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Simon finally applauds Taylor Hicks, and Elliott takes his Donny Hathaway CD collection home.

It's the penultimate Idol. That means "next to last" for all you people who aren't professional writers like me. It also means that this week is the last time you have to hear that shitty "Bad Day" song after they send the next person packing. Next week it'll be all confetti and explosions and people being shot out of cannons. There'll be no time to weep for the second-placer.

Seacrest is beardish again. It really doesn't look bad on him at all. It softens up all those right angles. I'm a fan. He says, "This is where it gets serious, America." Like almost as serious as our decimated privacy rights and the fact that our awful president wants to invade Iran. That serious. Cut to Roseanne in the audience with her son--the son with Roseanne's old nose still on his face. She'd better get that kid to a surgeon soon or she'll never be happy with his appearance.

Seacrest introduces an incredibly lengthy clip reel about tonight's guest, music mogul Clive Davis. First I watch the clip reel, where we learn that Davis invented music and created the following artists by scooping up little balls of clay from the still-cooling Earth and molding them into pop stars: Janis Joplin, Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, Billy Joel, Earth Wind and Fire, Santana, Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith (but not the puppet that's sitting in the shot next to Steven Tyler), Barry Manilow, Patti Smith, Kenny G, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Alicia Keys, Maroon 5, Luther Vandross, Annie Lennox, Rod Stewart, Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Pink, Outkast, R. Kelly, Justin Timberlake, Ciara, Chris Brown, and Usher. I pause the TiVo and go to my copy of Hit Men, the book about how evil the music industry is, and look up Clive Davis in the back. All I can get from it is that he was in trouble for tax evasion once and that he's got a big ego and did a lot of talent-roster raiding. But whatever. That just makes him smart. Also rich. So rich, in fact, that he can dress in superugly clothes, like the royal-blue suede tunic thing he's got on, while he talks to Elliott. Davis has chosen the crappy Journey song "Open Arms" for Captain Caveman to sing tonight. Everyone knows that Elliott is the hip-hop Hebrew. He's smooth R&B-quiet storm man 24/7, but Davis wants him to do a rock power ballad. In the music industry this move is called, "Get this kid out of here, he bothers me."

Elliott sings approximately 27 seconds of "Open Arms" and then it's done. Seriously, I hate these abbreviated versions of songs. I'm as short-attention-span as anyone else in this great land of ours, but I want to hear an entire song, even if it's a crappy Journey song I've always hated. Good thing Leeza Gibbons likes it; she's applauding wildly. Randy likes it too. He looks wet-eyed, as though he's been weeping. Choked-up Randy says that the song holds a special place in his heart. "I was in Journey for a while. One of the greatest bands ever." This is true--that Randy was in Journey for a while, that is. The "greatest band ever" line is bullshit.

Davis "gifts" McPhee with the lamest R. Kelly song in existence, "I Believe I Can Fly." It's the love theme from Space Jam, by the way, a movie R. Kelly probably used as bait to attract his sexual conquests. Now, I own the latest R. Kelly CD because I really wanted as much "Trapped in the Closet" in my life as I could get, and I know for a fact that there are cooler songs from his catalog. "Sex in the Kitchen," for one, which is about doing it on the counter "near the buttered rolls." Or Davis could have gone back a few years and selected "Feelin' on Yo' Booty" for McPhee. But no; my entertainment is, it seems, not important to Davis. He tells McPhee something about what he wants to do with her "when we record together." I mentally add, after dinner, if you know what I mean, because you just know that's what he's thinking.

As McPhee galumphs her way through the boring number, she looks heavenward a few times to her pal God, silently begging for a spot in the final. She's got some hard notes to hit in this one and accomplishes the task efficiently, with just a touch of bratty shrieking at the end. The judges aren't totally pleased. Randy says, "These kind of songs, you want to be that singer, but you're not there yet." I want him to say, "Look, I was in R. Kelly for a while..."

Paula starts to agree with him, and you can see McPhee getting that I can't believe you're criticizing me look on her face. An audience member shouts out that McPhee is incredible. Paula shoots back, peeved, "Yes, she is incredible."

