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Published: Friday, 5/19/2006

'Idol': Who's next?

BY ERIKA RAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Taylor Hicks, 29. Taylor Hicks, 29.
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The soul patroller will try to wipe out the McPheever epidemic next week after voters chose to place Taylor Hicks alongside Katharine McPhee in the finals of American Idol.

America would be hard-pressed to find two singers who differ as much as those who will go head-to-head in the Fox TV talent contest at 8 p.m. Tuesday: the gray-haired Hicks, 29, from Birmingham, Ala., against bubbly McPhee, a 21-year-old who lives in the shadow of Los Angeles.

Hicks said he began singing when he started to crawl, but has never had any formal training, while McPhee grew up with a mom as a vocal coach.

McPhee blended in with the young adults when she auditioned in San Francisco while Hicks' gray hair stood out in the crowd of teenagers and twentysomethings in the Las Vegas auditions.

Judge Simon Cowell initially thought Hicks had the wrong image, but later admitted he was mistaken. McPhee, on the other hand, wowed all the judges - Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson - with her talent from the get-go.

Throughout the competition, America has fallen in love with Hicks' unique stage presence - complete with peculiar dance moves, bluesy voice, and harmonica playing.

While McPhee has experimented with different genres on Idol, her niche is in classic slower songs where the audience can appreciate her strong, measured voice.

Katharine McPhee, 21. Katharine McPhee, 21.
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Aside from their differences, the contestants have one thing in common: talent that was out in full force Tuesday to take them to the finals.

Cowell told Hicks that his rendition of "You Are So Beautiful" by Joe Cocker was "far and away your best performance." But McPhee drew even higher praise from Cowell after she sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

"That was the single best performance of the competition to date," the judge said.

In Wednesday's ratings-topping episode, in which American Idol received a 16.3 rating/24 share (a rating is the percentage of households watching; a share is the percentage of households with TVs turned on that are watching), Elliott Yamin, 27, from Richmond, Va., was eliminated with 33.06 percent of the votes. It was revealed that just 0.42 percent separated Hicks from McPhee, although the public wasn't privy to which contestant had garnered the most votes.

To find that out, the country will have to tune in for the two-hour season finale at 8 p.m. Wednesday, when either Hicks or McPhee will join Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Fantasia Barrino, and Carrie Underwood as the next American Idol.

Contact Erika Ray at: eray@theblade.com or 419-724-6088.



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