Phil Phillips, Jessica Sanchez
There are two main questions to address when considering who will become the American Idol Season 11 finalists: Which of the 25 semifinalists have the chops or potential fan support to make the cut? And, just how many finalists are there going to be anyway? Answers will come in Thursday's two-hour results show (8/7c, Fox).
In seasons past, a Top 12 has been traditional in the finals, but Idol has been playing fast and loose with its saves and trying to upset the format in the face of increasing competition and dwindling viewership. Seasons 8 and 10 boasted a Top 13, which is what we'll work with for our predictions here. But don't be surprised if Idol decides to do something goofy, like inflate the number to 14 or 15 and then announce a required bloodbath the first elimination week.
PHOTOS: American Idol Season 11 contestants
Here are our Top 13 finalists — who should and who will most likely advance:
1. DeAndre Brackensick - Let's face it: This boy is going through purely on the Samson-esque strength of his hair that he flips as nonchalantly as a fry cook turns burger patties. The judges have made much of his falsetto, which has seen better days before his semifinalist performance two nights ago, but is already showing its limits.
2. Hollie Cavanagh - Was this Texan formerly British? We're kind of confused by her accent and her decision to sing "Reflection" in the semis, but there's something that's sweet and non-threatening about this girl. Plus, she's lucky that two of the other blonde clones bombed. Hollie made it pretty far last season, and has more potential this time around, especially as her voice has matured... but we still see her as a puppy we want to pat on the head and wrap up in a cute doggy sweater.
3. Hallie Day - The pretty girl from Baltimore probably stands out the most from the pack of blondes that have names ending in "allie," "ollie" or "aylie." Plus, her rendition of "Feeling Good," while not the best that Idol has heard, demonstrated that she has some knowledge of how to create drama, control breath and bring something bluesy into the competition. Work on that swing, girl, and you'll go far.
4. Colton Dixon - We need a little rock 'n' roll and edge in the mix, and Colton's hair streak at least offers something different. He's shown he has some singing chops in the past and can play an instrument, but his true strength lies in his ability to get those young girls voting for his showy performances.
5. Heejun Han - Sure, he's probably the most likable Idol contestant ever, works with disadvantaged youths, is wacky-funny and has a mom who is equally, adorably offbeat. But it's not mere story or personality that sells us on this New Yorker. It's that somehow, that goodness and genuineness is projected through his singing. His tone is pure, and he has a pleasant way delivering the notes that feels honest. Yes, he needs experience and a bit of polish, but we hope Idol doesn't buff away all the quirks.
6. Skylar Laine - Quick! Some scientist needs to figure out how to harness the energy in this Mississippi spitfire, who could power at least 50 homes with her onstage personality alone. We had to stretch and cool down after her fiery performance, which is what pushes her ahead of the other country competition. How long will she be compared to Reba? Perhaps until she dyes her hair red and gets cast as Ms. McEntire's younger self in the inevitable Reba reunion.
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7. Joshua Ledet - His biggest competition, Aaron Marcellus, is a highly creditable and mature singer, so it could have gone either way. But we feel that Joshua has the bigger, showier voice that we'd love to hear tackle a Motown song. His voice, after all, made J.Lo want to punch him. That's passion!
8. Chase Likens - Bring on the country! Although Phil is the better singer in that vaguely country field, Chase is a crowd-pleaser and brings a smiling, "aw shucks" energy to his performances. He's just happy to be here, y'all!
9. Shannon Magrane - This tall blonde could have fallen into anonymity among the "allies," but besides being named Shannon, she was wise to choose the gospel-y "Carry Your Candle" for the semis. It definitely set her apart from the other performances and gave viewers at home a respite from yet another country song or Adele cover.
10. Phil Phillips - This Georgia boy is undeniably talented and offers a growly take on just about everything. His voice is his trademark and will no doubt set many voters' hearts aflutter and fingers a-dialing. In short, his very competent singing ability is enhanced by that quality that makes him mesmerizing to watch, especially when he does that slo-mo leg lift. (What is that?)
11. Jessica Sanchez - Thank God for Jessica. We won't be confusing her with any of the other female contestants this season, and we're not just talking about her looks. This little girl has a big voice and an onstage confidence to match. Singing "Love You I Do" was a pretty ambitious choice, but we were delighted by every soaring note and trumpet-playing finger flutter on the mic.
12. Elise Testone - OK, OK, judges. We get it. You hope America "gets" how unique Elise is, and after outdoing Jen Hirsch's "One and Only," it's clear who won in the battle of the Adele covers. We admit not paying too much attention to Elise in earlier rounds, but her piano playing and wailing vocals gave us something to perk up for at the end of the semis. Well played.
13. Brielle Von Hugel - We have no clue why the judges were so gung-ho about Brielle's brash and overwrought version of "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." To us it was as annoying as her stage mom and really showed her immature reading of a nuanced song. But there is no denying that she made it hers and will probably draw a lot of supporters with her in-your-face attitude.
What do you think of our dirty baker's dozen? Who did we miss? Who should we have cut?