''American Idol'': Sizing up the 24 semifinalists | EW.com

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''American Idol'': Sizing up the 24 semifinalists

We size up the ''American Idol'' semifinalists: Some front-runners and some also-rans are already starting to emerge

”American Idol”: Sizing up the 24 semifinalists

Twenty-four is an awfully lucky number for the folks at Fox. Think about it: Not only is it the title of the network’s hit Monday drama, but it’s also the magic number that begins the second (and most compelling) half of American Idol’s season. (I’d better get some credit if the name of Fox’s next big hit is something like 24 Main Street or Fourth and Twenty. Just saying.)

Still, while tonight’s Idol episode revealed this season’s final 24 contestants — the folks we’ll (finally!) be able to vote for starting next week — let’s be honest: Not all of ‘em are beginning the race toward potential superstardom from the same starting point. Based on the brief glimpses of the two dozen singers who still have a chance at inheriting Taylor Hicks’ crown (and maybe even Chris Daughtry’s record sales figures), here’s where they’re currently positioned in the season 6 pack.

The Front-running Four I sure hope all of you are enjoying what you’ve seen so far from Chris Sligh, Sanjaya Malakar, Melinda Doolittle, and Lakisha Jones, because I’ve got a feeling they’re going to be regular guests in our living rooms for the next six to eight weeks, minimum. Yeah, okay, so Simon told Chris he wasn’t one of the contest’s best singers, but get real! The cranky Brit is trying to create compelling TV here. He’s not going to just give the curly-haired dude a free ticket to the final five! To my ears, Chris’ Hollywood rendition of ”Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” was the night’s best performance clip; unlike so many of his rivals, who attack musical notes as if they were hunters going after Bambi’s mom, Chris knows the power of holding back. And how could you not love the way he began his sitdown with the judges by asking, ”You guys want to know why I called this meeting?”

Of course, if Chris is the wittiest guy in the room, then Sanjaya appears to be the sweetest, and if he keeps flashing that million-dollar smile, he’s going to have the all-important Mom Bloc of voters sewn up long before the theme weeks and guest coaches ever arrive on the scene. What’s more, his ”Some Kind of Wonderful” actually lived up to its name.

Diva aficionados, on the other hand, may need to install second phone lines in their homes, as Melinda and Lakisha appear to have plus-size personalities to match their gloriously big voices. There’s something disarming about watching Melinda’s confidence bloom — not even Simon could hold back a genuine smile, or a little kiss on Melinda’s cheek, after he declared, ”Unanimous — you are no longer a backup singer.” Lakisha also won over the judges by keeping it humble, especially with the way she calmly told them she’d have ”no regrets” about returning to her bank job if they didn’t let her advance to the semifinals. How is it that a woman with Lakisha’s talent seems almost hesitant to let herself dream she could win this thing? The way she kicked and growled on the ”back” during ”Until You Come Back to Me” has me believing! Of course, if one of the four aforementioned singers doesn’t go all the way, then you’ve still got…

The Potential Upsetters It wouldn’t be Idol if the show’s producers didn’t hide the full strength of a few contestants going into the semifinals. And I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the front-runners need to watch out for at least one or two of the following wannabes: Blake Lewis, Rudy Cardenas, Stephanie Edwards, Leslie Hunt, and Jared Cotter. Up to this point, only Blake and Rudy have gotten significant airtime — but most of the former’s has focused on his impressive beat-boxing skills (which certainly elevated Tuesday night’s group performance of ”How Deep Is Your Love”). Is there more to him than we’ve seen? As for the latter, his ”Georgia on My Mind” was controlled and in tune but fell just short of unforgettable.

