PEOPLE Critic Weighs in on Idol‘s Top 12
03/10/2008 AT 12:00 AM EDT
THE TOP SPOTS1. David Archuleta: Simon Cowell has already predicted the 17-year-old will be one of the final two, and it's hard to imagine how that won't be. The voice is terrific, the showmanship impressively mature despite his boyishness. He always seems to be smiling on the brink of tears, as if bravely facing life after a prom tragedy. If nothing else, he and Miley Cyrus should get a concert special on the Disney Channel.
1. Carly Smithson: She's as dynamic and professional-caliber a talent as the show has ever turned up so it doesn't seem likely she could fizzle before the final three. Her moves are flawless, and she can shift notes fast and without a hitch. Not a warm performer, though. And is it just me or does she accept praise as if it were her due? But maybe that's not fair. Maybe it's just that her tattoos make her look butch. Her version of "I Drove All Night" last week had drive and urgency -- awfully good. And when she talks her words have that lovely Irish lilt.
THE REST OF THE GUYS2. Michael Johns: The Australia native has the looks and voice of a matinée-idol rocker -- a Jim Morrison, a Michael Hutchence. (Actually, he also looks like Blake Lively's dad on Gossip Girl, which I take as a positive karmic sign.) His voice has power and sexiness, but sometimes it sounds reluctant to settle into the groove of a song. I get the feeling he wishes every number were "Light My Fire." Stay loose, dude. Stay versatile.
3. Jason Castro: Well, he's an original -- don't you think he looks like Zach Braff with dreadlocks? His personality, which has the awkward goofiness of an old-style folk troubadour, is refreshing, although the voice is surprisingly conventional. I can't imagine him winning, not with that overall package, but I'd like to see him defy the odds and stay in for a while.
4. David Cook: The judges went crazy for his interpretation of Lionel Richie's "Hello" last week -- Richie himself liked it -- but come on: You can't convince me the whole thing wasn't laughably bombastic. (Remember the over-the-top wedding singer in Old School? Same thing.) He has a cool earnestness that lends him a certain indie-rock stature, an aura, but he doesn't seem to have a sense of fun. And fun counts.
5. Chikezie: Big, soulful voice, fluid delivery, not much electricity. The fact that he was nearly eliminated last week doesn't bode well. I get the sense the judges regard him as a piece of furniture that needs to be removed.
6. David Hernandez: He overcame an irritating blip of scandal, and good for him, but the whole style feels like a retread of singers from seasons past. Too smooth, too rich, too unruffled, too sleek. He doesn't make music. He oozes it.
THE REST OF THE GIRLS2. Ramiele Malubay. A tiny little powerhouse who sings with a diva's sense of unswervable melodrama, she should have a very good run for the title -- if she doesn't wear viewers down first. Her weeping is already getting a bit campy. She'll totally kill if they ever have Piaf night.
3. Brooke White: Everything about her feels like quality, but it also feels like slightly old quality to me: Sheryl Crow, Carole King, willowy-steely blondes who look great on posters and album covers. Maybe that means she's easy to market, which is a plus. She also has a nice, engaging unfussiness that'll work to her advantage in the long haul.
4. Syesha Mercado: My first impression of her was that she was the most beautiful singer in the competition, the one with real physical presence and soul, but vocally she hasn't created a strong identity to match. Even listening to her on iTunes, I'm not getting much. Hope she clicks.
5. Kristy Lee Cook: Goodness knows she's not top-drawer -- it's generally a bad sign when the judges encourage you to try country -- but she's underrated and has outlasted expectations. There's something appealing about her: A lot of it may just be because she's so pretty, in a sweet Keri Russell kind of way.
6. Amanda Overmyer: She does the motorcycle-mama, roadhouse rocker thing with utter conviction (except for the tiny blonde highlights in front -- too tidy-Goth). But she's already worn me out. It's like a cyclone touching down in your living room every week: You want storm windows on the TV. That's not good. --Tom GliattoF. Micelotta/American Idol 2008/Getty