. Judges wept, fans , bands offered him plum roles in their fight to get back into the mainstream. Too bad none of the above actually bothered to dial a telephone to vote for the guy, or he might still be on the show.

Meanwhile, three contestants remain in the competition: Taylor Hicks, Katharine McPhee, and Elliott Yamin. Barring a late court order from the Free Chris Daughtry Fan Club, pne of those three will take the crown most recently worn by Carrie Underwood.

The three have taken different roads to get to this point, and each one brings a distinctive style to the contest. Hicks strives to entertain in any and every way possible, McPhee is looking to take up the female pop-star mantle from Kelly Clarkson, and Yamin just kind of sits in the background and hopes for the best.

Taylor Hicks: The Entertainer
From his first audition to the harmonica concert to Rebecca Romijn’s request for an encore, no contestant has held the audience every week like Taylor Hicks has. Part Rat Pack, part Brat Pack, part lounge act and part old-school Southern rocker, he offers something for everyone. Mainly, that "something" consists of about 10 minutes a night of entertaining performances where the actual vocals are forgotten soon after he finishes.

Doesn’t matter. The whole selling point with Hicks is that his stage presence is phenomenal. He has a knack for knowing just what the audience wants, which includes knowing when to give his manic energy a rest. Last week was a prime example: after starting the session with “Jailhouse Rock,” he chose the slower “In the Ghetto” as his second song. Sing two uptempo songs, and he’d have looked like a bad Elvis impersonator. Mixing it up made him look like a singer.

Calling Hicks an entertainer doesn’t mean he can’t sing; plenty of contestants have tried to make their living on the sizzle without the requisite steak to back it up. The fact that Hicks has made it as far as he has without ever being in serious danger shows that there’s some substance behind the schtick. At this point, it would be a huge surprise if he didn’t win. Then again, the Daughtry fans would like to point out that strange things happen in the voting.

Katharine McPhee: The Siren
If it's ever revealed that Fox has a basement room where bionic reality show contestants are made, nobody would be surprised to hear that McPhee was one of their first finished products. She’s everything a network could hope for in an “Idol”: good-looking, fun personality, nice voice, improving stage presence, and a willingness to wear revealing costumes.  If she loses this competition, look for her next year on “The O.C.”

According to central casting, McPhee should be winning this season in a walk. But she’s not.  She’s lucky to have gotten this far after two tough weeks in a row, and unless she comes up with a strong performance this week, she’s even money to exit the show.

It’s hard to say why that is, except that for all her perfection, McPhee doesn’t seem to have that elusive star quality. She does everything well but nothing outstanding. At this point, it will take a series of outstanding performances for her to win the competition.

Elliott Yamin: The Underdog
Anyone who claims to have predicted Yamin’s success from the beginning is lying or is one of his relatives. With no screen time at all in the auditions except as a background singer in a , Yamin didn’t have much chance to make an early impression. Any impression he did made was pretty much one giant “blah.”

And yet, he’s still standing, which is this year’s “Idol” miracle. If Yamin doesn’t win this competition, his next stop should be auditioning for   He has taken the whole flying-under-the-radar approach to a new level — never secure enough to be favored, never  low enough to get voted off.  His poll numbers began the finals lower than George Bush’s, but have climbed steadily upward since. The eliminated finalists have to be scratching their heads and thinking “how in the world can that guy have a chance to win and not me?”

Well, because he can sing. His vocals are the best of anyone’s remaining in the competition. He's also been good at picking songs that suit his voice — even if they’re ones that nobody outside of the judges have ever heard of (Of all the Elvis songs out there, why pick “I Can Dream?”)

In fact, Yamin's performance this year is even more impressive that one might think. He’s gaining ground at a time when the judges usually begin to focus on whether a contestant could actually produce an album that sells. If Yamin wasn’t outstanding, he’d have gotten the Covais treatment three weeks ago. Instead, he has a legitimate shot to win it all.

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