For the first time since Season 1, American Idol has restrained itself. “Wildcards be damn’d!” Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe said this season, we’re having a round Top 10 with the most talented 5 guys and 5 girls we can get and, for once, I’m basically in agreement with the ten they chose. That being said, the Wednesday show may hold a few surprises with the 6th guy and 6th girl singing for a spot on the summer tour. Who knows what will go down and whether the 11th individual will also be added to the finals? We’ll see I guess.
That being said, the women are, without a doubt, the stronger sex this season, but after 5 seasons of white, male winners who play guitar in a row (so dubbed the White Guy With Guitar/WGWG phenomenon), it might be about time a woman took it. But I’d like to make it clear that I’m not anti-guy on these shows. I have liked or loved 4 of the last 5 winners and my favorite during that 5th season was a white male with a guitar so, maybe I’m the culprit.
But whether or not a guy will win again depends on the weeks to come, but here’s my take, so far, on their odds to take the title after everything we’ve seen, from the auditions to Hollywood week, to the Top 40 Vegas performances and Top 20 semi-finals performances this week that the public finally got to vote on. Good job America on the voting, by the way.
I’ll also include two songs I hope they sing next week: The Safe & Predictable Choice and The Bolder Choice. The theme is “Songs Previous Winners Have Sung On The Show & Released After The Show” (minus their Idol single) so it should be interesting to see if they can out do the original.
10. Amber Holcomb – I’m not putting this girl last for a lack of talent. I am entirely convinced that this girl can sing after tackling two big songs (My Funny Valentine and I Believe In You & Me) in the first weeks of full, televised performances and she seems very humble and sweet, which has warmed me to her easily. The biggest obstacle facing her as the contestants take the big stage next week is her lack of screen time. She seems like a sweet girl, but unlike other contestants, she probably can’t afford to make a mistake and hope her backstory or strong fanbase will carry her through. I think, at this point, she has some tough competition and only the casual voter (i.e. the person who watches and votes based on who did well that night) is giving her that extra boost to stay afloat. That being said, I wish her the best of luck, because of our five amazing girls, she’s the dark horse.
Predictable: A House Is Not A Home (Luther Vandross, sung by Ruben Studdard in Season 2 ). It’s a gorgeous song and other black women have sung it on the show, and well, so I don’t doubt that Amber could deliver on this one. But she’d really have to take it home to capture people’s attention.
Bolder: If she’s wants to tackle an uptempo song for once: Battlefield (by Jordin Sparks). It would let her inject a bit of life into the performance, while still singing instead of just shouting into the microphone. I really think she could pull this off.
9. Paul Jolley – Some Idol aficionados are probably looking at me right now like I’m crazy for putting the good looking white male pop-country guy at number 9 when Idol’s track record over the last few seasons would suggest that this will be exactly the kind of winner the voters will pick if the producers don’t get their way this season. That’s why I think this guy will have the biggest target on his back going into the Top 10. Even Keith Urban, the country guy on the panel, hasn’t fully bought into Paul’s choice of genre and that’s not a good thing, coming from the expert on the panel, who the country voters will listen to. What Paul has going for him is that he has an amazing control of his voice and seems really humble, but what he has working against him is that he’s rumoured to be gay and the Idol voters, while recognizing the talent of gay men, have never let one win (see: Lambert, Adam. Aiken, Clay).
Predictable: Bless The Broken Road (by Rascal Flatts, as sung by Carrie Underwood in Season 4). The judges have compared his tone to Rascal Flatts and this is the perfect opportunity for him to really sell that pop-country genre that he claims is his and get Keith (and that fanbase) on his side once and for all.
Bolder: The Truth (by Kris Allen), mostly because I don’t think it would hurt him to show a bit of a grittier side to his voice. This song’s got a lot of good moments for him to show off his range and it would appeal to the people who have been voting for these WGWG’s all these years.
8. Devin Velez – Like Amber, there’s a Catch-22 to this guy: He’s got, arguably, the clearest tone of any of the men this season and the secret weapon of an inextricable ability to seamless transition to Spanish when he sings and it really works for him. There are problems with this though: the Spanish may put-off a lot of middle America when it comes to voting time. It helps to have Keith Urban on his side reassuring the “Red States” that it’s a great thing, but I’m still not convinced they’ll buy into it completely. That being said, Devin is one of the most likeable contestants and one whose selection for the Top 10 actually had me a little misty eyed, even before his mother came on stage screaming to hug him. If he can make sure that he picks songs that prove he’s a viable artist in the market, we could have a contender on the men’s side of the equation, but for now, I’m skeptical that his talent is enough.