McPhee: "You guys are hard on me the last couple weeks."

Randy: "Well, it's song choices."

McPhee: "I didn't pick it." Which is true, she didn't. The audience applauds and cheers the sass.

Seacrest accuses Randy of being disrespectful to Davis, and a melee ensues. Paula encourages McPhee to stick her fingers in her ears. This is the stuff that makes me happy.

Davis, in his chat with Hicks, performs a dramatic reading of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark," thumping his own chest when he says, "Man, I'm just tired and bored with myself." You can see how happy he is to be reciting the words for Hicks, holding the sheet in his hand like, Did you know you can get any song lyrics you want off the Internet? They call it Googling! It's a miracle, this modern world! I hope that when Hicks does the song the Idol people have done their jobs properly and planted Courtney Cox in the front row for him to pull onstage and dance with.

Hicks comes out and does all the moves you've come to know and love from him this season. The Hunch, the Crouch, the Knee-knock, the Side-tilt, the Side-tilt-Back-arch Combo, the Grimace, the Face-scrunch, the "Oh, shit, I have to hit my mark over on the other side of the stage, and I'm very sorry, camera guy, but I'm about to mow you down" Run. But it's when he gets to the line about "This gun's for hire" when he does my very favorite thing of the night. It's a six-part move, clearly rehearsed in front of a mirror like John Hinckley as Travis Bickle practicing to defend Jodie Foster.

1. He points his imaginary gun at the camera. 2. He cocks it. 3. He shoots. 4. He raises it back up to his mouth and doesn't exactly blow on it because, well, there's just no time what with all the singing he's got to get done. 5. He tries to put it back into his imaginary holster and misses. 6. He finds the imaginary holster and finally re-secures his imaginary gun.

This is even better than when he sparred with the mic stand a few weeks ago. There actually was a mic stand to fight with; now he's battling an unseen prop that exists only in his mind.

Then he's off the stage, down in the audience, dragging Paula up onto the Taylor Hicks monkey-dancing platform for a little shimmy-shake. Paula misses her days dancing with MC Skat Kat, so this is a happy moment for her. It's also a happy moment for heterosexual white males, the ones who work boring jobs and live in the suburbs and have got married and a little chunky and have stopped having sex with their wives. Hicks is their id. They can live vicariously through him. They want to shoot their gun too and Hicks is here to do it for them. He finishes the song with the mystical-waiter hand, holding it out to the camera, palm up, serving the country. Courtney Cox is nowhere to be found, sadly. Even Leeza Gibbons doesn't leap up for her turn. The judges love it, especially Paula, who says she was worried about the lack of double-stick tape on her dress. Hicks shouts "Soul Patrol" some more. I don't care. I've finally learned how to tune it out.

And now, in honor of the truncated versions of songs being performed on this week's show, I give you speed recaps of the next six numbers:

1. Elliott: "What You Won't Do For Love" Highlight: Riunite on ice-unplanned pregnancy vibe Lowlight: Now you know what Elliott sounds like when he gets all sharp

2. McPhee: "Over The Rainbow" Highlight: Camera making sweet love to her succulent babeness as she practically lies down on the stage. I imagine them needing a giant spatula to separate her from it when the song is over. Lowlight: Long, unfamiliar introduction that I've never heard before in my life. I assume this makes me a failure at homosexuality. Whatever.

3. Hicks: "You Are So Beautiful" Highlight: The part where he goes, "Whoo-o-o, hoo-o-o- hoo-o-o- hoo-o-o-oo!" I never knew he could make his voice go up that high. Lowlight: I was hoping he'd stop in mid song and just speak one of the lyrics all seriously, like Sam the Eagle from The Muppet Show did with "In the Ghetto" last week, and he didn't. I'm disappointed.

Commercial Time: A trailer for the new Sandra Bullock-Keanu Reeves movie, The Lake House. It's about a MAGICAL MAILBOX THAT SENDS LETTERS BACK AND FORTH IN TIME, CAUSING SANDRA AND KEANU TO FALL IN LOVE. I think that deserved all-caps, don't you?

