Strengths: Thanks to a gorgeous self-penned ballad she performed in Hollywood Week and the bold choice of a Colton Dixon Christian-radio hit for the Top 20 round, Angie has been described as an “artist” by the judges moreso than any of her Season 12 rivals. She’s got a big voice, a clear vision of who she is artistically and a great smile, to boot.
Weaknesses: Angie’s also had more hype this season than any of her competitors — and high expectations can often be a heavy burden to carry. Plus, when she’s not behind the piano (i.e. her Top 40 cover of “Nobody’s Perfect”) Angie tends to push her vocals to not-entirely-pleasant extremes.
Dream Set List: The Lumineers’ “Ho Hey,” Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights"; Til’ Tuesday’s “Voices Carry,” Fiona Apple’s “Shadowboxer,” Blake Lewis’ “Heartbreak on Vinyl,” Guns N’ Roses’ “Patience”
Strengths: Louisiana teenager’s sandpapery rasp makes him one of the most distinctive voices in the competition. Even better, Burnell knows the importance of restraint: You won’t hear unnecessary runs or melisma when he’s at the mic.
Weaknesses: Burnell’s personality has been a tad bit low-key — and as Keith Urban pointed out, Idol is as much a “connection competition” as it is a singing contest. It wouldn’t hurt the kid to drink a Red Bull before the cameras roll — or to rethink his Fresh-Prince-by-way-of-Urkel fashion choices.
Dream Set List: Terence Trent D’arby's "Sign Your Name," Aly & AJ’s “Potential Breakup Song,” Fine Young Cannibals’ “I’m Not the Man I Used to Be,” Res’ “They-Say Vision,” Macy Gray’s “Beauty in the World,” Psychedelic Furs’ “Love My Way”
Strengths: A megawatt smile and mega-powerful voice have helped Amber go from total anonymity to Top 10 contender since Vegas week. She’s got as big a voice as any woman in the competition, and the lack of hype surrounding her Idol “journey” will allow viewers to feel like they’ve discovered her organically, as opposed to having her shoved down their throats.
Weaknesses: Song choice, song choice, song choice! Amber’s Top 20 week combo of Whitney’s “I Believe in You and Me” and Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” made her seem more like a Season 3 midpack player than a viable future recording star in 2013. Having received less airtime than almost any other Top 10 contestant, Amber will need to be equal parts careful, inventive and current — while continuing her tradition of note perfection. That may be her only shot at a Jordin Sparks-esque come-from-behind arc.
Dream Set List: Tamia's "Stranger in My House," Aretha Franklin/En Vogue’s “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” Adam Lambert’s “Sleepwalker,” Amerie’s “Gotta Work,” Vivian Green’s “Emotional Rollercoaster,” Deborah Cox’s “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here”
Strengths: He’s been the most consistently solid vocalist on the guys’ side, culminating with a rendition of “It’s Impossible” that managed to make the Perry Como songbook seem downright hip. Devin’s ability to sing as passionately in Spanish as in English (often in the same song) is a nice bonus, and he’s a pretty snappy dresser, too.
Weaknesses: Like Burnell, Devin’s personality remains a little bit of a blank slate to the Idol viewing population — something he’ll need to remedy to win the hearts and minds of the power-voting masses. From an artistic standpoint, it would be nice to see if Devin is capable of a current, uptempo number that would prove he’s got airplay potential beyond Christian radio and/or dentist’s waiting rooms.
Dream Set List: Whitney Houston’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” Michel’le’s “Something in My Heart,” Marc Anthony’s “I Need to Know,” Madonna’s “Secret,” Cole Porter’s “Night and Day”
Strengths: Holy Hell, have you heard this woman sing? Her Top 20 Week cover of “Ordinary People” was a master class in vocal nuance and storytelling, and her “victory song” — a combustible, soulful “I’m Going Down” — was without question the most thrilling vocal moment of Season 12.
Weaknesses: Candice has been so vocally spot-on in every performance this season that it’s hard to imagine she’ll be able to “show growth” — which is pretty much a requirement for inspiring speed-dialing Idoloonies to carry a contestant to the finale. Which is why Candice may find herself as a shock evictee if she relies too heavily on a diet of predictable soul-diva ballads like her Vegas Week cover of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” Artistic innovation and risk-taking will be Candice’s keys to avoiding blogosphere put-downs like “boring” or “overhyped.” It won’t hurt her to smile a little more on stage, either.
Dream Set List: Eurythmics’ “Missionary Man,” Jill Scott’s “Gettin’ in the Way,”
Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River,” Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ "Maps," Concrete Blonde's "Joey," Prince’s “Diamonds And Pearls” Dolly Parton's "What a Heartache" (seriously, this could be her own personal "I Will Always Love You"), Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman,” Britney Spears’ “Oops!…I Did It Again”
Strengths: His backstory — a severe stuttering problem has left him with few friends and limited his prospects to working at an ice-cream shop — made him an instant favorite among fans and producers. Plus, he’s handsome — and when he’s hitting his notes, shows off a rich, suave tone that’s easy on the ears.
