DAVID COOK

• THE "AC" DUO
Brothers Andrew, 20, and Adam (right), 35, who is battling cancer, "are my inspirations," says David, 25, "so out of superstition, I put their initials on anything. It's a comfort, like packing your pillow on the road."

• SMART ADVICE
"Somebody told me, whether you're pleasing or ticking somebody off, you're doing something right!"

• FASHION EVOLUTION
"I'm spending more on clothes, which is very strange for me because historically I've been a jeans and T-shirt guy. You buy the Hanes 3-pack of T-shirts and that's three days of not having to do laundry."

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN: HOW HE CAN WIN

SONGWRITER/PRODUCER KARA DIOGUARDI
(who has written hits for Celine Dion and Christina Aguilera): Stay smart about choosing material. "He's a true artist—he can interpret songs and make them his own. To me, he could be the winner."

PROJECT RUNWAY WINNER CHRISTIAN SIRIANO: "Keep it cool. Rock glam really works for him! He could push it further—more jewelry and layering."

SYESHA MERCADO

• LOST GOOD LUCK CHARM? NO PROBLEM
A quartz stone a woman in South Beach gave her disappeared soon after Mercado, 21, made the Top 24. "Even if I found it, it wouldn't be valuable anymore because you're not supposed to let anybody else touch it," she says. "Now my ritual is to call my sister before every show and pray."

• HER FIANCE
Hess Wesley, 25, "graduated from college last week, on the night of the performance show. He bought a one-way ticket, and he's here 'til whenever, you know?" He, her mom and sisters "tell me no matter what, we're proud of you."

• THE POWER OF NOW
Her mom gave her the Oprah-endorsed Eckhart Tolle book early in the competition, when "I didn't feel comfortable onstage and put myself in a shell," she says. "It helped me release all of that negative energy."

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN: HOW SHE CAN WIN

KARA: "She shines when she does theatrical songs—she finds personality. She could be an R&B pop singer à la Alicia Keys."

CHRISTIAN: "Her look is better when it's all done up. I want to see her in an amazing gown—red, fuchsia or orange—dripping in old Hollywood glamour. And big curly hair!"

DAVID ARCHULETA

• HIS MOM AND DAD
"They've always been there to give me support and advice," says Archuleta, 17, of parents Jeff and Lupe. "They help remind me what matters in life—which things are important and which things I shouldn't worry about."

JORDIN SPARKS
Last year's winner, who was also 17, is "a role model," he says. When he met her, "it was neat to see how normal of a teenager she still was."

• THOSE SCREAMING GIRLS
"It's pretty cool," he says, giggling. "People put the time and effort into making signs for you with your name and pictures on it! I do appreciate it. To have that kind of effect on people is amazing."

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN: HOW HE CAN WIN

KARA: Don't change a thing! "His gift is being able to carry a message in a song in a believable way, like Josh Groban."

CHRISTIAN: "Young and playful is best for him. For the finale, a vest over a bright T-shirt and fitted designer jeans—Dolce & Gabbana or True Religion."

JASON CASTRO

• HIS CROSS NECKLACE
"My grandmother gave it to me when I was in fourth grade. It's got my name on the back. It's a little cross. I never take that off."

• WORKING OUT
"It relieves a lot of stress," says Castro, 21.

• SLEEPING
"You can get really worn out. Right now any second I have I just lie down. Sometimes I fall asleep with my guitar in my arms."

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN: HOW HE CAN WIN

KARA: His songs are "a little bland—all ballads. I'd like to see something a little crazier—he should play with the tempo of what he does."

CHRISTIAN: "Love the hair—work it! But his style needs to be glammed up. I want to see him in a clean, fitted suit—gray or khaki."