Barry Manilow's threatening to step away from the spotlight, and stay there.

"I'm going to miss this," Manilow told the disbelieving crowd at MCI Center, where a tour he has billed "One Last Time" stopped Thursday. He has wanted to give up the road for years, he added.

Time and CD sales will tell if it's really over for Manilow, 58, a romantic androgyne whose melodic gifts have brightened billions of elevator rides. His voice isn't as smooth or rangy as it once was, and his rough and occasionally out-of-tune readings of such goofy brilliance as "It's a Miracle" and "Somewhere in the Night" early in the 21/2-hour glitterfest indicated quitting might be for the best. But Manilow, performing in the round and mostly alone while his orchestra stayed hidden offstage, warmed up in time for such old standards as "Mandy" and "Could It Be Magic." His confidence was such that by "Somewhere Down the Road" he sang the last verse a cappella, and nailed every sappy note. For at least a minute, it was quiet enough inside the semi-packed house to hear a jaw drop.

As if to add proof that "last" in fact means last, Manilow has begun grooming a successor: "This is what Clay Aiken is going to look like in 30 years," he said.

Manilow confessed both guilt and pride for having put his Julliard training to use writing advertising jingles to get his start in show business. Manilow, re-creating a bit he said he delivered in 1974 at the legendary Cellar Door in Georgetown, performed snippets of some of the jingles that even then were part of our nation's commercial fabric: "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!" and "I'm stuck on Band-Aid, 'cuz Band-Aid's stuck on me!" among them. Manilow insisted, however, that he was never a total sellout, and said that after some soul-searching he declined a feminine hygiene company's request for a jingle. "Besides, nothing rhymes with douche," he said with an embarrassed chuckle.

Manilow's rapport with his fans remains wondrous. He asked a woman named Lynette to sing with him on "Can't Smile Without You," a routine he has used for decades. On this night, the request inspired the sort of joy rarely seen away from the set of "The Price Is Right." Clay Aiken, come on down!

-- Dave McKenna