Weaknesses: Inconsistency has been a huge problem. Lazaro’s Top 40 Week rendition of “Tonight I Wanna Cry” was disastrously out-of-tune, and his “victory” performance on Top 10 results show wasn’t much better. Needs to learn how to overcome his nerves and pick songs that fit his voice — i.e. no more Keith Urban, and nothing that’s been done on Idol five times or more — or the public’s good will could wear thin.
Dream Set List: Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night,” Kristine W’s “Land of the Living,” Dusty Springfield’s “The Look of Love,” Jon Secada’s “Just Another Day,” Madonna’s “Take a Bow,” Glen Medeiros’ “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You”
Strengths: Her rich, buttery tone — not to mention the ridiculous ease with which she hits even the most difficult notes — makes her a major player in the race for the Season 12 crown. And while “Up to the Mountain” and Faith Hill’s “Stronger” solidified her country-folk fan base, the out-of-left-field (and sublimely bluesy) Susan Tedeschi cover on Top 20 results night showcased the kind of versatility America likes in an Idol champ.
Weaknesses: Like Candice, Kree will have to fend off complaints of being “too safe” or “too overpraised” or “too hyped,” especially if the judges continue to marvel at her vocal excellence. Rock singers have a very strong recent history on Idol, so Kree shouldn’t be afraid to let it rip (vocally speaking) even if she or the judges think she belongs on the country road. Singing the blues could be the bridge between those two markets, too.
Dream Set List: Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” Cowboy Junkies’ version of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” Heather Nova’s “Walk This World,” Jason Aldean’s “Flyover States,” The Pretenders’ “My City Was Gone,” Bonnie Raitt’s “Love Letter,” Jack White’s “Love Interruption,” Pink’s “Please Don’t Leave Me”
Strengths: In a season packed with soulful crooners and divas, Paul is the only male contestant angling for the country vote. A big vocal range and inarguable good looks aren’t going to hurt him with Idol‘s predominantly female voting demographic, either.
Weaknesses: Needs to find a way to infuse his material with a greater emotional heft — or at least try to look a little less blank behind the eyes while he’s singing. Paul’s also shown a tendency to sound a little strained in his upper register, so kicking things off in the right key is vital.
Dream Set List: Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces,” Reba McEntire’s “You Lie,” Zac Brown Band’s “Colder Weather,” Everything But the Girl's "Missing" (would be amazing as an acoustic, country jam)
Strengths: Her “Where the Blacktop Ends” audition and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” in Hollywood Week showcased a honey-sweet voice and an old-school country charm that made her an immediate front-runner. In a season filled with booming R&B voices, she only has to compete with Paul Jolley and Kree Harrison for the country vote.
Weaknesses: Since transitioning to bigger stages, Janelle’s grasp of pitch and overall stage presence have taken a noticeable downturn. She was very lucky the judges didn’t cut her after a lackluster Top 40 Week cover of Lady Antebellum’s “Just a Kiss,” and she stumbled again in the semifinals with an off-key twist on Elvis’ hokey “If I Can Dream.” Only her results-show Dierks Bentley cover pegged her as a viable Season 12 contender, and she’ll need to return to quieter, more gorgeously restrained tunes to avoid an early exit.
Dream Set List: Hayden Panettiere’s “Undermine” (from Nashville), Hank Williams Sr.’s “Cold Cold Heart,” Peter Paul and Mary’s “Leaving on a Jetplane,” Blake Shelton and Trace Adkin’s “Hillbilly Bone,” Kellie Pickler’s “100 Proof,” Wynonna Judd’s “No One Else on Earth”
Curtis Finch, Jr.
Strengths: He’s got a massive vocal range and, well, he’s certainly never dull. Plus, love him or hate him, Curtis’ lounge-lizard take on “Superstar” was the best male vocal from the Vegas Top 40 round.
Weaknesses: Dial 1-866-Way-Too-Much! Curtis never met a melody he didn’t want to tie into a knot, never met a note he didn’t want to punish. Dude’s Top 20 rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly” was a study in ridiculousness, and nowhere near as pitch-perfect as the judges’ Standing O would’ve had him believe. If Curtis wants any chance to advance, he needs to show some restraint, and dial back on the smug demeanor, too.
Dream Set List: Fantasia’s “Truth Is,” Sade’s “Soldier of Love,” Bobby Womack’s “Across 110th Street,” The Temptations’ “Psychedelic Shack,” Brandy’s “Have You Ever,” The Sounds of Blackness’ “The Pressure (Part 1)”
What advice do you have for the Season 12 Top 10? What unexpected songs are you jonesing to hear them cover? Sound off in the comments!