Why Ruben will win -- and Carmen won't
At this point, short of a natural disaster that sucks the entire ''American Idol'' house into the center of the earth, there is no way Ruben Studdard will not be crowned the next American Idol. He's been the solid, steady voice each week, and judging from the applause for ''Kiss and Say Goodbye,'' this guy will not be bidding farewell anytime soon. Bonus points to Big Ru for shedding the 205 uniform and getting decked in a fine leather jacket.
Okay, so now that we know who wins, who's going to be the first runner-up? Until this week I would have said we were destined for the Ruben-Clay bake-off. But Clay seems to be falling victim to Justin Guarini Syndrome: starting strong by making love to the camera and seducing tweens who can crush on the nonthreatening hottie (who, I believe, was wearing powder-blue eye shadow Tuesday night) and falling into the trap of thinking he's so good he can afford to make bitchy comments about the judges. Much to my dismay (because I get goosebumps every time that boy opens his mouth), I'm here to report the Clay backlash has begun.
The one person who stands to benefit from crumbling Clay is Josh the Marine. I still think his choice to affect a twang in his voice and become the country rep of the crowd was premeditated and phony, but you can't argue with the fact that it's working. When he got up there in his cowboy boots (which were so bought just for this show) and those dirty brown jeans (was he supposed to look like he just came in from milkin' cows and shovelin' hay?), you could hear a collective ''yee-haw'' from the Heartland. When country music hater Simon Cowell gives the performance a ''perfect'' assessment, you know this Marine's strategy may have helped him in the battle for ''Idol''-dom.
But enough of who's going to last the longest; let's focus on who should be packing their bags the fastest. It's obvious that poor newly legal Carmen (and her hair extentions) are headed back home to Mommy and Daddy in Utah. What she was thinking by choosing ''Call Me'' is beyond...well, beyond anyone who's ever watched Blondie's Debbie Harry belt out a song. Sure, she tried to look sultry and edgy in those stiletto boots and miniskirt, but Carmen's strength as a clean-cut sex kitten simply could not come through. ''This is a bad-girl kind of song,'' the almost always sugary Paula said. ''Absolutely dreadful,'' Simon scoffed. Carmen is definitely going home. It's too bad, really, because she's not the worst of the remaining finalists; she just chose the worst possible song on the planet.
Instead of Carmen, I would like to see Trenyce or Kimberly Caldwell get the boot. No matter how much makeup Trenyce globs on her face or how many slinky navel-baring outfits she puts on that lanky bod, I can't seem to get her mug shot out of my mind. But even if it weren't for the fact that she's been in the clink (Damn it! Why did my beloved superstud Corey have to get kicked out instead of her?), Trenyce has other issues. Did anyone else notice how much she missed those high notes? If you're going to belt it out, at least do it on key.
And Kimberly Caldwell, who chooses a lame Bryan Adams song of all the Billboard No. 1s? She's still clinging to her misguided belief that she's a little bit rock & roll. What she is is a really pretty girl with a great body and some pretty damn good fashion sense. ''Your look is getting better. Better and better and better,'' Lionel Richie said in a borderline creepy way. As for her mediocre-at-best voice? Simon spoke the truth with ''I don't think Robin Hood could protect you after that.''
As for Kimberley Locke and Rickey, these two performed their personal bests this week. As soon as I heard that annoying ''Titanic'' music, I was ready to bring up my dinner, but Kimberley can do no wrong. She even managed to look stunning this week with the whole dark, tailored look (vertical stripes are flattering!). Rickey may not be long for this competition, but his ''Endless Love'' one-man duet was inspired. I was sort of expecting him to tear off that hat for the Diana Ross parts and reveal a wig of long locks, but it's probably best he stayed covered up.
Let's face it: When Ruben sang ''Kiss and Say Goodbye,'' he may as well have been singing to his fellow contestants. It's Ruben's world. Everyone else is just singing in it.
What did you think of the show? Post your comment, and we'll publish the best ones in our Thursday ''American Idol'' column on EW.com.