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'American Idol': Who exactly IS the frontrunner?

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American Idol
Michael Becker/Fox(4); Frank Micelotta/Fox/Pictur

The most exciting development to come out of this week’s American Idol? No, not Naima’s pants. Or Casey’s save. Or even Paul’s sensual back massage for Ryan. Nope — it’s that for the first time in Idol history, it’s clear there is no obvious frontrunner. Think about it: Back in season 1, before she was unceremoniously booted far too soon, Tamyra Gray appeared unstoppable. In season 2, Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard jockeyed for frontrunner status throughout the entire season. In season 3, Fantasia rode her audition-day success all the way to the finish. Same with Carrie Underwood in season 4. In season 5, Daughtry rocked Idol voters’ hearts before having to settle for finishing fourth. In season 6, Melinda Doolittle appeared to have the win in the bag before Jordin Sparks found momentum with “I (Who Have Nothing)” on British Invasion night. Season 7 was all about the battle of the Davids. Fans had a “Whole Lotta Love” for Adam Lambert as soon as we heard him sing the first few bars of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” (Are we almost done yet? No? There was a season 9? Can’t we just consider that the 13th Floor of Idol and claim it didn’t exist? No? Then fine.) And, finally, Crystal Bowersox strummed her way into our hearts before eventually losing to Lee DeWyze.

But though many of us had crowned Casey Abrams as Idol‘s season 10 champ before seeing the Top 13 perform, his frontrunner status has gotten quite a bit murkier in the past three weeks. Casey severely misstepped with “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and has never quite returned to the groovy, jazzy guy who had us spellbound during “Georgia On My Mind.” (And after Thursday’s Top 11 results show, things are definitely looking cloudier for Casey.) Lauren Alaina was considered this season’s young, freakish hybrid of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood — but has yet to show us whether or not she could make it on the Billboard charts. Pia Toscano has proved her chops as a flawless vocalist — with beauty queen looks — but hasn’t amped up her polite, mellow personality, which could be her downfall in the often personality-driven competition that usually rejects, well, beauty queen looks. Scotty McCreery has attracted the hearts of hormonal teens (and many of their parents), but how soon until the smirk ‘n’ twang becomes tired? James Durbin has the personality and stage presence to take the prize, but his vocal inconsistency on “Living For the City” makes the title seem far out of reach. Paul McDonald has the unique, recording-ready voice, but, sadly for Paul, “unique” is an acquired taste for Idol voters. Stefano Langone is lucky to have bagged the underdog status, but it seems inevitable that this nice guy who’s a tad out of his league will soon be thrown out of Randy Jackson dawg pound. And Jacob charmed audiences last night with his hug-worthy “You’re All I Need to Get By” — but was it enough to help us forget two previous performances so out of tune, it had many of us reaching for the mute button?

Essentially, only one thing is clear when it comes to Idol‘s season 10 contestants: The folks who won’t win. (You can all spread the money from my entire bank account equally if Naima Adedapo, Thia Megia, or Haley Reinhart bag the crown.)

So the ultimate question, PopWatchers: Who the heck is season 10’s frontrunner? (And how exciting that there might not be one!)

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