May 25, 2005 08:00 AM

Long-haired Alabama rocker Bo Bice and blonde Oklahoma country girl Carrie Underwood took their final shots on American Idol Tuesday night, with the winner of the FOX talent hunt to be awarded the $1 million recording contract in a live, two-hour finale Wednesday.

With millions of potential voters watching, the touted odds-on favorite, Bice, 29, delivered his first song, an original called “The Long, Long Road.” Judge Simon Cowell’s piercing comment: “You’re going to have to do a hell of a lot better than that to walk away with this title,” adding that it was a “very dreary song” and that Bice’s outfit – flowing white shirt, red sunglasses – made him look like Simon’s chemistry teacher.

Judge Paula Abdul was far kinder. “You could sing the Webster’s dictionary, and it still sounds good to me,” she said.

But Simon had nothing but praise for Bo’s rendition of “Inside Your Heaven,” a song that Carrie had performed only minutes earlier. “I think you did out-sing Carrie on this song,” said Simon. ” It has been absolute pleasure having you on American Idol.” Simon wasn’t alone in his compliments. “You made me love the song. It was amazing,” said judge Randy Jackson.

Underwood, 22, showed her love of Nashville with Martina McBride’s “Independence Day.” And the judges showed how they felt. Randy: “That was an amazing vocal. You worked it out. Congratulations.” Paula: “Carrie, that was brilliant.” Simon: “I don’t think that was a great vocal. It sounded very strained to me.” He said that the round went to Bo.

Carrie belted her final song, “Angels Brought Me Here,” her voice cracking with emotion during the final notes. Nevertheless, “You have a lot of guts. You’re competing with someone who’s older,” said Simon, who also remarked: “Carrie, I think you’ve done enough to win this competition.”

Wednesday night will tell.

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