It's Thursday night, mere moments after American Idol's top 12 have been announced by host Ryan Seacrest, and Idol vets Justin Guarini and Kimberly Caldwell are doing a run-through for the TV Guide Channel's Idol Chat before they interview each of the finalists. On a nearby table, a beautiful cake declares the obvious: "TV Guide Idolizes the Top 12." Camera people, publicists and others are buzzing about, but the guests of honor are those who have managed to earn passage through this critical round. On hand for the red-carpet arrivals, TVGuide.com spoke with the singers about their feats, their plans to flourish further, their most difficult goodbyes to date, and the photo scandal that, perhaps, brought down one of their own.
TVGuide.com: What song or sort of song do you most hope to sing before the competition is up?
Gina Glocksen: I really, really hope that Pink will clear one of her songs for me because I want to sing "Who Knew," my favorite song.
Chris Sligh: I'm actually hoping that the producers will let me sing one of my original songs, called "Know."
Melinda Doolittle: Goodness, I think I've gotten a chance to sing the songs that I love, and hopefully we get the chance to keep doing them, to find something in each style that we love.
Phil Stacey: I'm trying to be as diverse as I possibly can, and have not stuck to a general style. I grew up singing gospel music and I've been in a rock band for the Navy for the last three years, so I'm kind of a melting pot of music. I'm anxious to get out there and rock out like I do with my band back home. I've been avoiding that, because I didn't want any Chris Daughtry comparisons, especially since I shave my head, too.
Chris Richardson: I would love to sing a Maroon 5 song. Any song that I love with some funk in it.
Lakisha Jones: I would love to sing Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You."
TVGuide.com: Who is your biggest musical inspiration?
Melinda Doolittle: Stevie Wonder.
Phil Stacey: [Standing next to her] Melinda Doolittle.
Brandon Rogers: Alison Krauss. I love bluegrass. I love Carrie Underwood, Trisha Yearwood, Rascal Flatts....
Jordin Sparks: I love country music, like Keith Urban, Martina McBride — woo-hoo!
Lakisha Jones: Whitney Houston and Yolanda Adams.
Chris Sligh: From older times, probably Stevie [Wonder], Donny Hathaway... and I like Southern rock like The Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the new stuff. Jason Mraz, by far, is one of my favorite artists.
TVGuide.com: Who in the outside world is your biggest — almost to a crazy extent — fan?
Gina Glocksen: There's this guy named Lee from my hometown who has been forming all these [web]sites and sending me letters and e-mails.... He's my biggest fan and I love him so much.
Chris Sligh: There's a lady named Kay, and she started a fan site called Chris-Sligh.info, and I swear, I go there to get news about myself. It's awesome.
TVGuide.com: What would people be surprised to know about you?
Gina Glocksen: That I have another sister in addition to the one who always shows up at the shows.
Chris Sligh: They would be most surprised to find that I am chubby.
Chris Richardson: That I'm 100 percent dedicated to family. I've been raised in a Southern-hospitality family, and I love my family dearly. God first, and then my family.
Lakisha Jones: Really, what you see is what you get with me!
TVGuide.com: [To Lakisha Jones and Melinda Doolittle] Idol history has shown us that a risk for early front-runners is that fans take them for granted and don't bother to vote. Is that a concern for you?
Lakisha Jones: Not at all. I think if it's my time, it's my time. The rest, I don't worry about.
Melinda Doolittle: Well, I have no idea what tallies have come up. I am just so thankful that they've voted enough to keep me here!
TVGuide.com: If you don't win, what is first thing you want to do once Idol is over?
Gina Glocksen: I want to move here [to Los Angeles], make my own original songs and find a band that will play for me.
Chris Sligh: The first thing I'm going to do is make sweet love to my wife, and then I'm going to record another album, hopefully one that goes to No. 1 quickly.
Gina Glocksen: [To Chris] I'd buy that CD!
Melinda Doolittle: I've been blessed to be able to sing for a living for the longest time. I would love to keep on doing it, but from the front of the stage instead of in the background. I am excited to keep on plugging away and do whatever God has for me.
