Stephen M. Silverman
January 26, 2006 08:20 AM

It’s a win-win situation for American Idol: Tuesday’s episode drew a still-staggering 34.8 million viewers (down only slightly from last week’s 35.5 million for the season premiere), and the show has a clear-cut victor – if TV writers from The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly are to be believed.

She is 17-year-old Paris Bennett of Fayetteville, Ga., and she’s been called “adorable” by the New York Post. Meanwhile, Bennett’s set of pipes that is causing hats to be tossed into the air, even from the usually critical judge Simon Cowell.

“Where have you been hiding?” Cowell asked Bennett on the air after her rendition of the Dixie Chicks’ “Cowboy Take Me Away” sent tingles through the audience. Judge Paula Abdul requested a second song, and Bennett again wowed the crowd, this time with a Billie Holiday number.

“There aren’t words to express how we feel blessed in your presence,” Abdul said afterwards.

The praise for Bennett is extremely far-reaching. Her great-grandparents’ local newspaper, the Rockford Register Star in Illinois, is justifiably proud of her – pointing out that this great-granddaughter of Pastor Perry and Shirley Bennett is the daughter of Rockford’s own Shayne Patterson and the granddaughter of Grammy Award-winning singer Ann Nesby-Lee, of the Sounds of Blackness.

If Bennett can continue to ride this wave, expect the family to be in the live audience for the finale.

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