Could Season Eight be the most open "American Idol" season yet?
Is there a favorite going into Tuesday (March 10) night's first Top 13 performance?
Certainly. You can't look at the Top 13 and not peg Danny "The Redeemer" Gokey as probably a prohibitive favorite, albeit not as much of a no-brainer as David Archueleta was at this time last season.
But David Archuleta didn't win last season. In fact, by the time the finale came around, he got his butt kicked by David Cook, who was probably only a middle-of-the-road contender at the start of the Top 12.
So could somebody other than The Redeemer win Season Eight? Certainly. The judges and producers have made sure that Adam Lambert and Lil Rounds have received endless praise and screentime. Alexis Grace and Allison Iraheta have been compared to Kelly Clarkson, one of the show's Gold Standards.
And several other contestants have powerful hooks that could either bring in new voters or will at least make for compelling clip pacakges. Scott MacIntyre's blind! Jorge Nunez is from Puerto Rico! Michael Sarver is an Oil Man! Anoop Desai is working on a graduate degree in folklore!
I've gone through the Top 13 and put the contestants in order from most likely to win to least likely. HitFix neither encourages nor condones placing wagers on "American Idol" contestants, but if we did, this is how we'd pick 'em...
[The Top 13, after the bump...]
Singer: DANNY "THE REDEEMER" GOKEY
"Idol" Doppleganger: Pre-pimped crooner with a penchant for inspirational power ballads? Look no further than Presumptive American Idol Winner David Archuleta
Will Win Because... "American Idol" voters aren't opposed to being steered and no contestant has received more positive screentime this season than Danny Gokey. He has the tragic story of his lost wife, the sad story of eliminated bro Jamar, plus he isn't a bad singer at all. At this point in the game, he's got to be considered a substantial favorite.
Won't Win Because... "American Idol" voters can eventually tire of being told who to vote for. David Archuleta was an unstoppable force of nature last season until the exact moment at which voters decided they wanted something different. If Danny remains sincere and inspirational and becomes a fancy glasses-wearing robot, voters will gladly turn on him. There's also the question of how much "Idol" producers will continue to capitalize on Danny's late wife and whether viewer sympathies will eventually wane.
Odds to Win: 1:1
Singer: ALEXIS GRACE
"Idol" Doppleganger: Radio-ready, pint-sized powerhouse? The judges already compared her to Kelly Clarkson and I'll go there too.
Will Win Because... We've only heard her a couple times, but I'm ready to predict that she's the "Idol" contestant least likely to ever give an absolutely dreadful performance. She's going to be able to sing pop, country and R&B and she'll look cute doing it and the judges will have no trouble imagining her in a video or on the radio. She may not blow you away, but she's going to be consistent and marketable and she seems young enough that the teenage girls can get behind her.
Won't Win Because... She's a little girl with a big voice, but is her voice *that* big? Could she get shown up by the louder Allison or Lil? Could she be shown up by the prettier, more distinctive Megan?
Odds to Win: 3:1
Singer: LIL ROUNDS
"Idol" Doppleganger: LaToya London
Will Win Because... Did you see Group Three? There were 11 uncertain amateurs trying to pretend to be potential recording artists and then there was Lil. There's a whole assortment of songs that Lil will be able to tackle this season that nobody else will dare try. She'll be able to do the Whitneys, the Celines, the Mariahs and let the other singers do the easy stuff. And she won't have any diva competition. Plus, after her post-audition makeover, she looks like a star.
Won't Win Because... I hadn't liked Lil in her audition, or in any of the Hollywood footage we saw. She seemed to be shouting absolutely everything and she also looked to have issues with pitch. If those problems persist, she could be in trouble early. Also, for the most part, the "Idol" divas don't win. Compared Lil to LaToya, who finished fourth in Season Three, but you could also say she fits a Trenyce, Stephanie Edwards or Christina Christian mode. None of those folks won.
Odds to Win: 5:1
Singer: ANOOP DESAI
"Idol" Doppleganger: You'd be hard-pressed to find a clear Anoop equivalent, but maybe Clay Aiken or Elliott Yamin.
