As “American Idol” enters its final stretch, there are three tiers of contenders left among the remaining seven singers. Odds are high that the champion will be one of the two leading men, but a trio of others has a chance to sneak in if one of the favorites falter. A couple of wild-cards, on the other hand, need to pull an inside straight to have any chance at the title.
The Favorites Adam Lambert (43 percent chance of winning) Danny Gokey (42 percent chance of winning)
Adam Lambert walks the high-wire every week. Danny Gokey sticks to the conventional path, but does so with an impressive array of vocal skills. Barring a huge upset or a breakdown of the phone lines, one of the two is most likely to win the title.
Adam has the slight edge because he’s the more dynamic performer. Love him or hate him, he’s the singer whose effort is most anticipated every week because it’s usually going to be something unconventional and over-the-top. When he pulls it off, which he usually does, it gives him the added spice that Danny sometimes lacks.
Of course, part of what makes Adam's performances so intriguing is that there’s always the possibility of it being atrocious. On any given week, he could take on a legend, offend the panel, and get slammed. That would drop him back to the pack in a hurry. Or he could have a bad hair day, come out looking like Carrot Top instead of with his usual dye job, and force people to change the channel in disgust.
Danny is the safer option among the two favorites. Week after week, he comes through with strong performances, and there's little risk of him beating himself as there is with Adam. Vocally speaking, he has the power and range to sing pretty much anything.
Moreover, Danny is easy to root for. The fact that he's a young widower makes him a sympathetic figure. He doesn't use his personal loss as a crutch, but it shows up in instances like last week, when Simon seemed reluctant to ding him for his song choice because of what it signified to Danny emotionally.
The issue with Danny is that while he himself is memorable, his songs usually aren’t. Anyone who can name more than three of the tunes he’s performed thus far has to be a true fan or a relative.
Ultimately, it will come down to whether the audience likes the performance skills of Adam more than the pure vocals of Danny, but it would be a major upset if they weren’t the two singers in the finale.
Waiting in the WingsAllison Iraheta (5 percent chance of winning) Kris Allen (5 percent chance of winning) Lil Rounds (4 percent chance of winning)
Allison Iraheta, Kris Allen, and Lil Rounds have all had their moments where they’ve been as good as anyone this season, but haven’t enjoyed the success of the favorites. They’re looking to hang around until they can elbow their way to the top, but there are strikes against each.
The judges all like Allison, or at least they would like the viewers to keep her around. That accounts for her recent feedback, which included Simon saying that she could be around to the finish and was the only hope for the women.
There's a lot for them to praise, as the 16-year-old sounds like a pro when she gets to break out the rock vocals. She's seemingly impervious to the ups and downs of the competition, cheerfully going to the bottom three seats of shame when she's told to, and happily bantering with host Ryan Seacrest when she isn't.
But she sings with an edge that’s more rock then pop, and that tends not to work for the women performers like it does for the men. That's one reason why the viewers haven't loved her as much as the four loudmouths on the podium do, and it's why she's a longshot to win it all.
If this were "Survivor" or "Big Brother," Kris would be the guy who skates under the radar, makes the final four, and causes the remaining contestants to panic that he was about to steal the competition. That's a possibility here.
Kris' best attribute right now is that he gets a little better every week and doesn't do anything wrong. He's a good enough singer, his guitar playing is fine, and his stage presence has improved from the early weeks where he looked like he was singing right before a scheduled root canal.
To win this, however, Kris needs to raise his game in a way that he hasn’t been able to thus far. Adam and Danny both have more powerful voices and have shown that ability to overwhelm the audience and the judges on any given week. Kris isn't quite at that level, and that gap is looking significant as the season winds down.
Lil has one of the best voices in the competition, which she showed in the early stages. But since a disappointing Motown Week, she's never worked her way out of a downward spiral, and got the second-lowest number of votes a week ago.
Her odds of winning are small right now because the judges don't believe in her. She's the number-one draft pick who impressed in early workouts, but struggled once the games began, and Simon has made it very clear that she needs to rediscover herself in a hurry.
That's not an impossibility. This is the same woman who according to one report was a guaranteed pick for the final four. Of course, the other woman in that group was Alexis Grace, who's been out of this for a couple of months already. Without a big-time performance this week, Lil is likely to join her on the sidelines.
Almost no chanceMatt Giraud (0.5 percent chance of winning)Anoop Desai (0.5 percent chance of winning)
Matt Giraud and Anoop Desai have traveled similar "Idol" paths. Both lost out in the first semifinal heat, and were relegated to the wild-card pool. Both were saved at the last minute, — quite literally in Anoop's case — becoming the last two singers to earn berths in the finals.
And for the most part, both have justified that faith. They’re unique, they’re fun, they’ve had their good moments and their bad moments.
But neither of them has a realistic chance to win. They don’t have enough of a fan base, and they haven’t shown the star potential that they would need to last much longer. It wouldn’t be a shock to see them standing together on Wednesday as the next two singers to go home.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.