Get ready, Idoloonies! Tonight will be your first chance to vote for the American Idol season 10 finalists, and the good news (or bad, depending on your viewpoint) is that the field remains pretty closely matched among its 13 combatants. Below, I’ve taken the liberty of ranking these would-be successors to Lee DeWyze, so check out my rankings, then head to our Leaderboard Poll to vote for your favorite and hit the comments to justify your pick. And for all my Idol news and views, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.
13. Haley Reinhart (new this week) | Curvaceous blonde has a big, brassy voice but has yet to show she’s got any idea what to do with it. Her semifinal take on “Fallin'” was mostly in tune, but was marred by shameless mugging, gyrating, and showboating (issues that marred her almost unrecognizable “God Bless the Child” in Hollywood Week, too). Needs a crash course in enunciation, restraint, and lyrical comprehension from mentor Jimmy Iovine.
12. Ashthon Jones (last leaderboard, No. 8 ) |Didn’t get any screen time till Hollywood Week, but made a positive impression with her jaunty choice of “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops)” in the Group Round. Bizarre choice of Monica’s “Love All Over Me” made her a complete non-threat with Top 24 voters, but squeaked out a Wild Card berth with a passionate but far-from-perfect “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Vocals must catch up with the hair and swagger — pronto!
11. Karen Rodriguez (new this week) | Her bilingual semifinal performance of “Hero” was pure pageant cheese, and her previous efforts (including the butchering of “You Give Good Love” in her audition) were melismatic messes. Yet while her relevance is questionable, I’m not certain she’s hit a bad note during her entire time in the competition. If she continues courting the Latino vote, we can only hope she’ll dig a little deeper than, say, the Gloria Estefan songbook.
10. James Durbin (returning this week) | Went into the Top 24 on a negative note after he compared his unbridled wailing to Adam Lambert then gave an overwrought performance of “A Change Is Gonna Come,” but his semifinal version of Judas Priest’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” was energetic and well sung. His momentum hangs on his Top 13 performance.
9. Jacob Lusk (last leaderboard, No. 4) || His borderline-possessed interpretation of “God Bless the Child” was the buzziest solo performance of Hollywood Week. Showed a little more restraint on Top 12 Guys’ Night when giving a robust rendition of “A House Is Not a Home” that drew Luther Vandross comparisons from J.Lo. Still, need to see some ability to wrap his voice around fresh, unexpected material before we’re willing to call him a major threat for a confetti shower.
8. Thia Megia (returning this week) | Brilliant semifinal strategy found her muting Bandzilla and instead aiming for a stripped-down, piano-driven version of “Out Here on My Own” that kicked off with a lovely a capella intro. This quiet Idol moment helped separate her from the pack, but the season’s youngest contestant still needs to prove her emotional range matches her technical proficiency.
7. Scotty McCreery (returning this week) | Was on the verge of self-parody with his “nuts of wonder” debacle in Hollywood, but got back on track with his final Hollywood solo (“Long Black Train”) and a terrific Top 24 take on “Letters From Home.” As J.Lo said, the kid knows his lane. Is he good enough to ride it all the way to the Kodak in May?
6. Naima Adedapo (last leaderboard, No. 2) | Still can’t shake the image of this young mom scrubbing toilets at SummerFest while fantasizing about performing at the venue’s main stage. And while her jazzy semifinal rendition of “Summertime” was perhaps a bit too supper-club-esque to inspire Idol speed-dialers, she sang her guts out on “For All We Know” in the Wild Card round to secure a Top 13 slot. If she always remembers to sing like it’s her last time on the stage, she could be with us for a long time.
5. Lauren Alaina (last leaderboard, No. 9) | No doubt, the spunky 16-year-old has pipes — and she proved that with a rollicking cover of Reba’s “Turn on the Radio” in the semifinals. But her overfamiliarity with the judges and Ryan (“Peaches”? No!), her less-than-enthusiastic response to a Tweet from Kelly Clarkson, and overhyped status with the show’s producers are all working against her in the always fickle Idolverse.
4. Stefano Langone (last leaderboard, No. 6) | J.Lo said he had “movie-star looks,” and Randy said his semifinal cover of “Just the Way You Are” proved he’s radio-ready. Still, it wasn’t till Stefano was singing for his Idol life — with a Wild Card rendition of Smokie Norful’s “I Need You Now” — that the kid proved he’s capable of a truly awesome vocal. That was among the first performances of the season to stir our souls with pitch perfection and emotional depth. Not cracking the top 10 may have been the best thing to happen to Stefano’s Idol fortunes.
3. Pia Toscano (returning this week) | She brings stunning beauty and a sweet humility to the Idol stage, but more importantly, she’s got powerhouse diva pipes that she used to draw a semifinal standing ovation on the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You.” Idol voters love a slow build — and the feeling that a contestant hasn’t been forced on them by producers — and Pia could ride that dark-horse vibe well into spring.
2. Paul McDonald (last leaderboard, No. 14) | Uncle Nigel kept him locked in the Idol basement after his hot “Maggie May” audition, but the last week of Hollywood and the first week of semifinals quickly catapulted him to front-runner status. His good musical sense and soulful, smoky tone make him unique — although the “chicken arm” dancing and pulling of faces could dampen his appeal in another six or seven weeks. Time will tell.
1. Casey Abrams (last leaderboard, No. 1) | Scruffy-lookin’ dude made the Idoloonie Nation sit up and take notice with his rich, soulful “Georgia on My Mind” (performed with an upright bass in Hollywood Week), and he’s been riding a wave of good vibes ever since. Needs to be careful about emphasizing personality over pitch — as he did briefly during “I Put a Spell on You,” but this unassuming 19-year-old is tough to root against.
Okay, TVLine readers, it’s your turn. Vote for your favorite in our Idol Leaderboard poll, then post your personal ranking for the Top 13 — and tell me where I got it right, and where I got it wrong — in the comments. (And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV.) Ready, set, prognosticate!