Welcome, friends, to my annual Top 12 "American Idol" handicap column, where the following question is asked, and answered:
Who'll slog his (or her) way through this Nielsen-stoked meat market, run the gauntlet of four judges, a million blogs and 100 millions votes to stand up next to Ryan Seacrest in May and know they were the best? (Or at least be assured that they have the most tech-savvy fan base, expert in block text voting?)
As the competition gets into high gear Tuesday night at 8 on Fox/5, we have before us 12 singers, and the race already feels reduced to just two. Will they be the ones at the end? To our handicapping:
1. MICHAEL LYNCHE
The perfect package. Great look, story, voice, stage presence and a true showman's sense of the possible - as well as of the impossible. He alone can make this season exciting.
With the vocal range of a Sarah McLachlan (well, almost - but then, who does?) mixed in with the rough, hard, bluesy edges of a Janis Joplin - and a lip stud to boot - here stands one of your most interesting "Idol" finalists in seasons. (Is her health, however, an issue?)
3. SIOBHAN MAGNUS
Another finalist who seems to prove that maybe "American Idol" really does know what it's doing. With a near-k.d. lang purity of tone and a great TV look, she could surprise everyone and win.
4. LACEY BROWN
Sort of the old soul of our little group, she's more interesting than exciting; another beautiful voice, though one wonders where she'll take it from here. It is Rolling Stone week - how about "Wild Horses"?
5. CASEY JAMES
Got an unfair rap as Kara's boy toy, but he's also the sort of singer who can and likely will go far.
6. LEE DEWYZE
I like DeWyze a lot (and James, too), and it should be fun to see him progress; his voice feels a little rough and undisciplined, however.
7. DIDI BENAMI
Nice, clear vocal instrument but a presentation that lacks drama or commands attention.
8. ANDREW GARCIA
One of the front-runners a few weeks ago, he now feels vulnerable.
9. KATIE STEVENS
She has a lovely stage presence, but she's out of her league here.
10. AARON KELLY
The "cute factor" could mitigate the "nominal talent" factor. But it won't carry him to the end.
11. PAIGE MILES
A disaster last week ("Smile"?), she might be able to salvage something this week. She has to.
12. TIM URBAN
Wouldn't it be a delicious, told-you-so moment if Urban stands triumphant in May? No, it wouldn't be.