LOS ANGELES - If Crystal Bowersox doesn't walk away from the ninth season of 'American Idol' on Wednesday night as the winner, it won't be because she didn't charm the judges or put on three riveting performances Tuesday night.
The 24-year-old Elliston, Ohio, native received universal praise over the course of three songs, appearing loose, confident, and peaking at the perfect time on a gritty, emotionally charged, soulful rendition of "Up to the Mountain" that closed the show.
It was her last performance before voters select either her or Lee DeWyze as this year's winner. The results will be announced during the two-hour finale that begins tonight at 8 on WUPW-TV, Fox 36.
The Nokia Theatre was buzzing last night after her performance, which resonated throughout the packed 7,000-seat arena and seemed to shift the momentum toward the single mom from the Ottawa County community about 23 miles from Toledo.
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"I'm pleased with my performance and I had a good time and that's what counts," she said in a news conference after the show.
"I picked 'Up to the Mountain' because it's an amazing song about getting through tough times and coming out and being OK," she told members of the media.
Bowersox invested the song by alt-country artist Patty Griffin with a powerful gospel vibe that was appropriate for a work that was inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous last speech.
"If I've had one criticism of you, it was that at times your walls have been up and I can't really see what's going on inside of you and tonight that's all I could see," Idol judge Kara DioGuardi told Bowersox after her performance.
"You were completely emotionally invested in that song. You really blossomed through that song. Amazing."
"This is what this show is about," judge Randy Jackson said.
"An amazing song by an amazing singer. I'm so proud of you, man. This is one of your greatest performances and one of your best moments at the perfect time. That was incredible."
DeWyze didn't fare as well with the judges over his three songs. Their comments were considerably more reserved and they kept wanting more energy from the 24-year-old who, like Bowersox, first auditioned for the show in Chicago.
At times he seemed lost in songs with fussy arrangements and, as Ellen DeGeneres noted, he didn't always seem comfortable on the stage.
DeWyze's voice sounded thin in the Nokia and was often drowned out in the big arrangements that each of his songs featured.
The stage at the theater is huge and it's easy to see how the performers might feel intimidated by it.
Each contestant performed one song from an earlier week on the show, one that was selected by the show's producer, and one that they plan to record.
DeWyze sang "The Boxer" by Simon and Garfunkel, "Beautiful Day" by U2, and "Everybody Hurts" by REM.
Bowersox reprised her version of "Me and Bobby McGee," which was made popular by Janis Joplin, and "Black Velvet" by Alannah Myles, in addition to the Patty Griffin song.
It was judge Simon Cowell's last critique on Idol and he said that Bowersox's rendition of "Up to the Mountain" was a fitting send-off.
"I thought that was the best performance and the song of the night. And if that is going to be the final critique I'm going to do, I would just like to say that was outstanding," he said.
Bowersox had her own cheering section at the Nokia, featuring her dad, Bill, her mom Kelly Bowersox, and a couple of the "Gray-Haired Rock Stars" who are her musical mentors, Ron Rasberry and Bobby May.
Her longtime bass player Frankie May also was at the show along with her older brother, Will.
Bowersox's father said before the show that he wasn't nervous about his daughter's appearance.
"I'm just happy to be here with part of Crystal's family and friends and to be at the show," he said. "It's a once in a lifetime thing. I'm really proud of Crystal and glad that she's becoming a star. It's really great."
He planned to stay in Los Angeles until Friday basking in the adulation shown to his daughter and was unconcerned about whether she wins or finishes second.
"We'll celebrate either way. It's a win-win situation," he said.
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If Crystal Bowersox doesn't walk away from the ninth season of 'American Idol' on Wednesday night as the winner, it won't be because she didn't charm the judges or put on three riveting performances Tuesday night.