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Weighing the notes on ‘Idol’s’ final 12

"American Idol" has its 12 finalists, and they all have a theoretical chance of winning. Here's a look at where each of them stands.
/ Source: contributor

"American Idol" has its 12 finalists, and each has a theoretical chance of winning. In practice, however, there's a clear division between the contestants who have a chance of winning and those who are mostly around because FOX and the "Idol" advertisers want the show to end in May instead of April, meaning the producers need more people to be voted off in the meantime.

Here's a look at where each of the finalists stands.

The long shots
Chikezie, 22, Inglewood, Calif.
Chikezie has had a hard time building a fan base early, and was the last man selected to make the final 12. He has a nice voice and seems comfortable onstage, but hasn't connected with the audience. Unless that changes soon, he won't be around long.

Kristy Lee Cook, 24, Selma, Ore. She has a lot of musical experience, and her "Idol" video clips help her stand out from the pack because she's good at picking interesting things to showcase. The most interesting thing about her thus far isn't any of her songs, but the fact that she sold her favorite barrel horse to pay for the trip to audition for "Idol."

Cook's problem is that her singing does a miserable job of drawing attention. She tends to be frustratingly forgettable with her vocals and doesn't have a single memorable performance.

Amanda Overmyer, 23, Mulberry, Ind. Yes, Chris Daughtry went a long way in season five and made a nice post-“Idol” career as a rocker, but there's a huge difference between what he did and what Overmyer does. Daughtry's performances generally sounded like modern rock, but Overmyer sounded like Janis Joplin in her audition and has been the same on every song since.

It's a unique style among the women, and the fact that she stands out from the crowd could keep her around for a little while. But at some point, she'll either have to show she really can sing more of a bluesy or country-rock sound, or she'll have a hard time making it into April.

David Hernandez, 24, Glendale, Ariz. The singing has been fine for Hernandez, and he's even made Simon a fan. But those stories about his previous job as a stripper are likely to get worse, and that kind of attention is going to be tough for him to overcome as the competition wears on.

The sleepers David Cook, 25, Blue Springs, Mo. Cook is the ideal "Idol" rocker, since he passes for edgy without being threatening. Moreover, his bio on the official " Idol" Web site shows that he doesn't take himself too seriously.

That could serve him well with the fan base, but he may not be as fortunate with the judges. Simon already thinks he's a smart alec, and the two got into a verbal jousting match a couple of weeks ago. The danger is that Cook becomes this season's version of Chris Sligh, a singer who everyone thought was funny but didn't get much of a chance to build traction before getting voted off.

Ramiele Malubay, 20, Miramar, Fla. Malubay, the youngest woman in the competition, isn't heading into the finals on a high note. She looks like she's lost some of her confidence over the past two weeks, and could be gone in a hurry if she doesn't find her rhythm soon.

She has a big voice and vibrant personality that has helped contestants in the past, so if she can get back on track, she could find it easy to develop a fan base quickly.

The contenders Michael Johns, 29, Buckhead, Ga. Johns is more poised and polished than most of the competition, and he has stage mannerisms that look natural. His performances are free and easy, and it doesn't look like he spends much time worrying about whether he just missed the previous note or what he should do with the microphone stand next.

He's the oldest contestant left, and in comparison to the rest of the male contenders, he may not speak to the younger audience members as well as David Archuleta does. But based on talent alone, Johns should be around a long time.

Jason Castro, 20, Rockwall, Texas; Brooke White, 24, Mesa, Ariz. Castro and White have had similar success so far in the competition by doing one thing, but doing it extremely well. They have both mastered the art of singing with minimal musical accompaniment, usually a guitar (although White also played the piano during one of her Hollywood performances).

Also, both come across as extremely nice people with small egos who are grateful just to be on the show. That combination of talent and humility plays very well among the "Idol" faithful.

To win, however, they will each need to branch out a little more by taking a big risk and going outside their comfort zones. Otherwise, they risk being eliminated because of their predictability.

Syesha Mercado, 21, Sarasota, Fla. Mercado is young, talented, confident and poised. Since losing her voice in Hollywood and nearly getting eliminated there, she's come through with a string of notable performances and is among the strongest of the women.

Thus far, what's separating her from the favorites is simply hype. Other contestants have gotten more notice from the judges and viewers. Mercado is still working on getting that kind of attention. If she gets to that point, she'll be awfully hard to send home.

The favorites
Carly Smithson, 24, San Diego, Calif.
The Irish-born singer stands out as the most talented of the female finalists. Much has been made of her previous, unsuccessful recording contract, but it's easy to see why she got that chance. She has a voice that can be both controlled and powerful, and her Irish accent also makes her sound very different than any other "Idol" contestant over the seasons. Between the voice, the stage presence and the tattoos, she's the least forgettable.

Smithson has some negatives as well, but they're mostly intangibles. (She's not the fresh-faced youngster that "Idol" voters generally like when it gets down to the final few contestants.) But she's going to last a very long time — as long as viewers make their decisions based on talent.

David Archuleta, 17, Murray, Utah No teenage male has ever won "Idol," but none has ever entered the final 12 with as much experience, poise and momentum as Archuleta. If anyone is going to break that trend and give teenage boys everywhere a new hope, it's him.

Archuleta has an excellent voice and so far has been able to sing whatever he's been called upon to warble, but what really sets him apart from teenagers past is his stage presence. He's able to sing a challenging song without having it look like he's auditioning for his high-school talent show.

He's no lock to win the competition, and most of the time the early favorites fail to wear the crown in May. But at this point, Archuleta is clearly the one to beat.