After a rocky start to the semifinals last week, American Idol‘s top 20 contestants will be back tonight and tomorrow to prove they’re more Kelly Clarkson than Kelli Glover. Before they sing another note, however, it’s time for me to rank their place in the season 9 stratosphere — and for you to weigh in with your own vote in our handy Power List Poll. So, without further ado, let’s get to it…shall we? (Oh, and after you do your Idol civic duty, be sure to get up-to-the minute links to my coverage by following me on that Twitter thingie @EWMichaelSlezak!)
20. Tim Urban (New this week) Left the nation’s collective jaw on the floor after he tried and failed to reach the high notes of One Republic’s “Apologize” last week; that, combined with his wobbly David Cook cover in the Hollywood rounds, cemented the widely held impression that he’s the weakest remaining singer in the top 20. Nice head of hair, though, and recent shirtless-photo buzz could score points with more prurient segment of Idol fans.
19. Jermaine Sellers (Last week No. 15 ): Thuddingly awful Top 24 Week cover of Oleta Adams’ “Get Here” proved Jermaine has no understanding of/interest in the value of vocal restraint. Meanwhile, his apparent bewilderment as to the identity of Idol music director Michael Orland (whom he’d publicly clashed with during Hollywood Week) won’t win him any Mr. Congeniality points, either. Alas, his intriguing audition rendition of Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” seems a distant memory now.
18. Haeley Vaughn (Returns this week): One of season 9′s most polarizing contestants forcefully tackled the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for her semifinal debut, and while her rendition creaked and whined like a rusty door hinge in a dilapidated mansion, it was at the very least…interesting? Plus, her black bubble skirt, green top, and feathered headpiece was the fashion highlight of results night. Hey, it’s somethin’!
17. Lacey Brown (Last week No. 8 ): Cracked season 8′s top 50 contestants, and it was easy to understand why after hearing her excellent, restrained “Over the Rainbow” during the “Road to Hollywood” episode. Sadly, though, her scorched-Earth Top 24 cover of “Landslide” left no note unpunished, turning Lacey from dark horse to dark cloud. Needs to get her nerves — and her vocals — in check to avoid a hasty exit.
16. Alex Lambert (New this week): Cracked the top 20 using a combination of sympathy votes, mullet love, and appreciation for the intriguing natural tone of his voice. That said, he spat out his Week 1 “Wonderful World” with the sophistication and care of a toddler coughing an unwanted vegetable into his mother’s outstretched palm. In other words, he’ll have to figure out how to utilize his natural gifts this week — or pay the ultimate price in the competition.
15. John Park (Last week No. 4): Made Shania Twain melt with lust during the audition rounds, but made the Idol audience recoil with terror once he hit the live stage, thanks to a strangely phrased, pitch-challenged “God Bless the Child.” Which one is the real John Park? Let’s hope it’s the former, not the latter; the season 9 bench could use some added depth, no?
14. Todrick Hall (Last week No. 18 ): You’ve got to give him credit for trying something different with a funked-up twist on Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone.” And then you can promptly take said credit away for completely obliterating the melody and delivering a seriously unsteady vocal. And then you have to subtract a few more points for those preening, cheesy dance moves. Um, so how exactly does dude manage to move up from 18 to 14 this week? #Season9Trepidation!
13. Paige Miles (Last week No. 14): Total lack of early screen-time put Paige in the “whoa! who’s she?” role, and it didn’t help that she was forced to go first among the 24 semifinalists, either. Strangely enough, I thought she struggled to stay in tune throughout Free’s “All Right Now,” but the judges had nothing but praise for her. Needs a breakout performance to solidify any kind of voting base.
12. Michael ‘Big Mike’ Lynche (Last week No. 13): True confessions time: Which of the following is clearer in your memory — the Hollywood Week discussion of Big Mike’s wife’s cervix or his semifinal performance of Maroon 5′s “This Love”? That it’s even a question doesn’t bode especially well for the burly personal trainer — nor do his guitar-playing pantomime shenanigans — but he’s scored tons of airtime, and likable everydoods often go a long way in this competition.
11. Katie Stevens (Last week No. 11): Attempted to climb Mount Glambert by covering “Feeling Good” during Top 24 week, but hit a couple rough patches pitch-wise, and her “jazzy” “choreography” was thoroughly unconvincing. One of the more consistent performers during Hollywood Week, but needs to convince us she’s more than a child playing dress-up if she’s going to crack the Power List top 10.
