Michael Slezak
April 13, 2010 AT 03:30 PM EDT

Adam Lambert returns to American Idol tonight as this week’s guest mentor, and while some folks have said it’s an affront to Carrie, Kelly, Cookie, and Kris to let the season 8 runner-up offer singing and performing tips to the show’s current crop of contenders, I’m in the opposite corner, totally stoked to see how it all plays out. Let’s be honest: Throughout season 8, Adam proved totally adept at molding Idol‘s weekly themes to fit his particular vocal style, and his general lack of conversational filter should make for good TV — and perhaps jolt the remaining hopefuls to create their own Idol moments. And isn’t that what the show is really all about? Well, that and discovering the next artist who can overcome a “No Boundaries”-style albatross and still find success on the pop charts. So with that in mind, I’m going to get on with the grueling work of ranking the top 9. Won’t you do the same by voting for your favorite contestant in our Power List poll? (Related: ‘American Idol’ exclusive: Executive Producer Ken Warwick on nixing the Swaybots and helping Adam Lambert; for more Idol coverage, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.)

9. Andrew Garcia (Last week No. 7): Finally made his bottom-two debut after an irrelevant rendition of “Can’t Buy Me Love” on Lennon-McCartney night, and after seven weeks of live performances, he’s only had one moment — a cleanly sung, relatively hip cover of Chris Brown’s “Forever” — that made him look like a worthwhile finalist. To paraphrase an old Jade song, “5, 4, 3, 2, his time is up!”

8. Aaron Kelly (Last week No. 6): Had all the energy of a guppy floating at the top of the fishtank on “The Long and Winding Road,” and paired with that tepid “Ain’t No Sunshine” a week prior, he enters the week in serious trouble. On the plus side, he wisely promised Kara a tempo change, but after consecutively tackling tracks covered by David Cook, Kris Allen, and David Archuleta, we’d also like him to declare a moratorium on any material previously covered on the Idol stage.

7. Michael ‘Big Mike’ Lynche (Last week No. 4): Botched any positive emotional momentum by pouting and preening after Simon & Co. chose to use the season 9 Judges’ Save to rescue him from elimination. Strangely enough, I thought the performance that put him at risk — a soulful spin on “Eleanor Rigby” — was one of his best vocals to date, but the slightly fusty performance style, the ridiculous bear-hug compulsion, and the unshakable air of entitlement (check you out on iTunes? I don’t think so) are not the stuff of Idol winners.

6. Katie Stevens (Last week No. 8 ): Didn’t try to do too much with “Let It Be,” and delivered her cleanest vocal to date. Plus, footage of Katie attempting the “Single Ladies” dance gave her actual human-like qualities. Further advances on those fronts could keep her safe for a few more weeks, but might as well hit her own season 9 “eject” button if she returns to pageant-girl shenanigans or exposes any more issues with her rocky lower register.

5. Tim Urban (Last week No. 9): Yeah, Tim Urban is at No. 5. This is what it’s come to, people.

4. Siobhan Magnus (Last week No. 3): After whiffing on “Through the Fire” and “Superstition,” The Glassblower regained some momentum with a lilting, restrained “Across the Universe.” Still, that performance lacked the inherent emotional boom-boom-pow of  “Paint It Black” and “House of the Rising Sun,” the performances that made Siobhan a legit threat to the Bowersox Coronation March. Help her, Adam! A lot is riding on this week’s performance.

3. Casey James (Last week No. 5): He’s consistent — which is more than a lot of his competitors can claim — and his passionate, stripped-down “Jealous Guy” was exactly the type of breakout performance he needed to prove he’s more than just a competent cover-band singer. Could use about 35 percent less vibrato on his vocals, but continued forward momentum could turn the season’s final seven weeks into an actual horse race.

2. Lee DeWyze (Last week No. 2): Rewrote the “Crystal and other people” script with a searing cover of the Cornelius Brothers’ “Treat Her Like a Lady” two weeks back, but no amount of bagpipes and mirrors could disguise the pitch problems he experienced on “Hey Jude.” Lee is cute, current, and has a great tone to his voice, but one thing that unites all eight prior Idol winners was their ability to consistently sing in tune.

1. Crystal Bowersox (Last week No. 1): Botched some lyrics on her groovy, didgeridoo-infused “Come Together,” but no one on the judges’ panel bothered to call her out — and that’s the type of blind, Simon-led hype that ultimately contributed to Melinda Doolittle, David Archuleta, and even Danny Gokey falling short of the Idol crown. Still, it’s hard to deny Crystal isn’t operating on a different plane in terms of her effortless rearrangements and vocal excellence. Explosive “Me and Bobby McGee” and soulful “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” remain the season 9 benchmarks.

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Image Credit: Michael Becker/Fox

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