If you keep up with “American Idol,” you know that contestants often find themselves compared to their predecessors from previous seasons. Taylor Hicks gets the surprising news that he dresses like Clay Aiken, while Kellie Pickler finds herself favorably compared to Carrie Underwood. But can the new contestants be reduced to mathematical formulas based on the old ones? We sat down and crunched the numbers.
One-half Kelly Clarkson times two-thirds Diana DeGarmo, plus one-tenth Justin Guarini
Perhaps the current frontrunner among the women in spite of her odd last week, McPhee invites comparisons to Kelly Clarkson. They both have the same polished pop voices, tailor-made for VH1 and the adult-contemporary charts, perfect for videos in which they stare earnestly at the camera while tears make their eyeliner run. She also has, however, a good dose of perky runner-up Diana DeGarmo, who shared Katharine’s inability to identify with the emotional heft of Aretha Franklin tunes. Katharine grinning her way through “Freedom (Think)” was, after all, weirdly familiar to those who saw Diana bounce happily along to “Chain Of Fools” during her audition. Finally, there is a generous spoonful of Justin Guarini in Katharine’s tendency toward overconfidence masquerading as unconvincing humility.
One-half Josh Gracin plus one-third Kimberly Caldwell, multiplied by Nikki McKibbin
Bucky has a more aw-shucks version of Josh’s country sensibility, without the military angle. In a fight, Josh would beat you in hand-to-hand combat; Bucky would hit you over the head with a bottle. But where Josh had more of a Garth Brooks look, Bucky has Kim’s flowing blonde locks and even a bit of her scratchy, growling voice. Most notably, however, Bucky is musically overmatched even by relatively underwhelming competition, much like notorious karaoke princess Nikki McKibbin. He tries hard, but he’s just not that good, and like Nikki, his blank-faced desire to please does nothing to redeem his lagging performances.
George Huff plus one-fifth Justin Guarini, minus John Stevens
Elliott is an appealing, talented singer who has trouble putting everything together into a standout performance, much like the fondly remembered George, although Elliott seems to have a little more edge to his style. George probably would not have had the guts to be the one contestant out of a bunch of 17-to-29-year-olds to admit, as Elliott did, that he was not a fan of Barry Manilow. Elliott also sports a taste of Justin’s soulful appeal, but he avoids falling into the cheeseball crooning of someone like John — or, for that matter, this season’s David Radford.
Fantasia times two-thirds Nadia Turner plus the square root of Jim Verraros
Mandisa’s voice calls to mind the best parts of Fantasia’s dominating, assured style, although she’s got a far less affected delivery. She also echoes Nadia Turner, both in powerful sound and in the introduction of overtly Christian music (not including “Jesus, Take The Wheel”). What is becoming less appealing by the week is the sense that she wants to be inspiring, which gives a certain cloying, overly mushy quality to her personality. The minute an “Idol” contestant starts to think consciously about inspiration, it’s a short distance to the land of Jim Verraros signing to his parents.
Constantine Maroulis divided by Clay Aiken, plus R.J. Helton
The only thing that Ace shares with Constantine is the hair. Surprisingly, that results in a fairly high Constantine quotient in Ace’s makeup, given that the hair is such a large part of the presentation for both. Ace looked at first like he was shaping up to be a classic hottie, but “Idol” has always specialized in selling neutered, adolescent sexuality. More and more, Ace is the new Clay Aiken, all earnestness and puppies and flowers—the kind of imaginary adult boyfriend only a twelve-year-old could love. But where Clay at least could sing, Ace has the weak, insipid voice of the long-forgotten R.J. Ace is also starting to seem… dumb, although a different sort of dumb from Clay and Constantine, so perhaps that comes from R.J. as well.
One-half Bo Bice times one-eighth Scott Savol, plus one-tenth Ryan Starr
“Idol” has never quite had a Chris Daughtry before, because everyone up until now has at least felt obligated to make an attempt at more than one genre. Chris, on the other hand, has pigeonholed himself so firmly as a tortured mook-rock type that it’s hard to see him as a combination of “Idol” contestants rather than a combination of late-‘90s bands that are better forgotten. Probably the most direct parent to Chris is Bo Bice, although Bo was more southern rock than Chris is likely to get, and Bo’s inspiration goes back a little farther in history than Filter and Bon Jovi. Chris’s overwound, self-conscious “intensity” might have come from Scott Savol, although it fortunately came without the attendant overwhelming creepiness. Finally, Chris has just a tiny dash of the studied “I’m so rock and roll!” vibe that wafted off the shredded shirts of the first season’s Ryan Starr.
Rickey Smith times Jon Peter Lewis, plus one-third Bo Bice, times one-tenth of the sum of Amy Adams and Vanessa Olivarez
The hardest of all current contestants to compare to past ones is Taylor Hicks, because the show has never had a gray-haired soul singer before, and has never had anything particularly close. The show has had performers who overwork their gimmicks, though, so perhaps the obvious predecessor to Taylor’s abundant stage tics is Rickey Smith, who notoriously drove people mad with his hollers of “Hercules, Hercules, Hercules!” There’s also a strong dose of bad dancer Jon Peter Lewis, who didn’t have the voice Taylor has, but did have the twitchy, often unsettling persona. Bo lives on in Taylor, too, as they share an affection for southern music that probably would have some significant overlap. Finally, Taylor carries just a dash of the show’s previous “I am wacky and adorable!” twins: Vanessa Olivarez and her doppelganger Amy Adams.
Carrie Underwood plus Carmen Rasmusen.
Pickler? That one is easy. There’s so much of previous country blonde Carrie Underwood in her that some believe she can’t win, because the public wouldn’t choose the same person twice in a row. But while Carrie was fairly self-possessed and reasonably coherent, Kellie’s blank expressions and goofy, nonsensical remarks call to mind another blonde entirely: the bleating Carmen.
Kimberley Locke plus one-tenth Mikalah Gordon, times one-sixteenth Anthony Federov.
And finally, there is little Paris. Her audition, in particular, showcased a big but also nuanced and pliable voice, perhaps like Kimberley Locke. Unfortunately, recent weeks have hinted at a “What is she thinking?” problem, and her ill-advised displays of energy are sneaking up on Mikalah Gordon territory. There even may be a hint of precocious and overly enthusiastic young dweeb Anthony Federov, though we’d all like to think not.
Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.