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Taylor a lock to make final two on ‘Idol’

“American Idol 5” was all about threes on Tuesday night: three songs, three phone numbers, three costume changes for each of the three remaining contestants. Only two, however, will make it past Wednesday night to perform live on the stage at the Kodak Theatre next week.

Each of the contestants had two of their three songs selected for them: RCA executive Clive Davis selected their first song while a judge picked the second. The third was the only opportunity they had to control their own fate.

But, naturally, even that lack of control didn't stop the judges from complaining about song choice. Katharine McPhee was understandably frustrated when Randy Jackson started complaining about the song Clive Davis selected for her. “I didn't pick it!” she said.

The songs Davis selected for the performers to start the show all seemed designed to challenge them, pushing them toward individuality and pulling them away from karaoke. Those songs were among the least successful as a whole, though, so perhaps Davis was asking for a bit too much. The judges, strangely enough, all liked the performance and song choice for the songs that they chose. And they had mixed reviews for the individual performances.

Based upon all nine songs, it's almost anybody's game at this point, and it's going to depend entirely on each contestants' fans to call in and vote. But, as Randy Jackson would say, Taylor Hicks did his thing once again, and showed that he was much more of a well-rounded performer than his competitors. Look for him to go to the Kodak with either Elliott or Katharine.

Taylor Hicks, 29, Birmingham, Ala.: As usual, Taylor was himself. That is, except for one song, “You Are So Beautiful,” by Joe Cocker, which Randy Jackson selected for him. He didn't do any typical Taylor-dancing, and that allowed him to showcase his voice and talent even more. “That was so far and away your best performance so far,” Simon said, perhaps because Taylor didn't gyrate all over the stage.

His other two songs went well, too. He selected “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding for himself, and ended on the strongest note of the three contestants. And Clive Davis picked Bruce Springsteen's “Dancing in the Dark” for him, saying, “you can command the stage but you can get into the lyric.” Taylor certainly did command the stage, and even left it to dance with Paula Abdul, who was absolutely thrilled. His fans will be, too, when he makes it to the final two.Grade: A-The judges, “Dancing in the Dark”: “A bit pale by comparison with the original” - Simon Cowell The judges, “You Are So Beautiful”: “You did the song proud” - Randy Jackson The judges, “Try a Little Tenderness”: “I waited all season for you to sing this song. You did an incredible job.” - Paula Abdul Stay or go: He'll stay; he's the only lock for the final two.

Katharine McPhee, 21, Los Angeles: Katharine probably had the most to prove going into this trio of performances; as she told the judges, “You guys are hard on me these last couple weeks.” Clive Davis selected R. Kelly's “I Believe I Can Fly” for her, wanting her to “make it her own.” And for herself, she chose “I Ain't Got Nothing But the Blues.” She said she “didn't want to be compared to anybody who's in the industry today.”

Those two performances were okay, but it was during the judge's pick that she really soared. Simon Cowell selected the song for Kat: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” She started with no musical accompaniment, and it showcased her voice extremely well. "That was the single best performance of the competition to date," Simon said after she was finished. But he also said he wished she'd ended with that, rather than going out on a weaker note.Grade: B+The judges, “I Believe I Can Fly”: “You kind of created a bit of a moment there for yourself.” - Simon Cowell The judges, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”: “Finally, finally, this is what I've been waiting for, this is the best vocal of the season for you” - Randy Jackson The judges, “I Ain't Got Nothing But the Blues”: – “You still did a great job” - Paula Abdul Stay or go: Katharine's performance was much more impressive than usual, but is it enough to take her to the final two?

Elliott Yamin, 27, Richmond, Va.: After Elliott performed his selection, the Donny Hathaway version of “I Believe to My Soul” by Ray Charles, Randy Jackson said it was “not perfect,” and the other judges agreed. Simon Cowell seemed to think it was a self-esteem problem, as especially at first, Elliott seemed unsure of himself.

Clive Davis selected “Open Arms” by Journey to show “the power of your voice” with a rock song, he told Elliott. And Paula Abdul chose Bobby Caldwell's “What You Won't Do For Love”; as she said, it was “because the funky white boy who has soul and rhythm can get into this song.”

But those performances weren't perfect, either. As Simon told him, Elliott's songs “are not going to carry you through 'til next week, that's the problem. However, you are a great guy, you are a great singer, and whatever you happens, you will make your mum very proud for what you've achieved in this competition.”Grade: BThe judges, “Open Arms”: “You have gotten to loosen up and start believing that you can make the finals next week. You can do better than that.” - Simon Cowell The judges, “What You Won't Do For Love”: “You were a little sharp during most of the song” - Randy Jackson The judges, “I Believe to My Soul”: “Nobody can sing songs like that ... but you nail it” - Paula Abdul Stay or go: Simon Cowell seemed to think Elliott's weaker performance tonight means he'll go home, but his fans have kept him around this long, so there's always a chance he could make it to the final two.

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