The American Idol Season 11 finals kick off tonight — with male contestants tackling the Stevie Wonder songbook, and the ladies covering Whitney Houston. Before they do, check out our pre-performance night rankings, then vote for your three favorite vocalists in our scientifically infallible poll!
1. Jessica Sanchez | Quietly roared onto the scene with powerful Buddy Holly and Celine Dion covers in Vegas, then nailed a J.Hud ditty despite a sore throat on Top 12 girls night. Even better? Despite her youth and immense talent, Uncle Nigel has been allowing folks to hop aboard Jessica’s bandwagon instead of getting behind the wheel and running them over with it. Hey, maybe old dogs can learn new tricks?
2. Elise Testone | After Season 10’s youth domination, this 28-year-old’s emergence as a front-runner is refreshing. The only one of four contestants to tackle Adele in the semifinals and survive — she’s got a gorgeous sandpaper-y tone and a real ability to connect with the lyrics of the songs she chooses. Bonus points for weaving room-service flowers into her hair.
3. Phillip Phillips | Immediate contender based on his scorching, acoustic, auditon-round cover of “Thriller,” and he’s done little since to dissuade his legions of fans. Top 12 rendition of “In the Air Tonight” proved he’s willing to take chances with his arrangements, and Jimmy Iovine’s “I’d sign him today!” critique bodes well.
4. Joshua Ledet | He brings Gospel fervor and a gale-force instrument to the Top 13 — and he’s yet to hit a bum note while receiving plenty of screen time since Hollywood Week. Ability to show restraint and position himself as a relevant radio artist will be keys to his success, but there’s really no denying he’s got as much raw talent as any of his competitors.
5. Skylar Laine | Human firecracker proved absolutely combustible on Top 12 ladies night with a fantastic cover of “Stay With Me.” It can’t hurt that she’s the only country artist left standing in Season 11, or that she’s apparently got the power to convert non-country fans (like yours truly).
6. Colton Dixon | Has a powerful rock voice, serious skills at the keyboard, and hot/ridiculous hair — three qualities that help him stand out with voters in a still-crowded field. Could probably benefit from a little more levity — sometimes, dude seems to take himself a little deathly seriously for this particular venue — but if he can navigate Idol‘s theme weeks and make songs his own, he might keep the show’s white-guy winning streak alive.
7. Hollie Cavanagh | Has gotten less hype than Jon Huntsman in the Republican primaries, yet voters rewarded her with a spot in the finals after a powerful (albeit slightly tremulous) cover of “Reflection.” A little more confidence, slightly better enunciation, and hipper choice of material could catapult her from live longshot to legit front-runner.
8. Erika Van Pelt | Needed a Wild Card to overcome her No. 2 performance slot and not-entirely-flashy showing on Top 12 ladies’ night, but her tone is sublime, and her “Edge of Glory” results-night cover had more passion than a Twilight junkie outside Robert Pattinson’s hotel balcony. Being the sixth most-popular woman with Idol voters could make her vulnerable, but additional/very positive Wild Card exposure can’t be underestimated.
9. Heejun Han | May be a case of personality over voice — but less entertaining and less talented contestants have cracked the Top 10 in seasons past. If he can pull off an uptempo number, it might make his musical persona seem a little less fusty, but either way, he’s got a good chance to last until April — provided he keeps the “Jimmy who?” jokes coming.
10. Deandre Brackensick | He’s got plenty of raw talent — but the emphasis is on raw. His Earth Wind & Fire cover on Top 12 guys’ night revealed Deandre isn’t entirely sure what to do with his voice — or his body — in front of a big, live audience. Needs to grow in confidence — and quickly — to have a legit shot at the title.
11. Shannon Magrane | If it looks like a pageant contestant, and sings like a pageant contestant, and gives sound bites like a pageant contestant…can it make the Idol Season 11 Summer Tour?
12. Jeremy Rosado | His restrained and lovely “Gravity” was one of the best among the Top 12 guys, but he needed his fairy godmother J.Lo to advance him to the finals via Wild Card. Needs to prove his commercial relevance pronto — and banish any hint of borderline panic/desperation for success — or a “Mr. Congeniality” banner may be his consolation prize.
13. Jermaine Jones | His semifinal cover of “Dance With My Father” was okay, but would he really have cracked the Top 10 without the “last-minute dramatic-twist” entry into the Top 13 guys, and subsequent pimp spot on performance night? Doubtful. And without those advantages this week, he might become the proverbial “It’s an honor just to be nominated” contestant.
Who are your Season 11 favorites? Vote for your Top 3 in the poll below, then explain your picks in the comments!