“American Idol” finally begins in earnest tonight as the Top 12 guys fight for spaces in this season's Top 12. They look like the far stronger gender in the competition again this year, with many strong contenders. Here's a look at their pre-season rankings:
1. PHILLIP PHILLIPS. One of the clear favorites so far, the 21-year-old from Leesburg, Ga., is a personable, dynamic singer that should go deep into the competition, especially when he plays his guitar.
2. COLTON DIXON. The 20-year-old from Murfreesboro, Tenn., has a distinctive voice and a distinctive look (well, distinctive hair, at least). He should have made it into the Top 24 last season, but he's even better now.
3. JEREMY ROSADO. If this was purely a singing competition, the 19-year-old from Valrico, Fla., would be a shoo-in for the Top 12 thanks to his gorgeous, powerful voice. The fact that we haven't seen much of him so far this season may mean that his voice might not be enough.
4. EBEN FRANCKEWITZ. OK, he's adorable and he has Justin Bieber-like hair. That's basically an express pass into at least the Top 12 for the 15-year-old from Loveland, Ohio, thanks to the “Idol” tween voting block. Now just imagine how far he'll go if he sings well!
5. REED GRIMM. The jazzy 26-year-old from Ellsworth, Wisc., seems to be cast in the Casey Abrams role this season, with his musical chops and infectiously upbeat attitude. Whether he'll do better than Abrams depends on how well he can adapt from week to week.
6. HEEJUN HAN. So far this season, Heejun has had almost as much screen time as Ryan Seacrest. That gives the 22-year-old from Flushing a distinct advantage come voting time. He has a nice voice that J.Lo clearly loves, so I think he lands in the Top 12.
7. CREIGHTON FRAKER. If someone is going to edge out Heejun, it's this 28-year-old from Queens. He has a big voice and he's not afraid to use it in interesting ways.
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8. ADAM BROCK. Another guy on the bubble is the emotional 27-year-old from Washington, Pa. He has skills, though he doesn't seem to have the determination he needs to go far.
9. DEANDRE BRACKENSICK. The problem the 17-year-old from San Jose, Calif., has is that his hair is more memorable than his voice. He's not quite ready to break through yet.
10. JOSHUA LEDET. The 19-year-old from Westlake, La., had one good performance and a series of OK ones.
11. AARON MARCELLUS. The 27-year-old from Atlanta starts at quite the disadvantage since he's had little air time and his one memorable performance was only OK.
12. CHASE LIKENS. Um, we've seen the 20-year-old from Point Pleasant, W.Va., even less than Aaron.
13. MYSTERY SAVE. In a weird twist, the judges will return one of four rejected guys – Jermaine Jones, Johnny Keyser, Richie Law, and David Leathers – to the competition. If they bring back Johnny or David, they have a shot to make it through to the Top 12. If Richie returns, this was simply a stunt to create more angst.