We’re down to a dashing dozen, Idoloonies! Tonight the American Idol season 10 finalists will tackle the ever-clunky “Songs From the Year They Were Born” theme, but before they do, check out my latest 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.
12. Karen Rodriguez (Last Week No. 11) | Hammy, pageant-style “Hero” during the semifinals didn’t mark her as a relevant radio star, but brutal Top 13 Selena cover took away her one strong suit — hitting her notes. Faces an uphill battle to make the Idol Tour, let alone survive into April.
11. Jacob Lusk (Last Week No. 9) | Robust semifinal cover of “A House Is Not a Home” drew Luther Vandross comparisons from J.Lo., but his subsequent “I Believe I Can Fly” was a screaming disaster — whether or not the judges called him out for it. In a fairly evenly matched group of guys, he’s a candidate to be first man out.
10. Thia Megia (Last Week No. 8) | Came off like a caterpillar in the path of a steamroller when she got stuck with a ridiculous arrangement of “Smile” for Top 13 night, and nothing she’s done so far indicates she has the artistic sensibility to play anything more than producer puppet. Her tears, moreso than her vocals, may have kept her out of the bottom three last week, but that’s not a winning long-term strategy.
9. Haley Reinhart (Last Week No. 13) | Landed in the bottom three last week after a strongly sung but dimly interpreted “Blue.” (Not everything is a slurry come-on, girl!) Still, she seems to have a stronger hold on pitch and stage presence than Thia or Karen, and that might be enough to make the Idol Tour.
8. Paul McDonald (Last Week No. 2) | We’d have overlooked the preposterous side-shuffle during his Ryan Adams cover if his vocal hadn’t been such a pitchy, out-of-breath disappointment. Here’s hoping Uncle Nigel lets the early front-runner have his guitar back, and that Paul takes back the power from Bandzilla and allows his smoky, sandpaper-y tone to shine through.
7. Lauren Alaina (Last Week No. 5) | 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 pouty response to judges’ critiques after a karaoke cover of “Any Man of Mine” highlighted her weak spots: Bratty on-stage demeanor and lack of standout interpretive skill.
6. Naima Adedapo (Last Week No. 6) | She’s been all over the place in her three live performances — a supper-clubby semifinal “Summertime,” a gut-busting Wild Card take on “For All We Know,” and a stunningly current but vocally middling “Umbrella” for Top 13 night — but she’s never, ever been forgettable. And with a crowded field of 12 singers still left in the competition, her ability to stand out is a huge asset.
5. James Durbin (Last Week No. 10) | 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 both live performances — a rockin’ “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” and a heartfelt, strongly sung “Maybe I’m Amazed” — have turned him from pretender to legit contender. Needs to pay attention to his on-stage antics, though, as it’s way too early in the season for “incite the crowd” arm-waving during critique time.
4. Stefano Langone (Last Week No. 4) | That disco-style arrangement of “Lately” was wretched, but if you could get past it, Stefano’s vocal for Week One of the finals was actually pretty terrific, and he acquitted himself brilliantly during the Michael Jackson medley on results night. Add to that his Wild Card rendition of Smokie Norful’s “I Need You Now” — one of the top two or three vocals of the season — and you’re looking at a sneaky-quiet contender for the whole ball of wax.
3. Scotty McCreery (Last Week No. 7) | Who’d have thought “nuts of wonder” could reverse course and look like a legitimate contender for Lee DeWyze’s crown and sash on the basis of three straight rock-solid performances: Hollywood solo (“Long Black Train”); Top 24 (“Letters From Home”) and Top 13 (“The River”). Needs to be careful not to drop ends of phrases, but as J.Lo said, the kid knows his lane, and that counts for a lot in a season where viewers are hungry for a radio-ready champ.
2. Pia Toscano (Last Week No. 3) | Okay, this week she absolutely cannot bring us another Big Diva Ballad, but it’s pretty hard to fault the booming and emotionally spot-on chops she showed off on “I’ll Stand By You” and “All By Myself.” Plus, she showed she can do more than stand still and belt when she rocked “Grenade” in the group rounds. Humble, likeable, and talented, she’s the decisive leader among the season 10 ladies.
1. Casey Abrams (Last Week No. 1) | Like Pia, this scruffy-lookin’ dude needs to show off a different flavor this week after back-to-back growling soul on “I Put a Spell on You” and “A Little Help From My Friends.” Still, if Nigel lets him break out the upright bass, Casey could solidify himself as the season’s mortal lock for a top-five finish.
Okay, TVLine readers, it’s your turn. Vote for your favorite in our Idol Leaderboard poll, then post your personal ranking for the Top 12 — 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!