Congratulations, you’re goin’ to Hollywood! But not until later this week. That’s right, American Idol returns tonight with the San Francisco auditions, before shifting gears to Hell Week on Thursday. With the prospect of entire holding rooms full of contestants collapsing like Ryan Seacrest without hair product, I thought we’d better prepare ourselves by counting down the 20 most promising Golden Ticket-holders from the season’s first six episodes. So check out the second installment of the TVLine.com Idol Leaderboard below, then head to the comments to share your own rankings. (And if you’re an Idol rumor junkie who’s got scoop on which contestants have already cracked the top 40, please keep don’t ruin it for your fellow readers by posting spoilers!) Oh, and for all my Idol-related goodies, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV. (While you’re at it, you might as well get hip to @TVLineNews, too!)
20. John Wayne Schulz (new this week) | Cowboy, take us away! Yes indeed, this dyed-in-the-homegrown-wool Texan melted viewers’ hearts with his rugged/pretty looks, his ten gallon hat and his open love for his mama. Of course, his earnest rendition of Brooks & Dunn’s “Believe” wasn’t half bad, either.
19. Paris Tassin* (last week No. 17) | Gorgeous young mother of a special-needs child brought J.Lo to tears on “Temporary Home.” Handful of wonky notes canceled out by devastating emotional delivery.
18. Rob Bolin (last week No. 16) | Scruffy, low-key guy auditioned with his ex-girlfriend (reasonably talented Chelsee Oaks), but his goosebump-inducing “What’s Going On” left a far stronger impression than any gimmicky backstory.
17. Devyn Rush (last week No. 11) | Singing Times Square waitress has season 8 finalist Matt Giraud’s stamp of approval (see video) and a fun backstory that focused more on her working-toward-a-dream enthusiasm than a maudlin tale of woe. Vocal style is a wee bit cabaret, but she can definitely sing.
16. Travis Orlando* (last week No. 15)| Bespectacled 16-year-old took Idol cameras on a tour of his hardscrabble childhood in the Bronx, then married the modern with the soulful on “Eleanor Rigby” and “I’m Yours.” One of the more promising possibilities from the Season 10 Youth Invasion (TM).
15. Thia Megia* (last week No. 14)| Precocious 15-year-old booked a ticket to Milwaukee the moment she heard Idol had lowered its age limit (!), but her robust, jazzy “Chasing Pavements” impressed a fair share of TVLine.com commenters.
14. Chris Medina* (last week No. 13)| He’s more of a household name than any other season 10 hopeful, mainly because of the devastating package Idol ran about his fiancee’s tragic accident and subsequent brain injury. Yet while his take on The Script’s “Breakeven” was solid, it was definitely overshadowed by his backstory — tricky territory when your primary goal is winning a singing competition.
13. Scotty McCreery* (last week No. 9) | Clean cut teen with a super-deep voice and an all-American story (he’s from a small town! he plays baseball!) has potential to be Idol‘s first true country male front-runner — provided he’s got some vocal versatility in his arsenal.
12. Robbie Rosen* (last week No. 12)| Polite 16-year-old definitely needs a fashion upgrade from the sloppy shorts ensemble he wore to the New Jersey auditions, but his R&B-flavored “Yesterday” was controlled and lovely. And anyway, we’re long overdue for a great Idol makeover, no?
11. Scott Dangerfield (last week No. 10)| J.Lo’s favorite contestant pleased her with a bluesy-good Amos Lee cover and an appealing geek-chic vibe. Anyone else get the slight hint of David Cook dark-horse?
10. Janelle Arthur (new this week)| Comely country gal — as in she’s from a country town in Tennessee and she fancies country ditties — displayed enviable vocal control on the one-two punch of “Syrup and Honey” and “No One Needs to Know.”
9. Lauren Alaina* (last week No. 6) | Nigel Lythgoe’s “chosen one” closed the Nashville audition episode with a big voice and an appealing personality, but even previous adult contestants have had trouble living up to king-sized early hype, let alone perky 15-year-olds. Might need to be Kelly Clarkson-level good to seem like anything other than a letdown.
8. Molly DeWolf Swensen (last week No. 8 )| Harvard grad and White House intern will probably suffer with the speed-texting crowd for being brainy and ambitious (how dare she!) but her “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” was gloriously smooth and controlled. Don’t hate her because she’s beautiful/funny/tall/talented/blonde/already successful at life/possibly a wee bit entitled!
7. Jordan Dorsey* (last week No. 7)| It’s been too long since Idol has allowed viewers to vote for a talented black male contestant with sex-symbol potential, but Dorsey’s swingin’ “Over the Rainbow” proved he might be all that and a bag of Funyuns. (Which probably means he’ll flame out or get inexplicably cut in Hollywood Week.)
6. Adrienne Beasley (last week No. 5) | Striking beauty with a subdued but sweet personality has a winning backstory — she’s the adopted black daughter of soft-spoken white farmers — and a crisp, clear voice that would fit right in at country radio. Hard to find any fault at this stage of her Idol “journey.”
5. Paul McDonald (last week No. 4) | Handsome, bearded fella gave off shades of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and made a strong positive impression with a smoky, cool cover of “Maggie May” that lasted all of 20 seconds. Yeah, he got the blink-and-you-missed-him audition edit, but then again, so did Lee DeWyze, Crystal Bowersox, and Kris Allen.
4. Casey Abrams* (new this week) | Aggressively scruffy-lookin’ fella went to town on the melodica while waiting in line in Austin, but his “I Don’t Need No Doctor” displayed smokin’-hot vocals. The guy has soul and control — but is he primetime-ready? Time — and the Idol stylists — will tell.
3. Brett Loewenstern* (last week No. 3)| Red-headed teenager became a Week One breakout after his audition package explained the way he overcame schoolyard bullying, then showed him nailing “Bohemian Rhapsody” with equal parts power and restraint. A solid horse to back for anyone who loves an outsider-to-star trajectory.
2. Sarah Sellers (last week No. 2)| Caught Steven Tyler’s eye with her full lips and sexy-librarian look, but kept all the judges’ rapt attention with a textured, gorgeous riff on Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.” Let’s be honest: It’s nice to have a 28-year-old contender in what’s been shaping up as a season of the teens.
1. Naima Adedapo (last week No. 1) | Milwaukee contestant was shown scrubbing toilets at SummerFest while fantasizing about performing at the venue’s main stage, and her potent, unfussy Donnie Hathaway cover showed it’s not just a pipe dream. As J.Lo said, Naima’s got the whole package, but even better, it’s the kind of package we aren’t really seeing on today’s Billboard charts. Honestly, any of the top 10 contestants from this list could occupy the No. 1 spot on our Leaderboard, but we’ve got a gut feeling that Naima has more tricks up her sleeve than we saw from her initial performance.
(*These contestants, along with Jacee Badeaux and Jackie Wilson, all got a repeat showing by producers during the Los Angeles audition episode.)
Okay, TVLine readers, it’s your turn. Post your own early favorite — or your personal Top 10, even! — in the comments!