The top 24 contestants of American Idol‘s seventh season are off and running — even though four of them are basically trapped in the starting gate. In typical inexplicable fashion, the show’s producers managed to get through four looong weeks of auditions and three whole hours of Hollywood Week without letting us hear a single note from Jason ”Dreadlocks” Castro, Luke ”Stubbly” Menard, Garrett ”Shaggy” Haley, and Jason ”Blond Patch” Yeager. Might I suggest that if none of these dudes crack the top 12, they form a vocal quartet and call themselves Cannon Fodder?
Seriously, though, while I hate to write off these guys before they’ve had a chance to make an impression beyond their controversial grooming choices, it’s worth noting that out of last year’s top 12, 11th-place finisher Stephanie Edwards was the only one who hadn’t scored significant screen time prior to the semifinals. In other words, while we’ve now reached the ”power to the people!” portion of the competition, Nigel Lythgoe and his minions have already stuffed the ballot box.
On the other hand, it’s not over till the confetti rains down from the Kodak ceiling onto the head of a misty-eyed vocalist singing about dreams coming true, parental pride, belief in a higher power, true love, or, preferably, all of the above. Season 6 champ Jordin Sparks, after all, wasn’t considered a serious front-runner till at least a week or two into the finals, when she mesmerized the judges with a ballad from A Land Before Time. (Forgive my digression, but I write this while listening to a repeat loop of LaKisha Jones’ ”This Ain’t a Love Song” and Melinda Doolittle’s ”Have a Nice Day.” Bon Jovi night, what hast thou wrought?)
So how, at this early point in the competition, does one separate the Carrie Underwoods and Bo Bices from the Joseph Murenas and Janay Castines? (Click here to watch Janay hilariously redefine the phrase ”deer in the headlights.”) This season, it’s going to be harder than ever. For starters, the talent pool appears to be as deep as it is even. And second, no contestant has achieved an early breakout moment on the level of, say, Chris Sligh and Blake Lewis’ mesmerizing Hollywood Week group performance of ”How Deep Is Your Love.”
Not that any of that is going to stop me from diving into the murky season 7 waters and making some bold guesses about which singers will make the final 12. (I hope you’ll do the same on the message boards as well.) So without further ado, let’s start with…
The Sure Things Make no mistake: As someone who thinks the minimum age requirement for Idol contestants should be raised to 18, I’m not (yet) on the David Archuleta bandwagon. But if you’re willing to admit the kid has already proven he’s a better vocalist than previous finalists Sanjaya Malakar, Kevin Covais, and John Stevens (adorable moppets all of ’em), it’s hard to imagine an Archuleta-free finals. Hey, don’t forget that Alvin and the Chipmunks raked in over $200 million at the U.S. box office; cute and cuddly goes a long way in this country. As do big biceps paired with Australian accents (see Jackman, Hugh; Urban, Keith), which is why Michael Johns is an inevitable finalist too, even if I didn’t find his ”Bohemian Rhapsody” quite as rapturous as the judges.
On the ladies’ side, I’m betting on the A team of Amanda Overmyer and Asia’h Epperson. The former’s understated response when the judges sent her to the top 24 — ”I appreciate it” — was a refreshing change of pace from the parade of sobs we endured all evening, and although Simon was right in calling for more ”light and shade” in the rock & roll nurse’s performances, I can’t wait to hear her wrap her rasp around a show tune or a country ditty. Asia’h, meanwhile, won me over tonight with the standing O’s she gave to her fellow contestants as they emerged triumphant from the Elevator of Doom. (Calculated? Perhaps. Sweet? Undoubtedly.) Plus, any songbird who serves up Rose Royce’s ”I’m Going Down” instead of another overcooked Celine-Whitney soufflé is someone worth having in the competition. Yet while I’m willing to stake my reputation on Little David, Michael, Amanda, and Asia’h, all four are going to have to be in peak form if they want to keep ahead of…
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