Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks each performed three songs in last night's "American Idol" sing-off, staged in front of more than 3,000 fans at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, Calif.

Katharine McPhee and Taylor Hicks each performed three songs in last night's "American Idol" sing-off, staged in front of more than 3,000 fans at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, Calif.

In the final showdown between ashen-haired Hicks and sultry McPhee, the "American Idol" winner was clear to one person: Simon Cowell.

"Assuming that I was right--the show was tied--then you have just won 'American Idol,'" the tart-tongued "Idol" judge told Hicks following his last performance. After the show, Hicks told The Associated Press in response to Cowell's comment: "I just hope that people don't get complacent."

At the show's start, Cowell offered the singers typically sugar-free advice: "I would suggest that the contestants pray that the other one forget the words."

In the first round, McPhee, 22, opened with a rendition of "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree." Cowell called it "good with a small 'g'." Hicks wore a purple velvet jacket--"arguably the worst jacket I've ever seen in my life," Cowell sniped--for his first number, a cover of Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City." Cowell handed his vote to Hicks: "It was a great way to start ... Round one to you."

Round two was a reverse of the first. McPhee's rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," drew praise from judges — and tears from her father, Daniel. "You worked it out again--that was hot!" judge Randy Jackson gushed.

Hicks sang Elton John's "Levon" to mixed reviews. "I think Kat has taken the second round," Cowell commented.

The final round had McPhee and Hicks debuting new singles. McPhee, wearing a silky blue dress, performed a pop ballad, "My Destiny." Jackson praised her but derided the song choice as "average." "I would say to everyone who wants to vote for Kat, vote and remember the second song," Cowell reminded viewers.

Then Hicks performed "Do I Make You Proud?" and Cowell declared the 29-year-old Alabama native the winner. "My vision as an artist is to inject as much soul as I can into popular music," Hicks told the AP later.

McPhee, looking calm and pretty in a flowered top and bare feet, told the AP backstage after the show that she was "totally at peace with whatever the outcome." "But onstage I also thought, 'Never underestimate the power of my fans,'" she continued.

Even though Cowell chose Hicks as the winner, the audience was split. Fans held signs saying "Hicks, Hometown Hero" and "We Got the McPheever." Scarlet Swall traveled from Kansas City to attend her third "Idol" finale and considers Hicks "brilliant." "It's kind of my birthday gift being here at the Kodak," the 65-year-old Swall said. "It's so exciting. Back in Kansas City, we have neighborhood parties up to the finals."

McPhee fan Tess Kleinhammes was upset at Cowell's statement. "I didn't think that was fair at all," said the 13-year-old, who had flashed a sparkly sign in support of McPhee. "I think Katharine is better than Taylor. She's one of my role models."

When told about Tess' support of her, McPhee said, "I love being a role model. It's still a man's world in society." Her advice: "Girls should keep working on themselves." Which, she said, she's done herself. "I've been through many therapy sessions ... It's an ongoing struggle to work on myself."

It was a party atmosphere at the Kodak Theater from the moment the fans started arriving. Los Angeles resident Steven Ahn, 47, came out with his daughter, 8-year-old Kirsten and her best friend Maggie. Asked who they wanted to win, they chimed in: "Katharine! Because she's a good singer!"

"Yeah," they continued. "We want to grow up to be like her."

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