Will Win Because... He's likable. Pure and simple. Assuming he doesn't do anything to alienate viewers (other than the occasional Duke fan), Anoop has the potential to go far because he seems like a good guy. Also, with performances like his "My Prerogative," Anoop has the possibility to be constantly surprising both the judges and viewers.
Won't Win Because... It's possible that not everybody is as amused as I am by the idea of folklore grad student with Southeast Asian heritage advancing through the competition. It's also possible that vocally, Anoop really isn't all that great. Certainly his Group One performance left him deservedly begging for Wild Card scraps. How long can he get by on "unexpected," rather than "good"?
Odds to Win: 7:1 (this could be one where I'm wildly optimistic)
Singer: ADAM LAMBERT
"Idol" Doppleganger: Constantine Maroulis' theatricality, with a better voice
Will Win Because... Adam probably has the best pipes of any of this season's male contestants. With his background, he knows how to put together a lively performance and how to play to the crowd and he'll probably only be better moving onto the "Idol" main stage. He's also shown an eagerness to do the sort of oddball interpretations of familiar songs that made David Cook popular last season.
Won't Win Because... Simon's going to start harping on Adam as being too Broadway, too cruise ship, too dinner theatre. And he's going to be right. Adam seems willing to take risks and risks have the potential to blow up on you. Did you see the Cher thing he did in Hollywood? That was horrible. If you do something like that in the Top Seven or Top Eight, you're going to be eliminated. With the aforementioned theatricality and his love for guyliner and his addiction to pancake makeup, Adam will be a polarizing figure. If nothing else, I hope Adam sticks around for New Wave theme night with guest mentor Adam Ant.
Odds to Win: 9:1
Singer: MATT GIRAUD
"Idol" Doppleganger: Chris Richardson, with a blues infusion
Will Win Because... He's learned his lesson. Group Two was set up to be a slam dunk for Adam, Megan and Matt Giraud. Because Allison Iraheta was good and because Matt absolutely destroyed a Coldplay song, things didn't work out and the Wild Card had to save him. As a result, Matt learned never, ever, never-ever to do anything outside of his gravel-voiced blues mode. Or at least he's learned that if he's smart. Also, put the guy in front of a piano and he ought to be entertaining for a while.
Won't Win Because... Yes, that Coldplay song was a bad choice, but there were countless ways Matt could have done the song without stinking. He wasn't bad because he chose a bad song. He was bad because he did the song he chose badly. That performance exposed just how limited Matt is, so his choice it to either be a one-trick pony and ride that until viewers become sick of him, or to occasionally run the risk of embarrassing himself.
Odds to Win: 12:1
Singer: MEGAN JOY CORKREY
"Idol" Doppleganger: Katharine McPhee if she's lucky, Amanda Overmyer if she isn't
Will Win Because... She's got a radiant smile, a quirky and disarming personality and a voice that makes every song she sings seem distinctive. Also, Kara's going to keep calling her "contemporary" until she's blue in the face.
Won't Win Because... Megan wasn't quite good enough to advance out of Group Two and she didn't exactly blow the competition away in the Wild Card round. Since we saw her audition, we've only heard her sound interesting, rather than good. And "interesting" is a problem. There are still people who hate Fantasia just because she didn't sound like everybody on the radio. People will make fun of her dancing and they'll make fun of her tattoos. There will be a lot of mockery in Megan's direction because she's a bit different and a bit odd. As long as she sings well, that won't be a problem. The minute she stumbles, she could be done.
Odds to Win: 25:2
Singer: SCOTT MACINTYRE
"Idol" Doppleganger: Anthony Fedorov
Will Win Because... Scott is a blank slate and the judges are just reading all of their politically correct guilt and fear of difference onto him. I don't think they've ever said a word about what he actually can or can't do with his voice, because singing is maybe the 10th most interesting thing about Scott. Instead, we're going to keep hearing how inspirational, how magical, how touching, how groundbreaking, how much Scott is truly living the dreams of America. The judges will be terrified to ever say a negative word about him, or they'll temper any negativity with enormous "BUT..." clauses. And because none of this is Scott's fault, he'll just continue to be a good guy, so voters will never resent that his "Idol" run is a product of sympathy over talent. It will also be great fun to see how Scott is used in the Group Sings and in the Ford commercials.
