Ranking American Idol's Top Twelve

I mean, if people keep reading these things...

Well, those first intensive rounds of deadwood-clearing are done, and I'm sorry to see a few of those contestants go (Asia'h Epperson, please come back). But now we're into the meat of the American Idol season, which means it's time to start forming emotional connections and then immediately forgetting those connections a couple of weeks after the season finale. This year we've got a truly weird roster, stacked with ringers and one-trick ponies and people who might not have made it past the audition rounds during previous seasons. And here they are, ranked from favorite to least. Keep in mind that this is my list and that I'm being entirely subjective; I have demonstrated exactly zero ability to predict what America might like.

1. Jason Castro. His "Hallelujah" was one of my favorite TV moments in recent memory, right up there with Namond's cameo on The Wire last week. And I like stoners. Stoners are, by and large, good dudes. The idea that one of them has infiltrated the upper ranks of America's favorite reality show and that he might actually win the thing makes me truly happy. If we couldn't have Josiah, at least we get this fool.

2. Chikeze. Two of the three songs he's done so far have been kinda-boring lite-soul ballads, but his take on Donny Hathaway's "I Believe to My Soul" last week was some serious old-school showmanship. Plus he's quick-witted enough to trade barbs with Simon Cowell without coming off like a deluded ass, and he carries himself like an actual human being rather than a stage-mannered mannequin. Once Idol gets deeper into the goofy theme-shows, he's only going to get better; I'm eager to see what he does when the inevitable disco show rolls around.

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3. Ramiele Malubay. She still hasn't displayed much capability for anything beyond weepy ballads, but she slew that Dusty Springfield song during opening week, and she's got a huge voice that's going to kill once she figures out what to do with it. I get a very distinct Jordin Sparks vibe from her, which is a good thing. And she always blubbers uncontrollably whenever anyone else gets voted off, which I guess is nice.

4. David Cook. I don't, as a rule, like all the post-grunge grunters who have flooded the show's ranks in the wake of Bo Bice. But Cook seems to be having some fun playing that position, reworking songs rather than shooting for accuracy; this week's "Hello" was passionately hammy. I also like that he's a self-described word nerd, if only because that means he's not all that wrapped up in playing the rock-dude stereotype that so many past contestants have embraced wholeheartedly.

5. Kristy Lee Cook. For whatever reason, this year's roster is jammed with semi-pro ringers with industry connections and backgrounds that the show's producers tenaciously refuse to grant more than a passing acknowledgment. Of that lot, Cook is my favorite because she fucks up the most, if that even makes sense. She makes ill-advised choices and reaches way outside her comfort zone, just like the show's non-pro contestants, and that story she told this week about pretending to be a dog and riding her pet rats around on her back was borderline-disgusting. She embarrassed herself with soul songs she couldn't handle during the first two shows, but I really liked her take on Journey's "Faithfully" this week, and she might yet hit a powerful stride if she keeps vaguely countrying up soft-rock jams like that. For some reason, it's always fun to watch country singers on this show; they seem to roll with the punches better than anyone.

6. Brooke White. She's managed to stay in her lane (Starbucks-pop, in her case) better than almost any of the other contestants, which would mean more to me if I actually liked Starbucks-pop. I still have basically no idea whether she can actually sing.

7. David Archuleta. So his "Imagine" actually was a really nice moment, Eva Cassidy arrangement-bite or no. But his other two performances were totally unmemorable, and I haven't been able to shake the impression that he's a super-advanced robot specifically programmed to shoot sincerity-rays in all directions. Also, did you see the clip of all the top twelve contestants dancing at the end of last week's show? Archuleta was hopping up and down, and he looked like a gnome or a gremlin or some shit. It was scary.

8. Syesha Mercado. On the first live show of the season, Mercado and Asia'h Epperson both sang the hell out of a couple of bluesy old classic-rock jams, and I sort of instantly loved both of them. But in the shows after that, Epperson tried wailing a couple of huge songs by a couple of uber-diva types, pushing her voice as hard and far as she possibly could, while Mercado sleepwalked through a couple of lite-soul slow-jams that I can barely remember. Epperson was voted off last night, and Mercado remains. Fuck that. Also, she makes creepy baby noises.

9. David Hernandez. I wonder if this guy will get better tips back in Phoenix after the DJ announces him as American Idol's tenth runner-up. I hope so. He seems like a nice guy, and his "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" was pretty good. But I'd feel a lot worse about making stripped-it-down jokes if his backstory wasn't the most interesting thing about him.

10. Carly Smithson. She can sing. She can sing very well. She's also a living symbol of everything lame about this season. American Idol wouldn't be the top-rated TV show in the country if it was just a singing competition and nothing more. It's supposed to be an up-from-nothing story. This chick already had a serious shot and already fucked it up. If she wins, she show compromises its own existence. A Carly Smithson win would be to American Idol what Landry murdering that guy was to Friday Night Lights. 11. Amanda Overmyer. What I said earlier about embracing and playing up rocker stereotypes? That's this chick summed up completely. She's a cartoon character, and I've spent too much time watching Rock Star: Supernova to ever waste any more brainpower paying attention to clowns like this one. Her "I Hate Myself for Loving You" was pretty good and all, but I still found myself irrationally hating it. That's probably going to keep happening until she finally disappears.

12. Michael Johns. This guy would've made my shitlist if he sang "Light My Fire" once. He sang it twice. Also, if you play tennis, you can't call yourself a jock. You just can't.

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