Okay more speed recap:

4. Elliott: "I Believe To My Soul" Highlight: He name-checks himself. It's a Ray Charles song where Ray name-checked himself too. So Elliott just changes the lyrics from "You know my name is Ray" to "You know my name is Elliott Yamin." My name is Dave White and I love this shit. Lowlight: It's one of those "challenging" songs. Goodbye Elliott. You're going home tomorrow.

5. McPhee: "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues" Highlight: Anything that reminds me of Kathie Lee Gifford hosting Name That Tune pretty much makes my night. Also, watching the judges diss her and seeing her You're not loving me enough face is pretty good too. I never get tired of that bratty Valley Girl thing. Lowlight: Twenty years from now she'll be in a revival of The Drowsy Chaperone.

6. Hicks: "Try a Little Tenderness" Highlight: Advanced gork aerobics. Plenty of hot-foot jumping, self-hugging, and freakish "Yow" shouts. I think the alien is going to pop out of his stomach by the end of the song. The judges love it, and Simon says, "See you next Tuesday." Lowlight: I had my heart set on him doing "Up Where We Belong" and singing both the male and female parts, dressed half as a man and half as a woman and turning to that profile depending on which part he was singing. It was just this little fantasy I had. But nothing I wish for ever happens.

Chopped and Screwed Night

Oh, good, it's an hour long--to cut one of three people. TiVo is about to fast-forward through: - Ace and Pickler sitting together in the audience, not being an item - Tons of footage from last night's performances, and who cares? - A commercial for McDonalds' new Asian salad featuring a free McYoga DVD - A commercial for Verizon featuring Nelly Furtado. The hipness never stops over at Verizon.

Oh, crap, it's the worst, most unsettling Ford commercial of the season. All three Idols are in old-age makeup, and they're rapping to "Young At Heart." But McPhee is on a Rascal. I've always wanted one of those. Elliott sounds a little like Beck when he raps; McPhee sounds like Barbra Streisand when she raps. And Hicks just sounds embarrassed when he has to do his. And they make him be shirtless in a hot tub with two elderly women. He can't be digging that much either. But at least now that Daughtry is gone he gets to drive the car for once.

Back to fast forwarding through:

- Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Romijn meeting the Idols, plugging their new X-Men movie, and giving all three of them bootleg copies of the DVD. I'm going to get one for myself next weekend when I go to Chinatown for dim sum. - Blah-blah-blah, the Idols go back to their hometowns. Each one goes on a radio show like Rick & Bubba in the Morning; Hicks does a weather forecast ("Your Taylor-made forecast!"), some horny Sherman Oaks, Calif., high-school boy gropes McPhee, Elliott returns to his old pharmacy job for a minute to put in his notice, Hicks meets the governor of Alabama and the governor's wife, who is dressed like a giant pink egg.

Then they all sing encores of songs they've done earlier in the season. Hicks revisits "Taking it to the Streets" and drags Elliott and McPhee out on stage to dance with him. They should feel lucky because there's about a 10-mile single-file line of human beings waiting to monkey-dance with Hicks now. McPhee sings...uh...I forgot to write it down...who cares what she sings, really? The best part is afterward when Seacrest asks her to talk about how important her family has been to her during the competition. Her answer: "I don't ever talk to them that much." Finally Elliott sings "Moody's Mood for Love," which may be the most difficult song ever written. His mom cries. Paula cries.

Davis comes back out with a roll call of former Idols and their record sales:

Kelly: 13 million; 2 Grammy wins Ruben: 2 million Clay: 3 million Fantasia: 2 million; 4 Grammy nominations Bo: "on his way to" 1 million Carrie: 3 million The combined sales of Justin Guarini and Diana DeGarmo: 372

And then Elliott gets shown the door. Apparently it was very close, they say. Everyone cries except Elliott, who knew he was leaving. When learning that his baby is safe, McPhee's dad looks like he wants to punch something. See you next Tuesday.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Dave White