Well, that was the weirdest possible way to introduce season 12′s finalists to America, wouldn’t you say? To recap, Ryan Seacrest sat the 20 remaining hopefuls in what looked like a cramped classroom (very Up the Down Staircase) and led each surviving finalist through a long corridor and to the stage for a victory performance. In case that wasn’t bizarre enough, Ryan sometimes gave the performers little pep talks before they hit the stage. And we all know what a sympathetic character Seacrest is.
“You did it. All the hard work paid off,” Seacrest muttered to Candice Glover like a scripted high-school guidance counselor. So, so weird.
Here’s what’s important. The ten finalists (chosen by home viewer votes) were announced, and now it’s our job to rank them in two ways: 1) by merit, based solely on who deserves to be the next American Idol most; 2) by likeliness to win, based solely on the sad state of America’s reality-TV voting population. We’ll start with the cheerier list, the merit-based rankings.
10. Lazaro Arbos
Could he be cuter? No. Could he be a better singer? Oh-heaven-help-us yes, with one or two years (or even more, honestly) of extra training. Lazaro is the sympathetic vote who can pull together an Express For Men ensemble and enough poignant notes to drown out his weakness for song interpretation, but he’s not at all equipped to croon against these pitch-perfect bleaters.
9. Paul Jolley
Ah, Lasso Minnelli. His countrified “cabaret” stylings (quoth Keith Urban) have a certain quaintness, and it’s always nice to see a straight-dominated genre represented by a man who might-just-be-one-of-us. But his “vulnerability” always feels fake, his approach to every song is exactly the same, and as far as I can tell, he can only successfully deliver one type of song: lachrymose torch tunes. Dread his inevitable performance of “Jesus Take the Wheel” right alongside me!
8. Janelle Arthur
It didn’t occur to me until just now, but Janelle Arthur may put a serious dent in Paul Jolley’s chances. As a country star, she’s more of a determined rascal (even if her last two weeks of mediocre performances haven’t shown it) than he is, and she might turn out to be more entertaining than I’ve given her credit for. As is, she’s a sometimes-fun vocalist who just isn’t as spectacular as her competition.
7. Curtis Finch Jr.
I didn’t love Curtis’ takes on either “Superstar” or “I Believe I Can Fly” (the former because it was too hammy, the latter because I am a human being who rejects Space Jam schmaltz on principle), but if Curtis reins in his obnoxious instrument, he might prove his vocals are as tender and soulful as the judges’ keep announcing they are.
6. Burnell Taylor
I have to deduct points for cloying stage gestures, but Burnell really added a cute sweetness to “I’m Here” and John Legend’s “This TIme” over the past couple weeks. To use one of Mariah Carey’s six playable adjectives, he is quite “effervescent” onstage. Not quite “celestial” (R.I.P. Juliana Chahayed), but adorable.