American Idol the Ones to Watch!

updated 03/03/2008 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/03/2008 01:00AM

THE ROCKIN' NURSE
AMANDA OVERMYER, 23
MULBERRY, INDIANA

She sounds like Janis Joplin—or, she says, "a female Bob Seger." Now the admittedly "reserved" singer needs to amp it up—maybe channel Axl: "Every time I sing Guns N' Roses, it gets me fired up."

She has her own Harley: "I got tired of riding on the back."

THE HOT AUSSIE
MICHAEL JOHNS, 29
PERTH, AUSTRALIA

He's got a soulful voice and a sexy accent, and Simon called his "Bohemian Rhapsody" one of Hollywood Week's best performances. Though the married (sorry, ladies) L.A. transplant worries about being the oldest contestant, he says "the cool thing about getting older is feeling more comfortable in your own skin."

THE COMEBACK KID
SYESHA MERCADO, 21
MIAMI, FLORIDA

She bounced back from losing her voice during Hollywood Week—and says she rubs her earlobes to relax. Besides her powerful pipes and winning smile, her strong suit is "versatility," she says. "An Idol should be able to change up their style."

"I was born ready," she says.

THE CONTROVERSY
CARLY SMITHSON, 24
DUBLIN, IRELAND

Some fans say Smithson already had a shot at fame with her 2001 album (a flop). But the versatile singer, who moved to the U.S. at 13, could quickly change people's minds. "I'll take a Beatles song and turn it into a power anthem," she says. Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe agrees: "We thought she was terrific."

She owns a tattoo shop in San Diego!

THE CAGE-FIGHTING COWGIRL
KRISTY LEE COOK, 24, SELMA, OREGON

Better behave, Simon: This horse trainer kickboxes and has been training for cage-fighting bouts. Her big country voice packs quite a punch, too. "I should win," she says, "because I'm an all-American girl with a good heart and good morals."

BRITNEY'S EX
ROBBIE CARRICO, 26
MELBOURNE, FLORIDA

Aside from his Bo Bice-like good looks and self-described "edgy rock" style, Carrico's biggest advantage is his pop star past. Years ago, he sang with teen group Boyz N Girlz United—and dated tourmate Britney Spears for three months. "We were really good friends," he says. "I wish her the best." The teen-idol experience? "I wouldn't trade it for the world."

THE PRODIGY
DAVID ARCHULETA, 17
MURRAY, UTAH

A onetime Star Search junior division winner at age 12, he has also serenaded Idol's first season finalists with an impressive version of Dreamgirls' "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going"—a bit of an obsession. "I'd sing that song 300 times a day for months," he says. In music, "I can express myself so easily."

His Idol idol: Tamyra Gray. "I was like, 'I want to do that!'"

For more on all of Idol's Top 24, go to PEOPLE.COM/IDOL

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