Kris Allen & Adam Lambert's 'Idol' Showdown

Photo: FOX

The big face-off between Adam Lambert and Kris Allen on Tuesday was so intense, you almost wished Norman Gentle could be dragged back for some comic relief. And he wasn’t even funny — that’s how intense the hour was!

By the end, the judges made it pretty clear that they want an Idol named Adam.

The show broke down into three rounds, three songs: a favorite from the season chosen by the singer; one picked by the show’s creator, Simon Fuller; and a new song, “No Boundaries,” co-written by Kara.

Round One: Adam reprised his stellar cover of “Mad World,” this time in a long coat that made him look as if he were starring in a musical version of Twilight (Or was it Phantom of the Opera?). It was a more romantic take this time, without the special chill of his original. Randy loved it: “An A-plus!” he said. The only judge with reservations was Simon, who found it “a little bit over theatrical.”

Kris’s choice was “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which he performed (at the piano) with charm and sweetness. “If he doesn’t move you,” Kara proclaimed to the world, “there’s something wrong you!” Paula said something lovely about how “you awaken the spirit in all of us.” Simon told Kris the performance had erased all his previous reservations.

Simon called the round for Kris.

Round Two: Simon Fuller’s choice for Adam was the R&B classic “A Change Is Gonna Come,” which Adam delivered with a fair amount of mannerisms but absolutely sensational vocals. The judges were unanimously excited. Randy: “You can sing your face off!” Simon: “You are 100 percent back in the game.”

Kris was given Marvin Gaye‘s “What’s Goin’ On,” and sang it like the pop troubadour he is. But that may not have been the right approach. Randy and Simon both thought it was lightweight — to Simon, it sounded like “friends strumming in a bedroom.”

Simon called the round for Adam: “Million percent.”

Round Three: Adam and Kris were both saddled with a ponderous inspirational pop ballad, co-written by Kara, called “No Boundaries.” Adam sang it with passion and strength, although there wasn’t much he could do with the pileup of grandiose lyrics. Kara, not surprisingly, was proud and moved, but Randy was underwhelmed. To Simon, none of this really mattered — what counted was that, in the course of the season, Idol had discovered someone who deserved to be “a worldwide star.”

He wasn’t talking about Tatiana del Toro.

Kris in some ways was more comfortable with the song — he rooted out a basic melodic hook that escaped Adam. The judges, though, all seemed to suggest he shouldn’t really expect to go beyond No. 2. “You have thoroughly, thoroughly deserved to be standing on this stage tonight,” said Simon. Which was followed by an enormous, unarticulated: “However … ”

At any rate, Simon didn’t call the round. The final call is up to America. — Tom Gliatto

Tell us: Who did you vote for? What was your favorite performance? Who is the next American Idol?

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