— There’s still more than two months until “American Idol” crowns its season 10 winner, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to gauge who the favorites are.
This season has one of the deeper pools of contenders in the show’s history. A lot of the remaining dozen have special expertise in a musical genre, but there’s one singer in particular who looks to have all the ingredients that “Idol” likes to have in a champion, making this performer one of the biggest favorites I’ve seen in recent years.
Who’s that odds-on favorite? Read on for my prediction of each contestant's odds of winning.
If you're in the bottom three this early in the competition, that's a bad sign. Karen Rodriguez and Haley Reinhart could well come back and become contenders — particularly Reinhart, if she shows better song selection — but there's a long way to go and not much time to get there.
Same goes for Naima Adedapo and Stefano Langone, who weren't among the top 10 vote-getters of the 13 original finalists. Adedapo has a great stage presence and a distinctive style, but is she mainstream enough? Her struggle to gain support in the early rounds indicates that it's probably not. Langone has the opposite problem: a mainstream voice but non-distinctive stage presence. He'll have difficulty standing out from the crowd.
Thia Megia did not have a very good week last week, nor was vocal coach Peggi Blu crazy about her preparation for the Vegas round during the auditions. It says something about Megia, however, that she survived with just a pouty face and a smile, and hasn’t yet been in any real danger of going home.
With the time to find her comfort zone, she could break out of the pack and become a true contender. She’ll have to show she can smile away criticism, unlike what she did last week, however, because nobody likes someone who sulks.
James Durbin, Jacob Lusk and Paul McDonald are all very talented. Each sings very well. But to be contenders, each would need to have some crossover skills.
McDonald brings the most musical experience and could surprise. Lusk has the appeal and the vocal talent that Ruben Studdard took to the season two title, and Durbin shows the most versatile voice if his performance from last week holds form. But ultimately, McDonald is the second-best country contender in the competition, Lusk has to show he can break through across genres and Durbin needs to prove he’s more than a poor man’s Adam Lambert.
Prediction: One of these three will break from the pack and make it into May. Which one? I have no idea.
Baby, lock them doors and dim the lights: Scotty McCreery has become a contender. Who cares that he couldn’t find a group to audition with for a long time in Hollywood, or that he sounds like a 40-year-old singing in a kid’s body? He’s more than a gimmick — he’s one of the best male country voices this competition has ever seen.
But he’s still a niche singer. He’s pure country, so he’ll go as far as the “American Idol” interest in that genre takes him. The fact that he isn’t the only singer with a Nashville sound among the finalists could hurt as well. While Carrie Underwood went straight from the "Idol" stage to the Grand Ole Opry, she’s the exception to the general rule, and the odds are that McCreery will eventually lose out to a more conventional pop-radio voice.
Pia Toscano far outclasses the other women on the show, so it wouldn’t be too much of a shock if she winds up winning. She has a very good voice and stage presence, can belt out the standards without drawing the wrath of judge Randy Jackson, and looks the part of a star.
There’s no reason she shouldn’t make it into May, and if any of the top two contenders has a bad week or two she could easily wind up winning it all.
This number comes with an asterisk.
If Casey Abrams’ body cooperates, he’s definitely a strong contender. For starters, he’s a graduate of the Taylor Hicks School of Audience Appeal. He’s immensely likeable, is the kind of performer everyone enjoys seeing live, and he has a ton of musical chops to go with the stage effects.
Of course, as Hicks proved, that doesn’t always translate into record sales. But that’s not the main concern with Abrams — it’s that he’s already been hospitalized twice with stomach ailments. At this point, it would be enough of a relief that he’s able to continue in the competition long-term, but the risk that he’ll be betrayed by health concerns makes him a decisive underdog.
Don’t be fooled by the lukewarm feedback Lauren Alaina received a week ago. She is the most prohibitive favorite at this stage since Underwood was the leader for all of season four before taking the crown.
Why? Let’s review. Alaina is young, Southern, pretty and talented, much like past winners Kelly Clarkson and Underwood herself, whom Alaina has already been compared to by the judges. If the recap of her audition episode is to be believed, judge Steven Tyler anointed her as a favorite right then, so it was love at first sight.
Her blend of confidence and humility, as well as her sense of humor, also bodes well for her chances. How many other “Idol” contestants could call host Ryan Seacrest “Peaches” and get away with it?
But there are two factors working against her: At 16, she’s still very young, and the “Idol” grind may take a toll on her. The fact that she was so affected by last week’s lukewarm feedback makes viewers wonder what would happen if Simon Cowell ever critiqued her. And it’s not like the perceived favorites have actually won it all in recent years — just ask Chris Daughtry, Melinda Doolittle, David Archuleta, Adam Lambert and Crystal Bowersox.
But absent that, she’s as sure a bet as we’ve seen in recent years. If you’re offered a choice between Alaina and the rest of the field, the smart bet is to put your money on the teenager.