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Round of 4: Elvis - May 9

Can you believe we are only two weeks away from the Kodak Theatre, where 50 million Americans and scads more in 34 countries (Ryan's stats, not mine) will watch two nobodies become somebody? Seems like only yesterday that Simon was calling Mandisa "fat". Start unplugging your phones, you dirty dirty fanchildren, you ...

Anyway, tonight's theme. Let's play Full Circle here... American Idol is produced by 19 Entertainment, which is owned by CKX Enterprises, who also own the catalog of... Elvis Presley. There you go. Each Idol gets two chances to see what they've learned from their class at Graceland. And their professor... 'Scilla. And here I was hoping for Lisa Marie, too. Damn.

Actually, their REAL professor, who knows a thing or two about hitmakers, having married two of them, Tommy Mottola. Yes, THAT Tommy Mottola. "Elvis is the reason I got into the music business." And he never stopped, mentoring such acts as Hall & Oates, Destiny's Child, Shakira, and Jennifer Lopez.

First up, the main beneficiary of this week... Taylor Hicks. He'll be singing "Jailhouse Rock" first. Tommy wants him to sing half a key. "By the way, I charge extra for that keychange."

What they say: Randy: "You are in your element now." Paula calls it phenomenal. Simon says that it's time to get real. "In the real world, that was a terrible impersonation of Elvis Presley. The dancing was hideous. It was just karaoke with a capital K."

What we say: Lots of movement, lots of energy, Taylor had better be careful what he does with all of that or else he'll strain himself out. But all in all, not bad. Classic Taylor performance. But we'll give the nod to Simon. On a concert stage, that will not fly.

Next up, the man who gets boxes of junk food every week, Chris Daughtry. He's singing his favorite Elvis song, "Suspicious Minds." He calls Tommy heartfelt. He advises Chris to get into it. "His vocal sound is incredible. It will be amazing on record."

What they say: Randy calls it a tender performance, but not his best. Paula is calling final. Simon says, "Sunglasses aside, that worked."

What we say: This is the real-world performance Simon's been looking for, and you can tell that this is his favorite song to perform. He's a consistent performer.

Elliott Yamin sings "If I Can Dream", as he tries to sell the tender side of Elliott. "That needs a lot of practice," Tommy says. "You don't want it to sound like a bar mitzvah performance."

What they say: Randy calls it hot. "You made it your own." Paula thinks that this is his best. Simon says that this was the best performance so far.

What we say: When did Ryan grow a goatee and start singing bad Elvis? It was very off-key with the trills. If he just sings the song and let the trills come naturally, it would've been better. He's lucky he's got one more performance.

But you haven't heard Katharine McPhee yet. She's doing TWO Elvis numbers in one, with an "All Shook Up" twist on "Hound Dog." Very bold. Very risky. Very unsettling? "Vocally, she's incredible. She has a very fluid style."

What they say:  Randy calls her lyric flub. Paula says the choreography made up for it. Simon: "It looked like a desperate manic audition. To be fair, it's going to be tough. Hope you got a second better song."

What we say: She needed a standout performance to last another week. She didn't get it, especially when she flubbed a lyric. You know how that sits with me. Will her winning personality be enough to compensate? And what about... Nikko?

Second round begins with Taylor again, as he describes, in great detail, a magical cart ride with Lisa Marie. Next, he's singing "In the Ghetto." Tommy advises that he should let the song sell itself.

What they say: Randy... "The right key for you, finally. The right song for you, finally. When and if you make a record, that's the kind of record you should make." Paula liked the well-roundedness. Simon called it "a world apart." "What you have just done is you have just sung your way into the semi-final, young man."

What we say: This song sells itself. We got both sides of Taylor, and we love both sides. He is a contender if ever we saw one.

What Taylor says: "Soul Patrol! Soul Patrol!"

Chris picks for his second song... "A Little Less Conversation", a difficult piece. "If he watches himself, he'll pay attention to the lyrics," Tommy says.

What they say: Randy liked the key and the rocker edge. Paula is speechless, as she sees more personality. Simon liked his first performance better.

What we say: World away from Jon Peter Lewis, I'll say. He's singing the song as it is written, and it's paying off. And he's learned to control his voice for two performances. That'll serve him well into next week, when we get three, including the Wheel of Death performance!

Elliott's next with "Trouble". I'm hoping he does something with it, because this song is personality driven.

What they say: Randy thought Elliott outdid himself. Paula agrees. Simon: "You've come out fighting. You deserve to go through to the next round."

What we say: Elvis made the song scary. I was not scared. I can see right through that performance. Not good.

One more performance, and then it's vote time. Here's Kat's second performance... the obvious choice here is "I Can't Help Falling In Love". This is lyrics oriented, and Kat needs to project. "Pay attention to what that lyric is saying."

What they say: Randy thought it was better, but ran out of air. Paula says that she has a lovely voice. Simon didn't think this was one of her better nights, as this one was over the top. "That arrangement was just too much. You came into this night disadvantaged."

What we say: She needed a closer to make up for that last performance in the first half. Now it's officially a horse race. Although a couple of sharpies might have made this one a lamer.

So basically, Elliott and Katharine are in the bottom, and while Elliott has yet to wow me, I would not be surprised in the least if there was an all-male final 3. We'll see what the voice of the people decree tomorrow.


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