By Michael Slezak
Updated May 25, 2006 at 12:00 PM EDT

One of the great things about the just-wrapped fifth season of American Idol is that — unlike in previous years, where only two, maybe three finalists seemed likely to find post-show success on the Billboard charts — the current (and very deep) crop could yield as many as six or seven potential stars. This, of course, means fans of champ Taylor Hicks, runner-up Katharine McPhee, and also-rans Elliott Yamin, Chris Daughtry, Paris Bennett (and maybe even Mandisa and Kellie Pickler, though the latter seems more likely to be the next Kelly Ripa) can keep hopes alive that their favorites will prevail where it really counts — at the sales counter. Taylor’s the only one who’s guaranteed to go platinum, considering all four prior winners did the same, but trying to determine if the other contestants will emulate Clay Aiken or Jasmine Trias is about as tricky as translating a Paula Abdul critique. Not that it’s going to stop me from predicting my top three candidates for long-term music success (sorry, Princess P!):

3. Chris Daughtry: No doubt, the bald-headed dude’s humungous charisma and flawless vocals are going to land him a major-label contract, but his Achilles’ heel, a sometimes questionable taste in music, prevents me from putting him atop this list. Sure, his ”Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” and ”The Letter” were awesome, but those covers of Creed and Shinedown felt a wee bit 2001, no?

2. Taylor Hicks: The anti-Soul Patrol troops say his gray hair and goofy persona will doom him to flash-in-the-pan status. But I say folks who are disenfranchised with today’s shallow, videogenic output are gonna storm their record stores — as long as Taylor doesn’t get saddled down with too many drippy inspirational ballads. Case in point: Last weekend, my brother, who doesn’t own a CD recorded prior to 1975, heard Taylor’s ”Takin It to the Streets” on my Idol Encores CD, and said, ”How come you’re playing a good song?”

1. Elliott Yamin: Much to my delight, I’ve heard fewer and fewer derogatory remarks (and increasingly more raves) about Elliott’s looks with each passing week of the Idol competition. But whether or not the guy submits to the dentist’s chair, who cares? His voice is amazing, and if he taps into the confidence he showed during last night’s results show (and Mary J. Blige duet, pictured), he could bridge a massive market spanning from Michael Bublé to John Legend. A quick listen to Elliott’s ”A Song for You” tells the story: The boy’s a hottie, and soon enough, he’ll have the sales to prove it.

Okay, PopWatchers, you’ve got my post-Idol predictions. Who do you think will be the top three sellers from season 5?

addCredit(“Elliott Yamin and Mary J. Blige: Ray Mickshaw/”)