Phil Stacey: You know, I haven't thought that far into the future. I auditioned for American Idol because I missed a friend's wedding. He told me he'd only forgive me if I auditioned for Idol. I would never have imagined in a million years that I would have made it this far. Now that I'm here, I've got so much confidence that I didn't have, so we will see what happens. I sing for the Navy now, and that's been a great job.
Jordin Sparks: I want to put out an album and I want to be able to tour. I also want to be able to act, because I love doing that, too. But if none of that works out, I want to be a pediatrician.
Brandon Rogers: Pretty much the same thing [as Jordin said], with the exception of getting a medical degree! You know, that's what I went to college for originally. I wanted to be a doctor, but it was my parents who said, "Brandon, you're not having a good time. Why don't you change your major to music?" So I'll continue writing songs and continue trying to make good music.
Stephanie Edwards: I would love to record a CD and write all of the songs for it.
Sanjaya Malakar: I'd like to record a CD and make a music video.
Lakisha Jones: To keep singing and provide a stable environment for my 4-year-old daughter.
TVGuide.com: Who has been the hardest goodbye so far?
Gina Glocksen: For me it would be my roommate [Leslie Hunt]. She lived in the same city as I do, in Chicago, and we formed a bond during the hiatus.
Chris Sligh: For me, Rudy [Cardenas]. We met at our first audition in Memphis. And Sundance [Head], tonight, was really, really tough to say goodbye to.
Blake Lewis: Sundance. He was a really great friend to me. I loved him, I loved his voice.... [On Thursday] he experienced a tragic loss in his family, as well, which makes the whole competition seem like a really small deal. My heart really goes out to him.
Melinda Doolittle: Pretty much everybody, because I'm kind of the older one here, so I'm like the mama and these are my babies going home, and I can't stand it!
Blake Lewis: This is true. You should see Melinda on elimination day. She loves everybody.
Jordin Sparks: I've grown to love a ton of people, but it was really hard to say goodbye to Sundance and Jared [Cotter].
Brandon Rogers: I love everybody, but the difficult one was Jared. He and I became very close, and that's my boy. I don't know if the camera showed it, but Jordin and I were sort of the first two in tears. I really didn't expect it. I think he's a great singer, a fantastic songwriter and a really great guy.
Lakisha Jones: Everybody, really, because we've been together for a while and everybody's good and everybody's talented. I wish everybody the best of luck.
Chris Richardson: For me, A.J. [Tablado]. He was my roommate and my best friend here, and it was really hard to see him go, but like Lakisha said, it's so hard to let go of anybody, because you do become a family.
Sanjaya Malakar: Amy [Krebs]. We were representing Seattle, plane buddies and all, so that was really hard, and I really admired her for her voice. Her tone was really pure.
Stephanie Edwards: Antonella was my roommate and I loved her. We were becoming so close. I cried like a baby.
TVGuide.com: With everything that's going on in the media, how did Antonella keep her focus?
Stephanie Edwards: I don't know how to explain it. I was kind of like her backbone, and she was my backbone, and we were helping each other pick songs....
TVGuide.com: Did she let what was happening outside of Idol get to her?
Stephanie Edwards: No, she didn't.
Chris Richardson: Antonella was 100 percent dedicated to Idol. This [online scandal] was horrible for her because it was personal stuff. She didn't want [the photos] to ever be exposed to anybody. She is so kindhearted, she has a good head on her shoulders, and she's a great person. It sucks for that to happen to great people.
Lakisha Jones: Antonella is a beautiful young lady, and we were behind her, supporting her. She's a wonderful person, and I am sure great things are going to come for her.
TVGuide.com: She, of course, is so beautiful. Do you think she might take up Playboy on their rumored possible offer?
Stephanie Edwards: No, she wouldn't, not at all. She's a very classy and intelligent young woman, and I could never see her doing anything like that. She has too much class, too much pride.
TVGuide.com: Did she feel good about Simon sticking up for her on Wednesday's show?
Stephanie Edwards: Yes, she did. She told me, "That was so nice of Simon to say that. He kind of helped me out there," and I agreed with her. I thought that was very nice of him.
Get an in-depth look at the American Idol finalists on the TV Guide Channel special The Top 12, debuting Saturday, March 10, at 3 pm/ET.