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'American Idol': Picking the next winner

‘American Idol’: Picking the next winner — How will Danny Gokey, Lil Rounds, and the rest of 2009’s ”American Idol” finalists fare?

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‘American Idol’: Picking the next winner

How will 2009’s American Idol finalists fare? Here are our bets on where each finalist will finish.

1. Danny Gokey, 28

He’s got the compelling backstory (a widower — and at such a young age!), the pipes (growly like David Cook’s, yet smooth enough to do justice to ”P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” by Michael Jackson), and the other kind of pipes (have you seen the size of those arms?). It’s a trusted formula that works, and a needed addition to the most cynical season in Idol’s history. Really, Simon, a top 13? —Henry Goldblatt

2. Adam Lambert, 27

Okay, the hair and sneers are problems. But Lambert’s Freddie Mercury-meets-Joe Jonas carriage — along with his passionate cover of ”Black or White” — is a thousand times more current than anything Michael or Scott brings to the stage. And as we recently learned from some leaked online photos, he makes a pretty lady. Might we suggest Idol‘s first-ever drag champ? —Nicholas Fonseca

3. Lil Rounds, 24

There’s no argument: Rounds is by far the best singer and the most dynamic performer in the bunch. Did Simon call anyone else’s semifinal debut ”brilliant”? Hardly. The Memphis mom is confident because she can be, unerringly hitting notes like Kelly and Fantasia did. So why are we still nervous? Because for every alleged sure thing, there’s a gone-too-soon Daughtry, Tamyra, or J. Hud. —Alynda Wheat

4. Kris Allen, 23

You can file Mr. Allen under ”Total Hottie.” He’s got favorable genes — that cute face, those pearly whites — that helped propel him into the top 13. Yet his Jason Mraz-inspired rendition of Michael Jackson’s ”Remember the Time” showed that his vocals are just as striking. Talent takes you far. But talent and beauty? Now, there’s a winning combo, especially on Idol. —Tanner Stransky

5. Alexis Grace, 21

True to her surname, the stay-at-home mom responded to the judges’ cringe-inducing advice (”Dirty yourself up!” and ”Go home and make love to your fiancé!”) with admirable grace. She threw her tiny self into Aretha Franklin’s giant ”I Never Loved a Man…,” then attacked Jacko’s ”Dirty Diana” with a sexy aggression that rocked the house — and kicked the whole good-girl stigma to the curb. For good. —Missy Schwartz

6. Allison Iraheta, 16

On Idol, teenage female contestants are usually a strategically placed sash away from their true callings as beauty-pageant hopefuls. But Iraheta detonates that stereotype with charmingly befuddled sound bites, fuchsia hair, and raw, emotional vocals. She made us forget that ”Alone” is Carrie Underwood’s Idol song, and stole the show with an obscure Michael Jackson track, thus earning our speed-dialing devotion. —Michael Slezak

7. Matt Giraud, 23

His bluesy rasp is what draws you in, but the Michigan man-boy knows the diff between controlled rawness and Taylor Hicksian excess. So he took a chance doing ”Viva La Vida” and got knocked for it — big deal. It’s called ambition. The guy radiates soulfulness, and commands respect with his range and decisiveness. —Ken Tucker

8. Michael Sarver, 27

We didn’t want to see a top 13 without the Southern dad, who has delivered down-home charm with his fun, twangy takes on Gavin DeGraw and Boyz II Men. And considering that Sarver has what he says is the fifth-most-dangerous job in the world — working on an oil rig — we bet he’ll handle future criticism from Cowell & Co. just fine. —Kate Ward

9. Scott MacIntyre, 23

His smile is humble. His hair the color of a cornfield. But enough about MacIntyre’s seeing-eye-stud brother. The singer’s got fierce talent too. With his tender version of Bruce Hornsby’s ”Mandolin Rain,” the legally blind singer proved much more than an inspiration. Now if only the Greatest American Hero look-alike could take some styling tips from little bro… —Jessica Shaw

10. Megan Joy Corkrey, 23

Her tattooed arm and swinging hips are as refreshing as her goofy description of KT Tunstall’s ”Black Horse & the Cherry Tree” as the ”jams-iest.” A hippie Carly Smithson, she’s clearly the apple of Simon’s eye. But it’s not just those blond locks and gorgeous eyes that are giving this mom an edge. —Lynette Rice

11. Anoop Desai, 22

It was kinda cute watching Desai try to act tough during ”My Prerogative” and ”Beat It” — gyrating with the mic stand and slapping his own chest. Up until then the most aggressive thing about Anoop Dogg had been his unwieldy eyebrows. I didn’t buy it, but I did enjoy watching the smooth soul singer fight for his American Idol life. And I’ll continue to vote for him — that’s my prerogative. —Dalton Ross

12. Jorge Nuñez, 21

Plenty of this year’s contestants have all but begged us to weep for them. But we remained dry-eyed until powerhouse Puerto Rican crooner Nuñez welled up as the judges heaped praise upon his (accent-free!) performance of ”Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” Suddenly we were reaching for the tissues — and, yes, even finding our jaded selves inspired by the prospects of the American dream. —Jennifer Armstrong

13. Jasmine Murray, 17

When the Mississippi teen chose the ballad ”Reflection” from Disney’s Mulan as her wild-card song, her appeal suddenly made all kinds of sense: She’s a Disney princess come to life! Just think about it — she’s got stunning yet wholesome looks and a calm yet tenacious bearing. Would you believe she even shares a name with the princess from Aladdin? And as we all well know, a Disney princess will never, ever be denied her crown. —Adam B. Vary