Bidding to become the first woman to run the euro zone's second largest economy, Royal avoided gaffes that had plagued earlier campaigning and portrayed herself as the only candidate capable of bringing real change to France.
"Royal catches up with her oral exam" the left-wing newspaper Liberation headlined its front page on Tuesday, noting in an editorial that she had reverted to the white jacket she had often worn on her successful primary campaign.
"Royal carried it off perfectly. However, it's not clear that a well-regulated television show is enough to renew a weakened link with the French people."
The Est Republicain regional daily said in an editorial that Royal appeared to have performed well when answering questions from a 100-strong audience picked by a polling organisation to be representative of the French people.
"But was her performance enough to relaunch her [electoral] machine?" it asked.
"For supporters she was convincing, precise, combative, persuasive. For rivals, there was no miracle. The cracks in the Socialist campaign have not been repaired."
Mariette Sineau, a political scientist, said Royal had used the two-hour trial by question to show her compassionate side.
"She was at ease. She spoke directly to the French, and she was empathetic," Sineau said of the show in which Royal comforted a wheelchair-bound man who broke down in tears.
There was no mention of the European Central Bank's rates policy although Royal and others say the strong euro is hurting the economy.
Monday's debate was seen as a make-or-break moment for Royal after she failed to ignite her campaign with her policy manifesto launch 9 days ago.
An Ipsos survey gave her just 23 per cent in April 22's first round, with centrist Francois Bayrou closing in on 16 per cent.
Disenchanted Socialist voters appear to be switching to Bayrou, attracted by his call for a national-unity government and suggestions he could name a left-winger as prime minister.
An Ifop survey showed Bayrou would beat either Sarkozy or Royal if he made it into the decisive second round.