In one corner, there's over-the-top Adam Lambert, the dominating presence who transformed Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" into a sitar-infused spectacle and tackled "Whole Lotta Love," the first-ever Led Zeppelin tune performed on Fox's "Idol." From the outset, he's been the ambiguous rocker next door, most comfortable - but not scary - in eyeliner and studded leather.
Then, there's Kris Allen, always at home in jeans with his guitar. The only fashion risk he's taken is that smidge of blue nail polish spotted on his thumb during a visit home to Conway, Ark. Allen garnered the most praise with his daring song choices, like singing "Falling Slowly" from indie musical "Once" and reinventing Kanye West's robotic "Heartless" as a wistful singer-songwriter joint.
"Kris' appeal is that he has an honesty and a sincerity when he performs, and that he has never tried to change who he is," said judge Kara DioGuardi. "He's like a steady ship in the night. He never changes his clothes because everybody else around him is. He never does a song in a way that is sort of overcooked because everyone else around him is."
The mixture of Allen's subtly and Lambert's showiness - only to be broken up with a performance by fourth-season champ Carrie Underwood - will likely make for a kookier-than-usual show Tuesday, especially considering that Allen's slot in the final two has been perceived as a come-from-behind victory for the 23-year-old college student.
"It's going to be a strange and interesting juxtaposition on Tuesday night," said Michael Slezak, who blogs about "Idol" for Entertainment Weekly magazine's Web site. "Kris and Adam are so different. Calling them apples and oranges doesn't go far enough. They're almost from different planets. It's like comparing a root vegetable to a sea creature."
If there's anything they have in common, it's consistency.
The only time the men were in the show's dreaded group of bottom-three vote-getters was after their Rat Pack-themed performances, yet Lambert has long been considered the front-runner. After host Ryan Seacrest revealed last week that only 1 million votes separated Allen from the 27-year-old theater actor, the competition could be closer than expected.
"These guys have been doing a great job already, so I don't have much to tell them except to be true to themselves and really engage the home viewers through the cameras," advises sixth season runner-up Blake Lewis. "As far as finale week goes, they just need to stay focused and try to balance themselves through the chaos. It's really stressful."
The winner's fate may lie in the dialing fingers of the fans who had been supporting Milwaukee church music director Danny Gokey - and keeping him out of the bottom three until his dismissal last week. DioGuardi believes that Tuesday's episode "will be about forming a connection with the audience, and it's really about who's gonna get those Danny votes."
Still, most imagine the "Idol" title is Lambert's for the taking.
"I think this is going to be a walk in the park for Adam," said Rickey Yaneza, who blogs about "Idol" at Rickey.org. "Judging from the traffic on my site, everyone is more interested in Adam. Kris simply can't compete with Adam's vocal calisthenics. Kris just has to be himself. Wow. That sounds like something Paula Abdul would say, doesn't it?"
AP Entertainment Writer Erin Carlson in New York contributed to this report.
By Derrik J. Lang