Like schoolkids lined up at the edge of a public pool on a hot summer day, the Idoloonie Nation stands ready to dive into Week Three of American Idol‘s tenth season tonight. (Forgive the rambling metaphor, but I kinda thought we could use some sunny imagery to distract us from All. This. Damn. Snow.) Before we head to Austin, TX, with Steven, J.Lo, Randy, Ryan, and the Ghost of Ellen DeGeneres’ critiques (nickname: “You Were Great!”), however, I thought it prudent to count down the 20 most promising Golden Ticket-holders from the New Jersey, New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Nashville tryouts. So check out the initial installment of the TVLine.com Idol Leaderboard below, then head to the comments to debate and prognosticate (or in other words, to tell me why I’ve got it all wrong)! (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. (And while you’re at it, you might as well get hip to @TVLineNews, too!)
20. Steve Beghun | Affable, slightly goofy CPA surprised the judges with a sweet voice that Steven Tyler described as “disturbingly great.” Does he have true star potential, though?
19. Alyson Jados | Rocker chick with a gravely tone and a black-and-red plaid bustier wasn’t the most polished vocalist in Milwaukee, but her adorable “Dream On” duet with Mr. Tyler made her easy to root for.
18. Jacee Badeaux | Baby-faced 15-year-old’s “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” was pitch perfect and authentically bluesy, but would he have been a stronger contestant with a couple more years of life experience under his belt? (Probably.)
17. Paris Tassin | Gorgeous young mother of a special-needs child brought J.Lo to tears on “Temporary Home.” Handful of wonky noted canceled out by devastating emotional delivery.
16. Rob Bolin | 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.
15. Travis Orlando | 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).
14. Thia Megia | 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.
13. Chris Medina (pictured, top left) | 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.
12. Robbie Rosen | 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. Devyn Rush | 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.
10. Scott Dangerfield | 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?
9. Scotty McCreery | 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.
8. Molly DeWolf Swensen | 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 | 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. Lauren Alaina (pictured, bottom left) | 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.
5. Adrienne Beasley (pictured, bottom right) | 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.”
4. Paul McDonald | 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.
3. Brett Loewenstern | 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 | 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 | 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.
Okay, TVLine readers, it’s your turn. Post your own early favorite — or your personal Top 10, even! — in the comments!