With last week's relatively shocking elimination, we're finally down to six. In one fell swoop (and two very underwhelming performances) Colton Dixon, who was considered by many (including yours truly) to be a lock for a hometown visit, leaves, and we suddenly have quite a race on our hands. Idol history tells us that the winner probably won't be someone who has spent any time in the bottom three, which at this point leaves us with Phillip Phillips as the perennial favorite. Fantasia and Kris Allen are the lone exceptions to this bottom three rule, but season three (Fantasia's season) is a universe away from the Idol we currently know, and Kris's appearance in the bottom three came during top five week, when the horse race was almost too close to call.
I'm not willing to call Phillip the winner just yet, though. I would like to believe (even though it's probably a delusion) that someone besides a cute white guy with a guitar can win this show. Hmmm. If Phillip finds himself in the bottom three just once, it truly is anyone's ballgame. (Sorry, I'll nix the sports metaphors from here out.)
The strangest thing about this season for me is how much I genuinely like all of the contestants. I think they're more evenly matched than nearly any season in recent memory. Season five also had an amazing top six, except for, oddly, its winner Taylor Hicks. Rounding out the top six that season? Katharine McPhee, Elliot Yamin, Chris Daughtry, Kellie Pickler, and Paris Bennett. This season has an oddly reminiscent air about it. Most of them are performing so well that contestants aren't going home because of "poor" performances, but rather because of slightly dull ones. It's been really interesting to watch.
To do something different, then, here the strengths and weaknesses of the remaining Idolestants in alphabetical order:
Strengths: Likeability; powerhouse pipes; charisma when she lets loose; teenager-ness; spunky accent.
Weaknesses: Stuck in the boring, powerhouse diva vocal category, otherwise known as the "Pia Zone"; often seems unnatural and robotic; boring and overly ambitious/old song choices.
Hollie's greatest asset at this point is her likeability. It's not surprising that on a week many saw her going home (the first top seven episode), she survived after an adorable clip package showed her goofing around with Joshua. Her personality has finally started to emerge in the last couple of weeks, and, with that little rebirth, she's started to sing better. Her cover of "Rolling in the Deep" was grrrreat! Adele covers are terrible ideas, but she owned this one and showed some confidence in the process. I don't see Hollie winning, but she very well could scrape by to the top four, maybe three, with a couple of good weeks. Voters love to see growth.
Strengths: Consistency; showmanship; personality; ability to tell a story in a 90 second performance; song choices; authenticity.
Weaknesses: Some people don't like country music; range often overshadowed by the other teens in the competition.
Skylar is everything we wanted Lauren Alaina to be last season. She's authentic, smart, a true performer, and has one heckuva voice that she somehow manages to keep surprising us with. I'm constantly impressed with her ability to own her performances, with so much natural charisma. And she hasn't had a bad performance in weeks. Her only trip to the bottom three, after she covered Miranda Lambert's "Gunpowder and Lead", was probably, as Jimmy rightly pointed out, because she sang a song with a lot of character but not a lot of emotion. She hasn't made that mistake again. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that I'm rooting for Skylar to steal this thing from Phillip. I think she's the dark horse.
Strengths: That voice; ability to tame his voice when needed; humility; onstage charisma; excellent selection of slightly-too-small-but-somehow-just-right jackets.
Weaknesses: Song choices tend to somehow all be oldies; post-Idol album potential; the fact that he's not a white guy with a guitar (a quality which frankly applies to all but one in this competition).
Joshua has been a real surprise for me this season. I'm constantly floored by his ability to perform like a freaking pro! I think it was his performance of "When a Man Loves a Woman" that first made me pay attention to his natural charisma and performance instincts. His transformation from mild-mannered teenager (yes, teenager!) in real life to sixties-era soul singer onstage is still shocking to me every week. I think his biggest hurdle is song choice, though. He seems like a singer that was born 40 years too late, and except for the Bruno Mars song he did two weeks ago, he has yet to show that he can sing contemporary pop hits believably. Love Joshua, but would be surprised to see him in the top three.
Strengths: Cute, white boy with a guitar; "unique" voice; natural sexiness; song re-arranger; personality; sticks to a winning formula.
Weaknesses: Does the same thing every week (!!!); not great with melody; aversion to change.
I know I sound grumpy about him, but I really do like Phillip! Unlike the other contestants, though, he doesn't need my encouragement. As I said earlier, I think he's the frontrunner, and it would be surprising to see him land in the bottom three. As someone who likes Phillip's potential, I'm frustrated by his inability to change up his shtick every week. Even Crystal Bowersox, who arrived on the Idol stage every ounce the musician that Phillip is, tried new things and experimented with different kinds of sounds. When I think back on Phillip's performances, I hear one long jam-band tune accented by a signature growl. Last week's "U Got It Bad" cover was great, but somehow still the same as his other performances. I guess the argument is that if it ain't broke, there's no need to fix it (much like Scotty did. The. Whole. Season.), but I'm just bored with him at the moment. Rant over.
Strengths: Best voice in the competition; ability to control and finesse her vocal runs better than anyone else; excellent at taking advice; marketable.
Weaknesses: Has already been voted off by America; falls into the "singing-by-numbers" category; too young.
"Too young" may seem slightly unfair to rail against Jessica, but the charge is not to do with her vocal maturity, but rather her emotional maturity. Her instrument is incredible, and her vocal prowess unmatched by anyone in the competition, but I don't know that I believe her all the time when she's singing. On the radio, this is not something that makes a massive difference, but when she's performing on TV, I never feel like the beautiful runs she's doing reflect a connection to the song. Her Whitney Houston cover was an amazing vocal performance because Jessica is a great student with an uncanny ear, not because she was feeling the emotion of the song. If she can have one or two truly emotional, affective performances, she's got a shot at being in the final two.
Strengths: Most downloadable voice in the competition; seasoned musician; best potential for really high highs ("Whole Lotta Love"; "Vienna"); not afraid to try new things; sang "Dreams" with Stevie Nicks!
Weaknesses: Personality on results shows is perceived by some as "stank"; occasionally questionable song choices; "vacation home" in the bottom three; age.
I hate to put "age" in there as a weakness (mainly because Elise is younger than this blogger), but women over the age of 20 do not do well in this competition. Melinda Doolittle was the closest "old lady" to ever get to the finale (she was 29), but she of course was eliminated instead of Blake Lewis (a cute, white boy with a kind of instrument. See a pattern?) for the finale. At this point Elise, with her fabulously smoky rasp and refreshingly adult point of view, will be lucky to make the final four. Sad trombone.