Predictable: Smile (by Nat King Cole, as covered by Ruben Studdardin Season 2). It got that emotional connection and it’s a ballad that’s easy to translate to Spanish, and that’s his thing. The judges told him to stick with it… but, like I said, is that his best bet?
Bolder: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (Roberta Flack, as covered by David Cook in Season 7). This would really give him a quiet moment to show what he’s really capable of and it’s an easy enough song to translate into Spanish and really give it that tenderness.
7. Burnell Taylor – I might be underestimating Burnell, but so far he’s shown that he has this amazing John Legendesque tone and that he isn’t just a karaoke version of him (sidenote: He needs to tone down the overdramatic handgestures). But what worries me is how he’ll fair in the song selection department. His tone is very unique, so it might not adapt to different theme weeks the same way past Idol Winners’ have. Burnell’s got an adorable, geeky character going on, but I’m still not convinced that he’s the versatile kind of contestant that can win this competition, or at least take it out of the hands of a less versatile white guy with a guitar in his hands.
Predictable: Summertime (From Porgy & Bess, as covered by Fantasia in Season 3). While this is a great song, there’s no way Burnell is going to outdo Fantasia’s version which is, arguably one of the best performances in Idol history. That being said, it is the perfect song for his tone).
Bolder: U Got It Bad (by Usher, as covered by Phillip Phillips in Season 11). While, yes, it was covered recently, but I think Burnell could put a different spin on it and show his personality while still singing well.
6. Janelle Arthur – Blonde country female? She should be a lock for a few weeks of safety, but the reason she ranks the second lowest of all the girls on this list is because she’s yet to prove that she can choose a really great song for her voice. The judges have compared her to Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline, which is a great thing, but then she picks songs by Elvis and Lady Antebellum which just go nowhere. She needs a song that goes somewhere, if she hopes to go somewhere and compete with the other women in this competition, because as much as the country fanbase will carry you through some pretty bad performances, I don’t think the judges will want a less magnetic version of Carrie Underwood.
Predictable: A Broken Wing (by Martina McBride as covered by Jordin Sparks in Season 6). It’s a great country song with a chance to vocally soar and will appeal right to her fanbase.
Bolder: Since she said she wanted to avoid the Carrie comparisons, better go with You’re Still The One (by Shania Twain as covered by Lee DeWyze in Season 9). This is still pretty predictable, but I think it’s a more subdued, sweeter moment that could show that she isn’t trying to be a bigger singer than she is. If she recognizes her strengths and plays to them, she’ll do better in this competition.
5. Curtis Finch Jr. – The judges love this guy, he seems to have the fanbase and he definitely has the vocal chops. But there’s a lot of pitfalls to this guy. His personality is slightly off putting. He knows how good he is, but has this fake humility about him that comes across as cocky. He also gets carried away sometimes, and on his last performance of I Believe I Can Fly did not sound great. The judges still gave him a standing O, citing his gospel roots as the source of his passion, but I think the voters will eventually see through that passion and find a guy who thinks he’s better than he actually is, unless he’s careful.
Predictable: Hallelujah (by Leonard Cohen, as covered Lee DeWyze in Season 9). It’s the one of those songs that he can just go nuts with, crack out the choir and make everyone feel the holy spirit. But I don’t think that’s necessarily what he should do right out of the gate…
Bolder: Heartless (by Kayne West, as covered by Kris Allen in Season 8). This song is cool, it has swagger and if Curtis wants to prove that he isn’t just this stiff gospel guy, he could take this on and prove that he can tone it down and that he’s a more contemporary force to be reckoned with.
4. Lazaro Arbos – If you haven’t seen Idol yet this season, then you have yet to experience the boy-wonder that is Lazaro. The boy has a serious stutter, but as soon as he sings, it comes out clear (minus his accent) and, generally in tune. This backstory has led a lot of people to like him, myself included, despite his mediocre performances. He needs to learn to pick the right song for his voice, stop dressing like a member of the Miami Vice squad (pick dress shirts and white suits?) and keep up the cute act, and then maybe we’ll see him deservedly make it far. Either way, he’ll probably make it far based on his story, but I’d rather it be well deserved.
Predictable: Man In The Mirror (by Michael Jackson, as covered by Kris Allen in Season 8) – It’s inspiring, the lyrics are fairly easy and it’s Michael Jackson. What’s not to love? Nothing wrong with channeling the most underdog winner in Idol’s history during Idol’s female-dominated 12th season.