Won't Win Because... Scott's only OK. From his audition, to his Hollywood Week performances to his Group Three performance, Scott has never been anything other than decent. Also, blind piano playing singers are rare and inspirational and all, but they aren't exactly unicorns.
Odds to Win: 15:1 (but he may go way further than this)
Singer: JORGE NUNEZ
"Idol" Doppleganger: Corey Clark
Will Win Because... I simply can't rule out any singer who so clearly makes the female judges weak-in-the-knees. If Jorge can do it to Paula and Kara, maybe he can do it to America. If there is a large Spanish-speaking "Idol" viewership, they've never really had a contender to properly mobilize them (Sorry, David Hernandez) and if Jorge connects with Latino viewers from New York to Florida to Texas to California (and, at this point, all over the country), he could become a developing juggernaut. That would be a great story, one I'd love to see, because Jorge's also a pretty good singer.
Won't Win Because... I know that Jorge can sing, but I don't really know his strengths or his weaknesses. So, for that reason, I can't instantly predict which theme nights night cause roadblocks. In general, there are a lot of unknown factors to Jorge. "American Idol" voters fear the unknown.
Singer: KRIS ALLEN
"Idol" Doppleganger: Brandon Rogers
Will Win Because... Kris Allen has some sort of weird Juju working that I won't pretend to understand. Despite no screentime and a cover of "Man in the Mirror" that didn't even rise to the level of mediocre, Kris advanced out of his group thanks to the audience vote. I don't know who voted for him, but they must like him for some reason. Also, the judges kept talking about his tremendous voice and his guitar mastery. If any of those things are true (and we don't have any way of knowing), he could surprise some people. And by "some people," I mean me.
Won't Win Because... Again, we have almost nothing to go on for Kris. He came out of nowhere, wasn't very good and his advancing has to go down as the biggest shock of the Top 36. I still barely know he exists.
Singer: ALLISON IRAHETA
"Idol" Doppleganger: Camile Velasco
Will Win Because... She has a BIG voice. Good gracious she belted out that Heart song. The more she gets to do things like that, the more momentum she could build. Also, Allison feels raw, like the sort of contestant the "Idol" stylists and vocal coaches could work wonders with, if they have the time and if she's malleable. It also helps that she looks and seems like a real, uncomfortable teenage girl. Young female viewers could relate to Allison's awkwardness.
Won't Win Because... Lost amidst the awesomeness of the chorus of "Alone," was the wobbly, uncertain, barely sung verse leading in. Not every song is going to be that perfect a showcase and I sense a very real possibility that if a theme required her to just sing something with sweetness and restraint, she could flame out dramatically. Her voice seems like a blunt hammer, not a precision tool.
Odds: 60:1 (but she's a good dark horse, since I can imagine her being the first person out and I can imagine her making the Top Five.)
Singer: JASMINE MURRAY
"Idol" Doppleganger: Lisa Tucker
Will Win Because... Jasmine received a lot of positive screentime in the audition rounds and in Hollywood. For her age, she's surprisingly polished and professional.
Won't Win Because... She's going to feel the need to compete vocally with Lil Rounds and she doesn't have the chops. She's also going to have to complete with Allison for the teen vote, but because she's so polished and professional, she comes across as a bit robotic. She's going to be one of those contestants who gets mixed signals from the judges -- "Be younger!" "You look like a kid!" -- and I'll bet she gets confused in a hurry.
Singer: MICHAEL SARVER
"Idol" Doppleganger: Matt Rogers
Will Win Because... Michael worked in the oil fields. He's a big guy, a friendly guy and a family guy. He also worked in the oil fields. He has a steady, decent voice. He also worked in the oil fields. In these economic times, the idea of a Blue Collar American Idol seems worthy and Michael, in case you didn't know, worked in the oil fields.
Won't Win Because... Michael's never going to be the best performer and he's never going to offer the most diverse performances and for a guy who's pretty much just going to stand there and sing, he just doesn't have a good enough voice. Because Michael absolutely comes across as friendly and good-natured, he may survive a couple weeks. He isn't going to win.
What do y'all think? Who am I overestimating? Who am I underestimating? Who's gonna win it all?