The ‘American Idol’ Top 10: Who can win, who can’t?

[25 March 2008]

By Maureen Ryan

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Brooke White

Brooke White

Something very strange is going on with “American Idol” this year. It’s way too normal.

As the top 10 contestants take the stage Tuesday (8 p.m. EDT, Fox), there’s barely a ripple of controversy, compared with past seasons. Sure, there was the blip caused by the emergence of former contestant David Hernandez’s past as a stripper. And the talent contest endured a fair amount of criticism for showcasing singers who’ve had record deals in the past. But even those “controversies” didn’t have much staying power.

Where did it all go wrong? Isn’t “American Idol” supposed to be a long festival of outrageousness and scandals? Plus a little singing?

But this is an especially sedate, possibly sedated, “Idol” season. There’s no Sanjaya Malakar - a contestant who compensates for his relative lack of talent by purposely riling up viewers and judges with bizarre song choices and hairstyles. There isn’t a big battle between two or three front runners - even the judges appear to believe that the contest is David Archuleta’s to lose.

Strangest of all, the judges themselves have been remarkably honest and cogent in their comments, for the most part - even Paula. I’m telling you, the normality and even blandness of this seventh “Idol” season, which is once again slipping in the ratings compared to last year but is still the No. 1 show every week, is just weirding me out.

As for the singers, there is a lot of middling competence on display this year, but there have been very few “wow” performances. Here’s a highly subjective look at who could be going home soon, and who might win this year’s “Idol”:

David Archuleta

This baby-faced, 17-year-old singer is cuter than a basket of puppies - puppies made of rainbows! Whether or not he wins, he could be the next Clay Aiken - a talented belter with a rabid fan base. But as the judges have said, he needs to take a few risks and venture outside his sweet-and-safe comfort zone. How about trying something just a little more rock ‘n’ roll?

Can he win? Yes.

Jason Castro

Castro really erred with his most recent song choice - “Michelle” by the Beatles. His performance was sing-songy and utterly blah. He needs to stick with tunes that showcase his clear-as-a-bell voice, as his cover of “Hallelujah” did.

Can he win? Yes.


The most talented stage performer of them all, Chikezie has presence and charisma to spare. He’s fun to watch, but it’s hard to say whether he has staying power in the competition. His song choices and arrangements have been on the wacky side at times, and he’ll need to step it up and really wow the judges with his vocal skills, not just his friendly, energetic demeanor. Sticking with upbeat R&B and pop might be his best bet.

Can he win? Yes, but it’s a long shot.

David Cook

The best thing that ever happened to Chris Daughtry was getting kicked off “American Idol.” Daughtry went on to sell millions of records, but winning “Idol” would have destroyed his credibility in the rock world. And though the cocky Cook’s got a pretty good voice, “Idol” voters don’t really go for rockers.

Can he win? No. And he shouldn’t want to.

Kristy Lee Cook

Like Carly Smithson, Cook can belt out songs with the best of them, but do you remember her performances the next day? Me neither. She needs to really step up her game in the next few weeks and do her best to avoid sounding like “musical wallpaper,” as Simon put it.

Can she win? Maybe.

Michael Johns

He’s got the hunky, tousled looks of a pop star, but can he sing? Yes, but he has to be much more consistently good from now on. His version of “A Day in the Life” was, as the judges said, a mess, and he needs to pick uptempo, slightly rocking songs if he wants to stay in the game.

Can he win? Maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Ramiele Malubay

A bad karaoke singer. She should pack her bags.

Can she win? No.

Syesha Mercado

One pretty good performance, which judges overpraised during the second Beatles week, does not an “American Idol” champion make. Syesha’s been mostly forgettable all season, and I don’t see that changing.

Can she win? No.

Carly Smithson

This Irish singer has powerful pipes, but is that all she has going for her? She can’t resist steamrolling her way through each performance, grabbing each and every song by the jugular in her quest to subdue it. She roars through power ballads like Godzilla raged through Tokyo: It’s more a rampage than a rendition. There’s no doubt that Smithson can deliver the difficult notes, but can she sing with emotion, subtlety and deftness? That remains to be seen.

Can she win? Maybe.

Brooke White

White is my favorite - she’s got a warm, earthy voice with a pleasing, throaty catch to it. But her performance of “Here Comes the Sun” last week proves that “less is more” should be her guiding principle. She’s not the most assured presence on stage (and she should avoid dancing like the plague), but when she uses a spare arrangement and emotionally connects to a song, as she did with “Let It Be,” she creates magic.

Can she win? Yes.

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