The other three all made a positive, albeit fleeting, impression in the few seconds of airtime they got tonight. Stephanie’s ”Until You Come Back to Me” was as crisp as a head of iceberg lettuce, but she’s going to have to rethink the blue eye shadow. I only know two things about Leslie: One, she’s an enthusiastic dancer (and a hilariously dorky one). Two, she’s got a lovely tone to her voice. Jared, meanwhile, made more of a visual impression. Sure, his rendition of ”Cupid” was better than average, but I really liked the way he goofily groomed his eyebrows while looking into the elevator camera. (He wasn’t being serious, right?) If none of these four folks is able to quickly capture America’s imagination, then we’ll have to hope for improvement from…

The Mid-Level Gang Now it could just be that I heard ”Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” too many times in tonight’s episode (it might’ve tested the patience of the president of Brian Adams’ fan club), but Brandon Rogers, Nicholas Pedro, and Gina Glocksen all sounded merely good, when they needed to bring on the greatness.

Seriously, while there’s no doubt Brandon and Nicholas can sing, their respective charisma levels seem to be set at Backup Singer for Anastacia and Headliner at the Tulsa Hilton Lounge. And as the likably gruff Gina shouted, ”Shut up!” to the judges’ announcement that she’d made the top 24, I found myself wondering if she was just the second coming of season 2’s Kim Caldwell — although with an edgier look. But I’ll give her this: She’s a classic trier, and who doesn’t love a trier?

I’d also tab Jordin Sparks as a middle player, but her take on ”Some Kind of Wonderful” at least showed improvement from her unmemorable Seattle audition. I just wish Jordin, the teenage daughter of a pro footballer, had waited another year or two before entering the competition, but at least she’s got some upward momentum. The same can’t be said for a few contestants who can only be described as…

Fading Fast Let’s make this quick. Antonella Barba, you forgot the words on your final rendition of ”Until You Come Back to Me,” and you hang with skanks. Paul Kim (a.k.a., the Barefoot Contestant), you shared too much too soon about your undies, and you sing like a boy-band wannabe. Jason ”Sundance” Head, you fooled me into thinking you were better than you are, and that comment to eliminated contestant Thomas Daniels, about how someday you’d hire him as a bodyguard? That was low-rent, dude. And Chris Richardson? Seriously? Your Hollywood-round number was so overwrought, so whiny, and so affected that I couldn’t locate a melody. If I put a clothespin on Justin Timberlake’s nose midway through hernia surgery, he’d still outsing you. And finally…

Don’t Get Attached To…

Haley Scarnato, whose ”It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” was so off-key it left even Paula struggling for positive adjectives (”You’re a smart girl, and pretty…”) way too early in the season.

Alaina Alexander, an apparently sweet human being who might as well wear a visor emblazoned with the words ”cannon fodder,” considering that both her audition and her Hollywood-week take on ”Without You” had more ugly than a William Hung highlight reel. (Also, was anyone else appalled that Randy wanted her to sit down in front of him in that wardrobe-malfunction-waiting-to-happen red minidress?)

Phil Stacey, just for that olive cap, worn hideously askew.

A.J. Tabaldo, who, with his not-entirely-on-key rendition of ”Until You Come Back to Me,” explained exactly why this season marks his fifth go-round on Idol.

Sabrina Sloan, whose tight curls made more of an impression than her serviceable ”Some Kind of Wonderful.”

Lastly, Nicole Tranquillo and Amy Krebs. I’d write more about ‘em, but then I’d have to go back to my DVR and rewatch their segments, and I fear by the time I finish, they’ll have already been eliminated.

And finally, in the most genuine, unironic way possible, I’d like to dedicate tonight’s column to Tami Gosnell, Ebony Jointer, Jenry Bejarano, Rachel Zevita, and Sean Michel, five folks whose voices captured our hearts during the audition rounds but who, inexplicably, never got the chance to sing on air again. I bet the semifinals would’ve been a lot more interesting (and competitive) had you made it, but lest you lose hope, there’s always season 7.

Readers, what do you think of the talent level of the season 6 semifinalists? If there was one contestant you could add to the 24, and one you could subtract, who would you choose? And what do you think about the fact that, once again, a number of semifinalists have received almost no airtime heading into the first week of voting?