10. Michelle Delamor (Last week No. 19; pictured, left): Was also largely overlooked during Idol‘s first six weeks, but her Top 24 performance of “Fallin’,” while completely derivative, was strongly sung and mostly in tune — enough to help her crack the upper echelon of season 9′s semifinalists. Still, unless she can shake off the “corporate-singing gig” affectations, she’ll never be a serious contender for the whole enchilada.
9. Aaron Kelly (Last week No. 17): Was visibly (and vocally) shaky as he begin his cover of Rascal Flatts’ “Here Comes Goodbye” last week, but as Randy Jackson might say, the teenage contestant worked it out and did his thing — capping the performance with a potent and passionate glory note. If he can continue to remember his lyrics (a problem during Hollywood Week), he’s a strong top 12 contender.
8. Katelyn Epperly (Returns this week; pictured, center): Surprised this naysayer with an appealingly raspy cover of the Beatles’ “Oh Darlin’” that made her one of the few current semifinalists to show forward momentum last week. Still, Kara was right that Katelyn ought to ditch the Bobo the Dominatrix makeover. Yikes and yowza indeed.
7. Lilly Scott (Last week No. 6): Retains a high chart position thanks to that beautifully nuanced Hollywood Week take on “Lullaby of Birdland” (complete with peacock-earring feathers), but her Top 24 cover of the Beatles’ “Fixing a Hole” was better in theory than in practice. Yeah, the song choice was appealingly quirky — we’d just have preferred it if Lilly had hit more than half the notes of the opening verse.
6. Lee Dewyze (Last week No. 10): Simon was perhaps being a bit too effusive when he called Lee’s “Chasing Cars” the best vocal of Wednesday night (not with that many bum notes, dude!). But the good parts of the performance were very very good, and the fetching contestant proved he knows how to change up a well-worn melody without completely destroying it. We’re intrigued to see what he does this week, which is better than the dread we’re experiencing with regard to most of his competitors.
5. Siobhan Magnus (Last week No. 12): Simon was right that Siobhan’s Top 24 performance was dark, but heck, girlfriend was singing “Wicked Game,” not “Walking on Sunshine”! Upper register is positively gorgeous, and any forward momentum in the confidence department ought to ensure her a spot on the 2010 Idol summer tour. Oh yeah, I went there already!
4. Didi Benami (Last week No. 3): Judges were a little lukewarm on her folksy cover of Ingrid Michaelson’s “The Way I Am,” and while, yeah, it was a little low-key for a first live impression, it was also delivered with the subtlety and emotional connectedness that were hallmarks of Didi’s Hollywood Week takes on Katharine McPhee”s “Terrified” and Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” (Bonus points for Didi’s admission she needs to dial back on the weeping. Way to be aware of your audience!)
3. Casey James (Last week No. 7; pictured, right): One of the few contestants last week who didn’t experience pitch problems — all the more impressive considering he did so while trying not to get distracted by Randy and Kara’s infantile sway-bot antics. Indeed, the guy who was once best known for taking off his shirt during auditions is now looking like one of the season’s few legit contenders. Needs to show a little more originality — and beware of excess vibrato — but his goofy expression during Thursday’s group performance was downright endearing.
2. Crystal Bowersox (Last week No. 2): Rocked both harmonica and guitar last week on a lovely, shaded rendering of Alanis Morissette’s “Hand in My Pocket.” Can’t refute Simon’s criticism that the tattooed mom will need to amp up the originality in her arrangements if she wants to be the next Kris Allen, but there’s also no denying her identifiable voice, quiet confidence, and laid-back cool have made her the early leader on the ladies’ side. Bow-er…(uh-huh, I can’t help myself)…sox!
1. Andrew Garcia (Last week No. 1): Absolutely killed with a rhythmically adventurous take on Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up,” and while his Top 24 Week choice of Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar, We’re Going Down” was infinitely less cool, it was, at the very least, unique and well sung. Needs to ramp up the drama and prove he’s more than a YouTube cover cat, but until a competitor has a true “Idol Moment,” the No. 1 slot is his to lose.
Image Credit: Michael Becker/Fox (3)