By Michael Slezak
Updated July 19, 2006 at 08:22 PM EDT
Credit: McPhee & Hicks: Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

Reading about the upcoming CD release dates for various American Idol alumni, I can’t help but envision a batch of baby sea turtles hatching on the beach, then scrambling toward the ocean to avoid being devoured by a cadre of gulls, raccoons, and other predators. Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks (pictured, at right), runner-up Katharine McPhee (at left), and sixth-place finisher Kellie Pickler all have discs hitting stores Nov. 14, preceded by season 3 champ Fantasia Barrino (Oct. 17), season 2 victor Ruben Studdard (Sept. 26), season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken (Sept. 19), and season 4 dropout Mario Vazquez (Sept. 12). Sure, each of the seven has fans, but bottom line: Not all of ’em are gonna make it.

I’m going out on a limb and predicting the biggest sales for Fantasia (with Mr. Hicks close on her heels). Not only did her debut disc, Free Yourself, sell a very solid 1.7 million copies and launch a couple of killer singles in the title track and ”Truth Is,” but it’s a safe bet she’ll be less under the thumb of the Idol machine for her followup. (Remember: Kelly Clarkson didn’t hit her stride till her sophomore disc, either.) With collaborators like Aretha Franklin, Kanye West, Missy Elliot, and Ne-Yo already lined up, ‘Tasia may well have the R&B version of Breakaway on her hands — especially considering she’s got one of the best instruments in the business. (Doubters, get converted by clicking here…that is, if you can handle it.)

As for the inevitable Idol flops, my money’s on McPhee and Vazquez. The former isn’t winning over any new fans with her illness-related absence from the current American Idol tour, and, well, readers of this blog know I’ve never been a fan of her voice, so why start now? Vazquez, meanwhile, already has his first single, ”Gallery,” at radio (click here to listen), and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a whiny mess. What happened to the funky dude whose vocals delighted on ”I Love Music” and ”Do I Do”? (And what, no jaunty cap?)

Anyway, that’s my take, but I know there’s got to be some differing opinions in the PopWatch crowd — and among Claymates as well (quick! alert Mr. Aiken’s yahoogroup immediately!). So tell me, which Idol grads do you think will top the charts, and which will be relegated to the bargain bin? More importantly, why on earth do all these artists’ respective labels think it’s a good idea to release them on top of one another? And finally, should Clay trim those wayward locks of his, or is the shaggy k.d. lang look on the brink of a comeback?

addCredit(“McPhee & Hicks: Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images”)