It's McPheever vs. "The Soul Patrol" as "American Idol" prepares to crown a new champ
Finalists Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks faced off in a final showdown Tuesday night. The votes are in now, and everyone from Las Vegas oddsmakers to Billboard hitmakers has an opinion of who will win.
Singer Toni Braxton said she initially had picked Elliott Yamin -- the 27-year-old from Virginia -- who was eliminated last week by just two-tenths of 1 percent in the voting. Now, she's going with Hicks.
"I'm routing for Taylor," she told ABC News Radio. "I thought the last two were going to be him and Chris [Daughtry]. And the last three would have been McPhee, Chris and Taylor. But I love Elliott's voice, too. He's really, really talented. I think this is the most talented [group of contestants] they've ever had."
Nevada gaming regulations prohibit wagering on TV shows. That hasn't stopped John Avello, the director of the race and sports book at the Wynn Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, from posting just-for-fun odds, which he's been updating each week since the beginning of the competition.
Before Tuesday's show, Avello had McPhee as a 9-to-5 long shot. Afterward, her odds grew even longer and now stand at 5-to-2.
"She did have to come up huge. I didn't see it happen," Avello said. "Taylor is my favorite and will walk away with the 'American Idol' title."
In Tuesday's competition, the two contestants each sang three songs -- two from earlier this season and the other as a first potential single to cement their stardom.
The 21-year-old McPhee opened with K.T. Tunstall's "Black Horse & The Cherry Tree," and the judges seemed underwelmed. Simon Cowell said it was good, with a "small 'g.'"
The Californian next went with the "Wizard of Oz" classic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," the song Cowell said had earned her a spot in the finals.
For McPhee's single, "My Destiny," Randy Jackson praised her voice but branded the song as "average" and the performance lackluster.
"I would say to everyone who wants to vote for Kat, vote and remember the second song," Cowell said.
Afterward, McPhee described the experience as exhilarating yet harrowing. "I just felt really relieved, and just really proud of everything I've done over the past couple of months."
"I mean, it really is a huge accomplishment and I think that I really, really just wanted to make it to the Top 2. I think that's were it's at, so, I did it."
Hicks, meanwhile, took one more opportunity to let the world know why he's called "The Soul Patrol," singing Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City."
"It was a great way to start. … Round 1 to you," Simon said.
The 29-year-old Alabaman didn't quite get the same response with his second number, Elton John's "Levon." Cowell criticized the song choice, and Jackson said that he had missed some notes.
Hicks ended the evening with his single, "Do I Make You Proud," and Cowell virtually dubbed him the next champ.
Cowell had said early last season that Carrie Underwood would win, but that the voters would have the last word. Tonight, the fans will have the last word, again.
"This is a long way from Alabama," Hicks said after his performance. "And I'm thrilled to be here, and this is a great opportunity for all involved."