Bolder: Imagine (by John Lennon as covered by Ruben Studdard in Season 2) – This isn’t too vocally demanding, but it’s still a beautiful song that he can sing well. He’s got that cute guy thing going for him, so he can channel his inner Archuleta and really snatch up that vote to keep himself in this thing for a while.
3. Kree Harrison – If I was going based on raw talent, I might have to rank this girl first, or second, only after the next one on the list. Just to disclose my bias: She’s my personal favorite in the competition but flat out: This girl can sing. She’s proven this by being one of the best of the night during Vegas and the semi-finals. She’s also great at channeling the emotions of the songs she picks, thanks to her experience as a demo singer (i.e. someone writes a song and wants to sell it to a big name, so Kree would sing and record it for them to use for that purpose). If Kree can break out of her shell in the weeks to come, she might take up Kelly Clarkson’s torch and prove that you shouldn’t count the 3rd horse in the race. She’s already shown a bit of her personality with playful banter with the judges during her critiques and by singing a sassy song during her victory song, so keep it up, Kree.
Predictable: Just A Dream (by Carrie Underwood). It’s an obvious choice. Carrie has a big voice like her, it’s an emotional song and the country audience will snatch this performance right up and vote. I have no doubt Kree could pull it off.
Bolder: To Make You Feel My Love (by Bob Dylan, as sung by Kris Allen in Season 8). It’s a great love song, but it’s kind of low key in a night of big voices and personalities. But it has that emotional connection that Kree really knows how to deliver. If she’s willing to take the risk, this could pay off big time.
2. Candice Glover – One of the most head-scratching decisions (for me and for new judge Nicki Minaj) was why the judges cut Candice in Vegas last season, when she shows the maturity of a singer ten years older and with years of experience in the music industry. While her Vegas round song choice this season had me worried that she’d fall into the trap of predictable song choices for a black female on Idol, she proved me wrong this week with a John Legend cover (one of my favorite singers, anyway) and a victory song when she made it through that blew me away. The truth is, this girl can probably compete, vocally, with some of the best people in the industry right now and if this show really is about talent, she might be the one to beat.
Predictable: I, Who Have Nothing (by Tom Jones, as covered by Jordin Sparks in Season 6). We’ve had some interesting covers of this song over the years, including one delivered from the perspective of a women scorned. If Candice can channel that vibe and sing it well, she might wipe our memory clean of even the best renditions.
Bolder: Two Black Cadillacs (by Carrie Underwood). Like I said, I just hope Candice doesn’t fall into the trap of picking typical diva ballads on the show. This song would let her show a darker side, while snatching up some of the country vote for what would, undoubtedly, be a great vocal performance – just don’t forget to perform, honey)
1. Angie Miller –And last but not least is probably the most relatable of the Top 10, at least for young girls anyway, who seem to be the voting population in recent years. She’s gorgeous, but in a normal way and has a really solid voice. The producers seem to be on her side: letting her stun the judges with one of her original songs during Hollywood week and sing a song by one of last season’s alumni last week, both pretty rare events on Idol. The judges also seem to love her, giving her high praise and standing ovations, but I have noticed that she isn’t their absolute favorite of the bunch, or at least, not yet. Which may work either for or against her. Take note that Kelly Clarkson, Idol’s most successful alum, wasn’t a judge’s favorite until very late in her season and that many of the people who got eliminated early, did so because the voters thought they were safe based on the judges high praise. But with the talent and some good song choices, Angela might be able to bring the judges over to her side, or maybe it’s all a ploy to give her some of that underdog factor and keep people voting. Either way, I’m buying what she’s selling. Her one weakness? She got a little too emotional after making the Top 10 and her voice broke during her victory song. Keep those emotions in check, girl, and you should be fine at least until the Top 4.
Predictable: Because of You (by Kelly Clarkson) – It’s a gorgeous song that she can do with and without the piano (hopefully without so she doesn’t seem like a one-trick pony). Plus, who doesn’t want the potential future female winner channeling the first and best Idol winner they have?
Bolder: Fighter (by Christina Aguilera) as covered by Jordin Sparks in Season 6 – this would give her something up-tempo, and continues her streak of songs that girls can relate to.
Well, that’s all for now. If you agree, or disagree, sound off in the comments below! I’d love to hear your take, rankings, favorites and the like. I’ll be posting one of these reviews after every episode, grading performances, making predictions and telling you if I think their odds of winning have changed. (Not to brag, but I predicted every elimination last season, including Jessica’s pseudo-elimination, so here’s hoping I can do it again!)
American Idol airs on Wednesdays & Thursdays at 8PM Eastern Time on FOX. Check your local listings.