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Round of 3: "The Wheel of Death" - May 16

Long before "American Idol", there was a little show called "Say What Karaoke", the first game show for a still-green Dave Holmes (he's grown as a game show host since then, despite taking some rank jobs). The second round of this game was "The Wheel of Death" in which fate determines a song choice for a player. The tradition continues in what we at the 'net call "The Wheel of Death Round."

Each singer has three songs: one of their own choosing, one of the judges' choosing, and one chosen from the man who will eventually work with the winner producing his or her first album, the head of Sony BMG, Clive Davis. The CV of this mogul reads as a history book of American rock'n'roll, with everyone from Chicago, Janis Joplin, Billy Joel, Santana, Earth Wind & Fire, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny G, Dionne Warwick, Aerosmith, Aretha Franklin, Babyface, Diddy, and Whitney Houston, to Alicia Keys, Maroon 5, Luther Vandross, Annie Lennox, Rod Stewart, Foo Fighters, the Dave Matthews Band, Christina Aguilera, Chris Brown, Ciara, Usher, Pink and all four past American Idol winners (and Clay Aiken and Bo Bice).

This year... he won't judge.

First up, Clive's picks. Elliott Yamin gets the Journey opus "Open Arms". "Elliott has not done too many rock songs, and I want the opportunity to show that he can do it."

What they say: Randy, after recalling his days as a bassist for Journey, said that he should take chances. Paula thinks that he's in excellent voice. Simon liked the choice, but says that he's a little stiff and that he needs to loosen up.

What we say: It's not surprising that Elliott delivers on this song, despite flipping a chorus lyric. But he really doesn't do anything with the song that we haven't seen before.

Next, Clive chooses R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" for Katharine McPhee, giving her an opportunity to either dig deep and pull out a winning performance... or pull an Anwar Robinson and completely screw the pooch.

What they say: Randy says she looks amazing, but doesn't believe she's "that singer". Paula says she looks beautiful, but... Yeah, that's it. Simon thinks that, apart from a couple of "bum notes", she created a moment.

What we say: Add "I Believe I Can Fly" to the list of Idol killers. I defer the rest of this space to my brother.

What D says: "I didn't like this at all."

Clive picks for Taylor "Dancing in the Dark" by Bruce Springsteen, hoping that he'll get into the lyrics. Taylor thanks Clive for making a call to perform the first Boss number on Idol. But is it worth the wait?

What they say: Randy loves the showmanship aspect. "You know how to have a good time." Paula had fun. Simon thought it was okay, albeit Bruce-lite.

What we say: Good vocally to start, but then, it's all the sax solo. It's not exactly Taylor's forte, but he makes it out alive... too bad it's not really a good standalone performance.

A lot of people join Ryan and the judges for round 2: the judges' choice. Going to Richmond, where Elliott finds out that Paula has chosen "What You Won't Do For Love" by Bobby Caldwell. "I think Elliott is full of love. I always said that he was the funkiest white boy. It's in the right range for him."

What they say: Randy thought he was sharp for most of the show. Paula thinks that this is the kind of artist that he is. Simon thought it was pretty good.

What we say: Tonally, it was sharp, but this is what Elliott should've been doing that first round. Having sex with the song, for lack of a better metaphor. Rush where you need to, hold back when you have to. This is his scores better than the first try.

Next, going back to LA with Kat, who gets "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from Simon. "I knew from the very first day that this song is probably the most perfect song for her. Tonight, she could have that moment."

What they say: Randy: "Finally! This is the best vocal for you this season tonight! We got a hot one tonight!" Paula says that she's in her element. Simon: "I'm very happy for you tonight. You don't need to lay it too much. That was the single-best performance of the competition to date."

What we say: This is the artist Katharine should be. Great recovery from that first debacle of R. Kelly.

Now to Birmingham, where Taylor receives word of Randy's choice... "You Are So Beautiful" by Joe Cocker. "It was the greatest songs of all time. He always gives me this Joe Cocker, Ray Charles vibe."

What they say:  Randy: "You did the song proud." Paula calls it beautiful. Simon: "That was so far and away your best performance so far."

What Taylor says: "He's happy!"

What we say:  In a word... Amazing. This is Taylor's moment.

Now it's totally on the contestants. Elliott sings Ray Charles' "I Believe To My Soul", the Donny Hathaway version.

What they say: Randy didn't like that song, but liked what Elliott did with it. Paula: "Nobody can sing songs like that, but you nail it." Simon: "Your songs are not going to carry you to next week, however, you are a great guy. You are a great singer. Whatever happens, you will make your mum very proud for what you did during this competition."

What we say: We finally see that personality he's been stowing away all season, but only a tiny bit of it. The song itself was okay, but I have a feeling he might be outsung here.

Final performance from Kat, who wants to spread one more hit of McPheever with "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues" by Ella...

What they say: Randy thought it was okay, but "Rainbow" was money. Same with Paula. Same with Simon.

What we say: Kat, you just made me forget the first song. You're back in your element, and your fans are going to remember that performance, even though you may have done a bit too much with it. Just a bit. Nothing major, but still, you might have to watch it for next week.

Final performance for Taylor. Let's see him send the Soul Patrol to their Cingulars with "Try a Little Tenderness" by Otis Redding.

What they say: Randy calls him "Have a Good Time Funky Taylor." Paula: "I waited this whole season for this song." Simon: "Smart choice of song, good performance, a hideous ending, but I'll see you next Tuesday."

What we say: Plays on the strengths, ending was horrid, but still, "You Are So Beautiful" is when he earned his ticket to the Kodak.

So here's how the final TV City standings ... err... stand.

Win: Taylor
Place: Katharine
Show: Elliott

Two of these people are one step closer to a dream. For one, the dream ends with our tenure at Television City.



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