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American Idol: The Road to Hollywood

Andrew Garcia

Tonight was a sort of clean-up show that revisited clips from the audition shows that didn't make the cuts in previous weeks. It was the last episode before “Hollywood Week”, when the actual singing competition finally gets underway and Ellen Degeneres arrives to, presumably, shake things up. Ads previewing next week promised the “most intense” Hollywood cuts ever, with even Ellen looking pissed off. Ryan Seacrest declared that the Season 9 pack might be Idol's most talented ever—he says that every year—but that they've “never broken down like this before”. So if you haven't gotten quite enough of close-ups of crying jags, you're in luck again next week.

Tonight's catch-all show was a chance to get acquainted with more of the faces we'll see in Hollywood, so the episode was mercifully light on the joke auditions, geared instead toward viewers who like American Idol as a showcase for actual talent. We have to this point been offered a limited view of the audition's most promising singers, as the first three weeks maintained a focus on rotten-apple rejects and smirkable misfits, a parade that has proven to profitably extend the show's season. Among the tryouts' legitimate singers, the auditions almost exclusively focus on those candidates who have compelling stories of overcoming adversity. As a result, we have perhaps met just half of those who will end up in the Top 24 with a legitimate shot at becoming the next American Idol.

Among those who walked away golden tonight, a few were real contenders. Lee Dewzye is a guy who looks Kris Allen normal, but sings with Greg Allman soul. Lacy Brown has lots of potential, having narrowly missed the final cut last year; she sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (yawn) and made clever but unobtrusive alterations to the melody, demonstrating real flair as a vocalist. Didi Benami is a charming albeit emotional blonde with a neo-swing voice; her version of “Hey Jude” was modest, but sweet. Crystal Bowersox is a dreadlocked hippie chick with an acoustic guitar slung across her back; she did a Janis Joplin impression on “Piece of My Heart”, showcasing decent chops, but there's one like her in every dorm. Aaron Kelly could be this year's David Archuleta as the little shy kid with the big voice. Incidentally, we also saw Michael Lynche tonight, who made news last week for getting ejected for leaking his place in the Top 24.

Predicting which of these hopefuls will go all the way is next to impossible, especially when you consider the dramatic makeovers that occur, a variable now known as the Clay Aiken Factor, once these kids get into hair and makeup, let alone vocal and performance coaching. Still, we might as well take a shot at predicting those singers who will be among the last standing at the end of the whole shebang. Here, then, are the ten most likely to succeed.

1. Andrew Garcia, a father and former kid of the streets, who brings both style and range.

2. Angela Martin, a versatile, pure singer, removed last year on a traffic ticket rap.

3. Chris Golightly, who might be a sentimental fave but whose impassioned vocals will hold their own.

4. Danelle Hayes, a been-there, done-that rock girl who has both power and control.

5. Keia Johnson, a bright-eyed soul singer full of poise and charisma.

6. Mallorie Haley, a country gal with plenty of good looks and vocal dexterity, the best Carrie Underwood wannabe of this group.

7.Matt Lawrence, a burly cowboy, who might bridge soul and country enough to be a survivor.

8. Todrick Hall, perhaps the one to beat, a guy who'll be able to sing anything they throw at him.

9. Tori Kelly, a charming teen who could grow into a terrific singer if she learns to perform.

10. Tyler Grady, a shaggy rock throwback, who fills a niche the finals need.

I'll revisit this list in a few weeks, in triumph or shame, and we welcome your picks, hunches, and favorites, as well.

Next up: It's on—Tuesday from Hollywood.

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