By Michael Slezak
Updated July 14, 2006 at 07:50 PM EDT
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American Idol: Ray Mickshaw/Fox

So the American Idol season 5 tour came to town last night (the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., to be specific), and you know I wasn’t about to miss it, even if I had to fly solo. Not that a guy could ever really feel alone surrounded by thousands of fellow Idol addicts. Especially when they’re shrieking en masse. Here’s the highlight reel (and bear in mind, I’m not ignoring Katharine McPhee — she’s been sidelined by laryngitis since the tour kicked off July 5):

Most likely to succeed: Based on audience feedback, fourth-place finisher Chris Daughtry may be poised for the biggest post-Idol career. It doesn’t hurt that the guy is sex on a stick — parents should probably to cover the wee ones’ ears and eyes during his cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” — but he’s also the most polished, confident performer of the bunch. His “Wanted Dead or Alive” was a tasty slice of arena rock, and his duet with Elliott Yamin on Nickelback’s “Savin’ Me” was the night’s best (and I’m not even a fan of the original). My only question/complaint: Why no “Hemorrage (In My Hands)”? Could Fuel, smarting from the fact that Chris turned down their offer to be their new lead singer, have responded with a haughty “Deeee-nied!”? Inquiring minds want to know.

Most embarrassing: Ace Young will never advance beyond cheesy Idol also-ran status, if only for his painfully literal on-stage gestures. Like tracing a tear down his face on two separate occasions — singing the words “cried” on “Father Figure” and “cries” on Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe.” And tapping his head meaningfully on the word “mind.” And, during the aforementioned George Michael number, unbuttoning his jacket on the first mention of the words “warm and naked,” then removing it entirely on the second. (Insert audible gagging sound here.) As for his habit of tossing beanies into the crowd: Dude, save your money!

Most surprising: Tenth-place finisher Lisa Tucker, a singer I never once enjoyed during her season 5 performances, had the night’s strongest showing among the women, sitting down at the piano to offer a restrained, heartfelt rendition of Elton John’s “Your Song” — with no accompaniment from the band. Who knew?

addCredit(“American Idol: Ray Mickshaw/Fox”)

Most disappointing: Since her grandma Ann Nesby is apparentlyunwilling to say it, I’ll deliver a much needed newsflash to ParisBennett: “Young lady, you are not, nor will you ever be, the nextBeyoncé Knowles.” Seriously, Paris’ hoochielicious shenanigans on”Crazy in Love” provided too much awkward wiggle, and almost no vocalsizzle. (As for the barely competent dance breakdown, Janet Jacksonjust called from 1985, and she’d like the wooden chair and fedorareturned at once.) I kept hoping Princess P would break out with thekind of jazz standard that best showcases her talents, but the kid’sgot other, ill-advised ideas.

Most shameless attempt for tabloid attention: Mandisa,sullying an otherwise potent “If I Was Your Woman” by using it to stalkIdol‘s season 2 champ Ruben Studdard. Sample lyric: ”R-U-B-E-N/ Iwanna be your woman.” Girl, maybe it’s time to try Match.com. Justsayin’.

Most in need of a good life coach: After hearing his awesomeone-two-three punch of “Moody’s Mood for Love,” “Never Too Much,” and”Trouble,” who could deny that Elliott Yamin is the best singer on theentire Idol tour? Er, probably Elliott. Even after winning overmillions of fans en route to a third-place finish, the guy still looksvaguely skittish at center stage. It might help if he traded a solocareer for fronting a smooth jazz-R&B band — packed with playerswho could convince him just what a nuanced, mellifluous singer hereally is.

Most sincere: Believe it or not, queen of shtick KelliePickler sounded downright genuine thanking her fans for giving her achance at fulfilling her dreams. Let’s just hope said dreams haveshifted from singing to TV hosting.

Most puzzling: No doubt, Taylor Hicks has a fine voice. Andno doubt, he’s going to sell boatloads of records. (Hatas take note:The 40-year-old mom in the seat next to me screamed way harder forTaylor than her preteen daughter did for her favorites, Chris andAce). Still, this year’s champ offered up a set that was just slightlyunderwhelming. Perhaps he’s a little burned out from taking the lion’sshare of tour publicity, but after opening strong on “Jailhouse Rock”and Bob Seeger’s “Hollywood Nights,” he seemed oddly detached on “SweetSoul Music” and “Don’t Let Me Down.” And one final note: “What’s Goin’On” is not a light party jam.

Power of Suggestion alert (Part 1): Ace, struggling for air on the aforementioned quick-paced rocker, “Harder to Breathe.”

Power of Suggestion alert (Part 2): The audience going to a happy placeduring Bucky Covington’s “Drift Away.” Then again, I can’t say forcertain, as I was mentally compiling my grocery list by the end of thefirst verse.

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