One of the two "American Idol" finalists is capable of standing out for sheer vocal ability. The other relies on a musical gimmick most thought was mercifully put out to pasture a decade ago.
One "Idol" hopeful evokes memories of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, who emerged victorious based on both talent and potential.
The other is more like Taylor Hicks, a pure entertainer who is forgotten five minutes after the performance.
The former is Jordin Sparks, a few short hours away from being crowned the sixth "American Idol" winner. The latter is Blake Lewis, a few short hours away from joining the Justin Guarini "Who came in second place again?" club.
Jordin hasn't gotten this far because the producers keep pulling her name out of a hat, nor does she need to resort to beatboxing to get attention. Her voice is enough to win her all the votes she needs.
She's a strong singer and a fun personality, and that's the traditional recipe for "Idol" winners.
There's a reason why Jordin has succeeded where so many "Idol" teenagers have fallen by the wayside. She's got all the talent a winner needs, and the ability to take the rare negative comment in stride. She'll have work to do if she wants to succeed, but there's no doubt that will happen, even if father Phillippi Sparks has to break out the motivational tactics he learned while playing for the New York Giants.
Sure, she was rejected by other musical shows. Chris Daughtry was rejected by "Rock Star: INXS" a couple of years ago. How's that band doing these days? There's a reason that "American Juniors" and "Star Search" aren't on the air anymore, and it's because they were dumb enough to let performers like Jordin slip through the cracks.
This is a big year for "Idol." It was OK for the fans to screw up last season and anoint Hicks the winner instead of fourth-place finisher Daughtry. After all, it should serve to end any speculation about the show rigging the outcome, and it gave all prematurely grey twentysomethings in the audience a bit of hope.
But once is enough. There's no room for two gimmicky winners in a row.
This is, as Simon never gets tired of saying, a singing competition.
Sounding like a pop star is good. Sounding like a record scratching is less so.
To borrow from an old baseball saying, in 10 years, the 17-year-old Jordin Sparks has a chance to be a superstar. In 10 years, the 25-year-old Blake Lewis has a chance to be 35. That potential is the difference, and it's about to make Jordin the teen queen of the "Idol" stage.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.