Strengths: Nobody in the competition can match her awesome vocal firepower, and she’s got a delightfully unassuming personality that should appeal to a wide swath of voters.
Weaknesses: She’s already been slapped with the ‘but can she be current?’ label — a problem only exacerbated by mentor Simon Cowell saddling her with a Free Willy soundtrack cut and a done-to-death Whitney Houston ballad.
Suggested Set List: Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me a River,’ Tamia’s ‘Stranger in My House,’ Hercules & Love Affair’s ‘Blind,’ Cher’s ‘Bang Bang’
Strengths: ‘Young Homie,’ the original track Chris performed during his audition, was pretty stellar, and there’s something deeply compelling about his on-stage presence (an x factor, perhaps?).
Weaknesses: Definitely has vocal limitations, which were exposed on a strained rendition of ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.’ If mentor L.A. Reid picks anything that stretches Chris’ range too far, he could be an early shock elimination.
Suggested Set List: N*E*R*D’s ‘She Wants to Move,’ Gorillaz’s ‘Feel Good Inc.,’ K7’s ‘Come Baby Come,’ Daniel Bedingfield’s ‘Gotta Get Through This’
Strengths: They’ve got high energy, and a few of ’em (John, Nick, Austin, and Ellona) can really sing.
Weaknesses: There are way too freakin’ many of ’em: If Paula wants these kids to last till December, she should prune four or five of the weaker branches before the whole act collapses.
Suggested Set List: Paula Abdul’s ‘Promise of a New Day,’ Billie Piper’s ‘Because We Want To,’ B52s’ ‘Roam’
Strengths: Has shown merciful restraint and a real ability to connect to his lyrics in every performance. Plus, it doesn’t hurt being the world’s hottest 60-year-old grandpa.
Weaknesses: Seemed a wee bit nervous in the Top 16 performance round, and those Michael Bolton comparisons can cut both ways.
Suggested Set List: Whitney Houston’s ‘My Love Is Your Love,’ Sheryl Crow’s ‘Leaving Las Vegas,’ Neil Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’
Strengths: Has benefited from tons of screentime, and in her best moments (that audition to ‘Mercy,’ her Boot Camp take on ‘If I Were a Boy’) she’s displayed a strong, unfussy instrument that’s mature beyond her 13 years.
Weaknesses: Rachel has a tendency to stretch her cute-kid demeanor into cloying territory, and right now she’s only third-best in her brutally difficult category.
Suggested Set List: Nelly Furtado’s ‘I’m Like a Bird,’ Faith Evans’ ‘All Night Long,’ Basia’s ‘Time and Tide’
Strengths: Inarguably the best vocalist in the ‘Boys Under 30’ division, he took a dusty Culture Club ballad and made it sound radio-ready in his first live performance.
Weaknesses: Always looks a little clumsy — bordering on cheesy — when he’s performing. A good relationship with the show’s stylists and choreographers will be crucial to his longevity.
Suggested Set List: Aretha Franklin’s ‘Rock Steady,’ Maroon 5’s ‘Misery,’ Cyndi Lauper’s ‘All Through the Night’
Strengths: Most viewers who saw Simon & Co. manufacture this act from four attractive-but-ousted soloists had low expectations for their Top 16 performance — making their sturdy take on ‘Come on Eileen’ a pleasant surprise.
Weaknesses: Their ‘Judges’ Houses’ rendition of ‘Born This Way’ was pretty brutal, so they’ve still got plenty to prove.
Suggested Set List: Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain,’ Madonna’s ‘Don’t Tell Me,’ The Bangles’ ‘If She Knew What She Wants,’ Gin Wigmore’s ‘Oh My’
Strengths: Has the kind of nuclear-diva vocals that give the warm fuzzies to Simon and his fellow ’80s nostalgists.
Weaknesses: When she goes big — which is pretty much all the time — Stacy can also go off the rails. Her audition to ‘(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman’ was impressive, in the parts where she wasn’t veering off pitch and hollerating for the sake of hollerating. Also: She’s got to stop with the crying.
Suggested Set List: ‘Til Tuesday’s ‘Voices Carry,’ Kristine W’s ‘Feel What You Want,’ Annie Lennox’s ‘Why’
Strengths: Has transcended all notions of what a 14-year-old girl should be able to accomplish vocally and emotionally with stark and devastating covers of everything from Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ to Roxette’s ‘It Must Have Been Love’ to Irene Cara’s ‘What a Feeling.’ In a word, Drew is sensational.
Weaknesses: She can’t coast all the way till Christmas on lilting, piano-driven ballads: Simon needs to find her some uptempo and midtempo ditties that suit her unique voice and style.
Suggested Set List: INXS’ ‘Never Tear Us Apart,’ Coldplay’s ‘Clocks,’ Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights,’ Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ ‘Don’t Do Me Like That’
The Stereo Hogzz
Strengths: They’ve got a lead singer with good looks, undeniable charisma, and a commercial kind of voice.
Weaknesses: Those other four dudes need to find something to do that doesn’t involve blush-worthy, mid-90s boy-band choreography.
Suggested Set List: Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic,’ En Vogue’s ‘My Lovin (You’re Never Gonna Get It),’ Lisa Fischer’s ‘How Can I Ease the Pain,’ Barry White’s ‘Never, Never Gonna Give You Up’
Strengths: His lyrical flow is sharper than Nicole Scherzywhozit’s eyebrow pencil, and he’s got a penchant for clever lyrics, as he showed in his modified Top 16 rendition of Kris Kross’ ‘Jump.’
Weaknesses: Needs to somehow maintain the swagger of a hip-hop artist without appearing so obnoxious that no one in America will vote for him — a balance at which he has thus far failed miserably.