Who’s In It To Win It, Really?

I hope you’re happy with yourselves, America. I really hope you are. You all need to take a good look at yourselves in the mirror and contemplate what you’ve just done. What a bunch of racist, soulless ingrates you American Idol viewers are. Oh, wait, what’s that? You’re telling me that insulting people while simultaneously claiming how appealing and wonderful I am is not the way to ingratiate myself to the masses? Well, this is all news to me. It’s also news to Jacob Lusk who was sent packing this week on Idol to a chorus of viewers screaming “finally!” (Whether the screams were directed towards his departure or the end of the 60-minute commercial for Jennifer Lopez’s music remains unknown.)

Jacob was definitely not the worst contestant ever to make the final five (I mean, let me remind you that Scott Savol is a 5th place finisher), but he was a clear cut below the remaining four. He offered less to the competition in every facet imaginable (with the possible exceptions of wardrobe creativity and choreo enthusiasm). So farewell, Lusky Stank, may you live forever in Idol footnotes and Reality TV trivia.

There were other events in the results show. Mostly ridiculous product-placement for anything remotely Idol-adjacent: Steven Tyler has a book! Jennifer Lopez makes music! Jennifer Lopez writhes on the floor, too! Hell’s Kitchen is on Fox! This thing that’s not Google is attempting to be relevant! Ford Music Videos rejoice at no longer being the worst segment of the results show! I swear, one of these days the contestants are going to come out wearing giant Coca-Cola bottle costumes. But now that I’ve covered all that, I want to take this blog to talk about the remaining contestants. Particularly, I want to see who is in it to win it (© Randy Jackson). Who has a legitimate shot? (Everyone, I’d argue.) Who is toast next week? (It might not be Haley.) What do the contestants need to do to stay around? (“Perform well” seems to be the obvious answer, but perhaps not the only one.)

Let’s start off with obvious run-away favorite for the crown, Scotty McCreery. Ryan told us this week that Scotty has never been in the bottom two. I’d take that a step further and guess he’s always been in the top two vote-getters (perhaps outdone by James Durbin on nights where James got the pimp spot). However, I highly doubt he’s picking up any more fans at this point. (I doubt he’s picked up any more fans in a while, actually.) We all know what Scotty McCreery is about and either you like that brand of contestant or you don’t.

That said, unless Scotty goes first, has a pair of supremely average performances which get muted praise from the judges, and Lauren Alaina comes out swinging with her own “moment”, he’s in no danger of leaving this week. Really, even with all this, I think he’d probably be safe. As a country teen, I assume he has some crossover fanbase with Lauren, but not nearly enough that a strong performance by Lauren would put him in any danger. Scotty has never had the pimp spot, so he’s bound to go last sometime soon. This is just another indication of how far ahead of the pack he is. Carrie Underwood generally performed in the front half of the show and didn’t receive the pimp spot until Top 5 despite being a producer favorite. Why? Well because, as Nigel Lythgoe recently revealed, she was the top vote-getter every week. So Scotty will probably sail through to the finals, where it will likely depend on how strongly his opponent performs moreso than how he performs.

The other person this season to have never been in the bottom three is James Durbin. Unlike Scotty, he’s been in the pimp spot three times already (Motown, Movies, Carole King), probably owing to the nature of his performances more than actually needing it to stay around. He’s clearly got a huge fanbase and has never touched the bottom three, but after two of his worst performances yet last week, he can’t afford to be middling or forgettable. Top four has been notorious for the shocking eliminations of favorites: Tamyra Gray (while Nikki McKibbin snuck by), Latoya London (ditto Jasmine Trias), and Chris Daughtry. They all had less-than-stellar offerings and were shockingly! booted the next night. James isn’t so far ahead of the pack that he can’t suffer the same fate.

Beyond that, though, can James even win? He’s most commonly compared to Adam Lambert and I don’t think it’s any stretch to claim that he’s not as vocally gifted. And, well, Adam Lambert didn’t win so can second-rate Adam Lambert win?Yes, he can because this comparison is entirely superficial; James is much more naturally rock-oriented than Adam ever claimed to be on Idol. As polarizing as James is, I don’t think he’s nearly as polarizing as Adam was during Season 8. It’ll be an uphill fight for him against Scotty in the finale, but with a pair of super-electrifying undeniably great performances, he has a chance of winning over that casual vote.

Now to tackle Lauren Alaina, the third member of the pre-ordained final three. She had her first trip into the bottom two last night and it clearly unnerved her. She’s going to need to pull it together this week if she wants to stay around. Although, perhaps not. If she unravels entirely and breaks down into tears, I’m guessing she’ll get more than enough votes to stick around to the top 3. (Just look at one Jasmine Trias for an example.) But that road gets her cut in third when she has a legitimate shot at taking it all. She’s got a strong fanbase and is inoffensive and pop-oriented enough to appeal to pretty much anyone. If she knocks it out of the park three weeks in a row, I think she’s got the best shot at winning come confetti-time. (Perhaps, though, I’m overestimating the strength of a casual vote. I’d like to think I’m not.)

This leaves us with obvious cannon fodder Haley Reinhart who has had one of the oddest runs on Idol, ever. She was largely ignored in the early stages and hit the bottom three during the first two weeks of the finals. Then during Elton John week she picked up some steam, got the pimp spot and rallied some sort of fanbase. (Not enough of a fanbase, however, to keep her from returning to the bottom three at least two more times.) Last week, after having taken potshots from Jimmy Iovine and the judges for weeks, it seemed that she was going to be supported by the producers: she had the pimp spot, an unreleased Gaga song and Jimmy Iovine singing her praise during the pre-performance package. Then the judges were uncharacteristically harsh on her (what?) until she demolished the stage during a season’s-best performance of “The House Of The Rising Sun.” So where does this leave Haley? Does she have producer support? Does she have fan support?

Well, she has at least enough fan support to have leap-frogged Lauren last week. But Allison Iraheta leap-frogged Adam and Kris during the top 5 of her season and that still got her axed during Rock Week. Haley will most likely be performing first next week and, though people are calling “The House Of The Rising Sun” her “Heartless” moment, I don’t think it was powerful enough to carry her through two weeks. She’s going to need another equally amazing performance (an “Aint No Sunshine” reprise, to keep the metaphor going) to keep her in the game. Because while Haley is winning people over with great performances, I don’t think she’s actually garnering many hardcore fans – you know, the kind who will powervote for two hours regardless of how well she does. She needs to be consistently great. If she is, she might be able to sneak past two of Lauren/Scotty/James to get into the finale.

But really, does she have any shot in hell of winning? This was a girl who was in the bottom three during the very first week of the finale. Yeah, that means that she received fewer votes than Thia Megia and Stefano Langone at one point. The earliest a winner has ever been in the bottom three was the top 7. (Fantasia during divas-bottom-three-gate on the infamous night of J-Hud’s elimination.) Two other bottom three dwellers, Syesha Mercado (7 times) and Nikki McKibbin (5 times), only managed to make it to the top three. However, neither of them picked up steam quite like Haley has. America loves their underdogs and Haley can grab a ton of casual finale-night votes with her made-for-TV-movie story arc. A Haley win would be a crazy unexpected Cinderella story that would blow Kris Allen’s win out of the water in terms of shock and awe. So if Haley continues to deliver and gets her masters in the art of bus-dodging, she just might take this whole thing.

So what do y’all think? Am I crazy for imagining a world in which anything other than a Scotty/James final two with a Scotty win is possible? Are you excited for eight Leiber and Stoller songs next week? Have you looked at yourself in the mirror recently?

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