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''Idol'': Ranking the top 16

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American Idol

”Idol”: Ranking the top 16

1. David Archuleta
The American Idol equivalent of a newborn puppy has some fans wondering if season 7 is all wrapped up after his soaring rendition of ”Imagine” left Paula in tears and the audience in screaming rapture. Still, it’s not advantageous to peak too soon in the competition — just ask Melinda Doolittle. (Last week’s Power Ranking: No. 1)

2. Jason Castro
Granted, the sweetly befuddled dude fumbled the big note on his cover of ”I Just Want to Be Your Everything,” but why didn’t the judges give him credit for reinventing Andy Gibb’s disco-era nugget into a folksy delight? Not a big ”vocalist” like Idol winners past, but is that necessarily a bad thing? (Last week: No. 2)

3. Carly Smithson
Neutralized bad buzz about her failed 2001 major-label debut with a McGenius interview package showing her pouring a pint of Guinness at her day job. Better still, Irish-born lass nailed the week’s biggest song — Heart’s ”Crazy on You” — with awesome vocal control while her female competitors sputtered badly. (Last week: No. 7)

4. David Hernandez
Showcased a strong set of pipes for the second straight week, but unlike his ho-hum, first-round cover of ”In the Midnight Hour,” his week 2 take on ”Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” was soulful, sexy, and confident. Hasn’t generated scads of buzz so far, but you know the old expression about ”slow and steady.” (Last week: No. 12)

5. Asia’h Epperson
Insanely gorgeous teenager has star quality in spades — she even shines during those heinous group performances — but was her disastrous cover of ”All by Myself” (complete with screeching high notes and disappearing lower register) a one-week blip, or the start of a momentum meltdown? (Last week: No. 3)

6. Ramiele Malubay
Technically solid on ”You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” and ”Don’t Leave Me This Way,” but needs an infusion of passion and originality. Ramiele couldn’t match respective Idol covers by Nadia Turner and La Toya London, to say nothing of the Dusty Springfield and Thelma Houston renditions. Week 3 will be crucial. (Last week: No. 6)

7. David Cook
Self-proclaimed ”word nerd” proved Idol rockers need not be grimly serious with a rollicking, super-fun version of ”All Right Now” that was far less pitchy than his previous cover of ”Happy Together.” Still, he should’ve kept quiet when Simon questioned his charisma level, especially since the British judge had a point. (Last week: No. 15)

8. Michael Johns
Audition-round front-runner has seemed less exciting with each live performance. He repeated his Hollywood-week song choice, the Doors’ ”Light My Fire,” to start the semifinals, then struggled with the upper register of Fleetwood Mac’s ”Go Your Own Way.” Might not be as talented as he is good-looking. (Last week: No. 5)

NEXT: Nos. 9-16, and your chance to vote for your favorite

9. Brooke White
The G-rated nanny’s tuneful albeit uninventive take on Carly Simon’s ”You’re So Vain” solidified her standing as season 7’s folkie, making her one of the few contenders who knows her vibe — and sticks to it. Still, merely offering nice carbon copies of beloved hits never won anyone the Idol crown. (Last week: No. 14)

10. Danny Noriega
Snap-tastic teenager admitted Simon was right(-”ish”) about his week 1 ”Jailhouse Rock” being a showy disaster, and his follow-up on the Carpenters’ ”Superstar” was far more subdued (although a tad dull). Lacks the big-stage experience of this season’s early leaders, but he’s a quick study — and an intriguing underdog. (Last week: No. 13)

11. Syesha Mercado
Her week 2 cover of ”Me and Mrs. Jones” (substituting “Mr.” in the lyric) exposed her problems staying on pitch when she’s not full-throttle belting, and that interview package about her work in Miami-area ad campaigns suggested she might have a brighter future in acting. She’s got talent, but does she have enough to inspire Idol voters? (Last week: No. 11)

12. Kristy Lee Cook
Does a mean ”Amazing Grace,” but her semifinal performances of ”Rescue Me” and ”You’re No Good” were about as exciting as a bowl of cold oatmeal, and that bizarre, wide-legged stance of hers is uncomfortably reminiscent of Larry Craig. Still, never underestimate the voter appeal of a pretty face and a low-cut V-neck. (Last week: No. 19)

13. Chikezie
In what had to be the week’s weirdest interview package, the uni-monikered contestant admitted he’s given up trying to get people to pronounce his name correctly. And while his ”I Believe to My Soul” was far more in tune than week 1’s ”More Today Than Yesterday,” does anyone look at this dude and see a superstar? (Last week: No. 18)

14. Amanda Overmyer
The emperor may not have been naked on Wednesday, but her shellacked skunk hair and swirly, dated jeans (stolen, perhaps, from Lita Ford’s wardrobe in 1988) were nonetheless jaw-dropping. Even worse, Amanda’s screeching abomination of a Kansas cover confirmed her fans’ worst fears: Girlfriend’s not much of a singer. (Last week: No. 4)

15. Luke Menard
His ”Everybody’s Talkin”’ was a snoozer, while his ”Killer Queen” was frenetic, but one thing about the Orlando Bloom-Matthew Fox look-alike’s performances has been a constant: His thin, nasal instrument has proven to be a rather unpleasant distraction from his handsome visage. He can’t really crack the top 12, can he? (Last week: No. 17)

16. Kady Malloy
Perhaps she should sing ”Whipping Post” for her third semifinal number, considering how brutal the judges were following her performances of ”Groovy Kind of Love” and ”Magic Man.” It’s not a good sign that her best moments so far have involved her killer Britney Spears impersonation. Maybe it’s time to trot out the Shakira or the Cher? (Last week: No. 16)

NEXT: Vote for your favorite singer so far

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