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VALLEY'S FAVORITE WARBLER STOPS IN.

Byline: DANA BARTHOLOMEW Staff Writer

SHERMAN OAKS -- She's ``McPhine.'' She's ``McPheerless.'' And now now she's the official L.A. ``McPhavorite'' for top ``American Idol.''

Katharine McPhee, a top-three finalist for America's favorite talent show, received a hero's welcome Friday at Notre Dame High School, her alma mater.

``It's getting hotter, hotter, hotter,'' screamed Notre Dame Vice President Rob Thomas to a thousand cheering students as the crooning diva crawled from her limo outside.

``We've got McPheever!''

With Fox TV cameras filming a segment for next Tuesday's ``Idol'' elimination episode, the 21-year-old Sherman Oaks resident sashayed into the Notre Dame gym for a full-volume victory rally.

Katharine McPhee -- the heart-faced brunette whose Broadway-like voice beat out 21 amateur a capella singers.

Katharine McPhee -- the last female contestant whose statuesque frame dazzled millions.

Katharine McPhee -- the proud Los Angeles actress who refused to wither when Simon said she should go.

``Who do I think should go?'' said bad Brit Simon Cowell during Wednesday's show before the stunning departure of rocker Chris Daughtry. ``Katharine.''

But over and over Friday, the name Katharine McPhee reverberated for an hour through the gym as the Class of 2002 grad and student body vice president was feted for America's fave.

Sousaphones roared. Cheerleaders rocked. And students and teachers young and old yelled ``Goooooo, Katharine, make us proud!''

And McPhee, alone in the middle of the auditorium, took it like a homecoming queen.

``I'm more nervous now than in the show,'' she said, preparing to sing ``God Bless the Child,'' her ``Idol'' audition winner. ``It's almost toward the end -- and I'm going to come full circle.''

Her family beamed.

And as the former singing toddler waded into the bleachers to high-five teachers and students, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilwoman Wendy Greuel appeared for an official city welcome.

Friday, they proclaimed, would forever and officially be known as Katharine McPhee Day.

``We are so proud,'' said Villaraigosa, wielding a 2-foot proclamation during multiple takes for Fox TV highlights. ``We're so excited. ... We're looking forward to hearing you sing your heart out -- our star.''

``It's official,'' said McPhee. ``You make me feel like a winner, no matter what happens.''

The former varsity swimmer and Notre Dame thespian then followed the throng outside to greet dozens of children at the Notre Dame gate.

``It couldn't get much better than this,'' Katharine's father, Dan McPhee, told his wife, Peisha, afterward.

``She's my idol,'' said Christine Nguyen, 17, of North Hollywood. ``I want to be her in every way. I want to be McPheed.''

``I always get quivers -- the chills -- when she sings,'' added Jacqueline Hodaly, 17, of Sherman Oaks.

``She rocks,'' said Nairi Tahmizyan, 9, of Sherman Oaks, who'd waited for the star next to a placard that read, ``Katharine McPhee, she's the Kat's Meow.''

But it was the speechless 8-year-old Britta Good, who had dreamily waited for McPhee to autograph a photo, that defined her idol's homecoming.

In her eyes shone little stars.

dana.bartholomew(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3730

CAPTION(S):

6 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Notre Dame High School students surround ``American Idol'' finalist Katharine McPhee as she sings in the stands during an assembly at her alma mater Friday afternoon.

(2) ``American Idol'' finalist Katharine McPhee reacts to the welcome she received at Notre Dame High School on Friday as part of a segment for next Tuesday's airing of the Fox show.

(3 -- 4) Above, Katharine McPhee, one of three contestants still in the running on Fox's ``American Idol,'' signs autographs Friday afternoon at Notre Dame High School, where she was welcomed with cheers and signs by the Sherman Oaks high school's students, below.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

(5 -- 6 -- color) Far left, ``American Idol'' contestant Taylor Hicks performs at Lynn Park during his return home to Birmingham, Ala., on Friday. Left, the show's third remaining performer, Elliott Yamin, acknowledges a crowd of about 4,000 fans at the James Center in Richmond, Va., where he performed Friday. The ultimate winner of the popular Fox talent contest will be announced May 24.

Butch Dill/Associated Press

James Wallace/Associated Press
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 13, 2006
Words:682
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