The final competition of this season's "American Idol" was a lovefest, with Crystal Bowersox getting a big share of the affection Tuesday.
Bowersox sparkled in each of her three song performances, while competitor Lee DeWyze drew praise from the show's judges for his spirit and voice but fell short, they signaled, of living up to his potential.
The winner, based on viewer votes, will be announced on Wednesday's two-hour finale airing 8 p.m. EDT on Fox.
"You took that song and you absolutely nailed it," Simon Cowell said of Bowersox's rendition of "Black Velvet," a song he said he's normally "allergic" to because it gets murdered.
Before he could heap praise on the dreadlocked singer with the Janis Joplinesque voice for her final song, a soulful "Up to the Mountain," Bowersox jumped in with a comment for Cowell, who's leaving the top-rated series.
"You've been amazing this season," she said, thanking him for his criticism and help and, in a charming moment, wishing the highly paid record and TV producer good luck "on your future endeavors."
Cowell, known for his barbs and not for sentiment, kept his cool as he acknowledged the tribute.
"Since this is becoming a bit of a lovefest tonight, I thought that was by far the best performance and the song of the night," he told Bowersox. "And since this is going to be the final critique I'm ever gonna give, I would just like to say that was outstanding."
Kara DioGuardi told Bowersox, 24, of Toledo, Ohio, that she showed "fire in her belly" with her performance of Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee," and Ellen DeGeneres called her "compelling" on stage.
The assessments of DeWyze, also 24, of Mount Prospect, Ill., were respectful but more measured — with Ellen DeGeneres the exception.
"Lee, I couldn't be prouder if I birthed you myself," she told him after he sang Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer."
"You sounded nice doing it," Randy Jackson said the performance, but added, "But, c'mon, man, pick it up, pick it up ... Get some more energy going."
DioGuardi admired DeWyze as an "emotionally accessible" singer after he performed R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" as his second number, but Cowell urged him to try harder.
"When you come out for your last performance, I want a 10 out of, because you're capable of that," Cowell told him.
With U2's "Beautiful Day," Jackson welcomed hearing "the guy with the strong big rock voice" and DioGuardi said he had "one of the most commercial voices of the season" and deserved to be in the finale.
But Cowell, who had pointed to DeWyze as the frontrunner before the finale performances, seemed to damn with faint praise.
Noting that this was his last night of judging, Cowell said that "American Idol" was designed for someone like DeWyze, who worked in a paint shop when he tried out for the show and needed a break.
Telling DeWyze that he'd pushed himself hard but remained a nice person, Cowell added, "I genuinely wish the best for you. You're a great guy."
If DeWyze wins, his first single will be "Beautiful Day," while Bowersox will release "Up to the Mountain."
Host Ryan Seacrest, who appeared to have an on-air testy relationship with Cowell this season, had only warm words for him Tuesday.
"We really are going to miss you. You are a dear friend and we wouldn't be here without you," Seacrest said.
Cowell isn't going far: He's going to produce and judge "The X Factor," a Fox version of his popular British talent contest.
Fox is a unit of News Corp.
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