Kate Ward
February 25, 2011 AT 06:11 PM EST

Image Credit: FoxPredictably, last night’s American Idol — in which the judges pared down a solid group of singers to 24 finalists — brought plenty of egregious cuts (see: Colton Dixon, John Wayne Schulz), heart-breaking ousters (aw, give us a hug, Jacee Badeaux!), and head-scratching moments (ouch, those were my eyes, Lauren Alaina’s dress!). Of course, the show also gave us the chance to cheer for some of our early favorites in the competition, including (the reportedly hospitalized) Casey Abrams, a talented performer who has yet to crash and burn on the Idol stage. But even after watching Randy unload heaping praise on the contestant, calling him the most musical performer on Idol ever (dawg), I’m still left wondering: Does Casey have a chance of winning this whole thing?

Now, I completely agree with Randy. My jaw has repeatedly dropped watching Casey deliver mature, mind-blowing performances with the help of his melodica and bass. (And at just 19 years old — listen to his audition performance of “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” and try not be impressed that that pain and yearning comes from someone unable to legally drink alcohol.) And the semifinalist’s “Georgia On My Mind” had to be one of the most solid and interesting numbers ever seen in Hollywood, if not on the entirety of Idol. But there’s no denying that Casey is not necessarily molded for the competition — Idol is a series that is most successful when it rewards babes with big voices who can churn out pop versions of old hits. And though Casey is a babe with a big voice (at least, to some), his tendency to hedge towards interesting performances over mainstream ones separates him from the Carrie Underwoods and Kelly Clarksons of Idol past. On top of that, we’re not entirely sure how Casey will fare without an instrument by his side, something he’ll have to cope with now that Idol‘s producers have limited the number of times contestants can accompany their own singing. Will his quirky nature make Idol fans ultimately recall (gasp!) Taylor Hicks? Or will he fiddle with his music enough to transform himself into a more eccentric, huggable David Cook? How will the Idol machine treat Casey Abrams?

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