Handicapping American Idol’s Top 13

Before the Final 13 perform tonight, we wanted to handicap each contestant’s odds to win and compare it to Vegas’s predictions. No need to wait any further, let’s just get right into it. [Ed. note: All wagering analysis is for entertainment purposes only. If you actually put money on this, you have a serious problem. That being said, mortgage your future on Shannon Magrane.]

Hollie Cavanagh

Kang: Ms. Irrelevant — the sixth girl they let in because they needed to let in a sixth girl and for no other reason. The whole blond girl from Texas thing might have worked, but Hollie’s got an unidentifiable, vaguely British accent going on that should alienate her from the always-vital tween-xenophobe (tweenophobe?) population. As for her singing, if you can’t bust out the song from Mulan with more power than that, you’ve got no business on the Idol stage. The judges gave her credit for not singing any notes out of tune, but isn’t that kind of like congratulating a pitcher who gave up five home runs but didn’t walk anyone? We should call her the Kevin Slowey of American Idol.

Lisanti: The judges have weirdly overreacted to her so far, which means (a) they’ve seen a lot more of her than we’ve been shown on TV, and she’s better than the relatively few glimpses we’ve been offered or (b) the judges have no idea what they’re talking about. I’m leaning (b). J.Lo probably just wants to mother her like a fragile nestling, we already know Steven Tyler’s keeping her around until he gets a better look at her hair, and Randy’s just, like, whatever, dawg. He’s feeling it, he guesses. She’s aight.

KANG ODDS: 100:1
LISANTI ODDS: 75:1
VEGAS ODDS: +1000

ERIKA VAN PELT

Kang: There’s something a bit too karaoke about her voice — it feels like Erika might have been one of those girls who goes to every karaoke night, slays something like “Whiter Shade of Pale,” and then decides to pursue a singing career. Because she knows she can’t just do the same version of “Whiter Shade of Pale” that she sang at Moby’s Pub in New Bedford, she tosses in some vocal affectations, dies a pink streak in her hair and tries to pass off her jumbly act as a “rocker girl.”

I always want to root for the older people who are giving it one last shot, but too often, they’re a bit too weepy, a bit too self-involved, a bit too entitled. Erika Van Pelt, to her credit, is none of those things. It’s too bad that she’s not a good-enough singer to make a deep run this year.

Lisanti: I think she’s got one of the best voices among the girls. The “mobile DJ” thing doesn’t help her image, because those words conjure a scene of a pushy karaoke host setting herself up with “Barracuda” and blowing away the drunk “Summer Lovin’” screechers during a lull early on a Saturday night. She’s got no shot at this, though. Kind of unfortunate, but that’s life in The Game. (The mobile karaoke game.)

KANG ODDS: 80:1
LISANTI ODDS: 90:1
VEGAS ODDS: +2500

ELISE TESTONE

Kang: See: Van Pelt, Erika.

Lisanti: See: Three, Bottom.

KANG ODDS: 80:1
LISANTI ODDS: 70:1
VEGAS ODDS: +750

JERMAINE JONES

Kang: I think Jermaine has a long career playing Mustafa in the Broadway version of The Lion King. But he shouldn’t have started off with Luther, especially “Dance With My Father.” As Scott Savol quickly learned back in Season 4, you can’t really progress from a good Luther song, especially if you’re a big dude with a deep voice. And when you inevitably decide to go back to Luther (if Jermaine gets through three weeks, I guarantee he’ll break out “Superstar,”), this is what happens.

First time Scott Savol broke out Luther.

And this is what happens when you go back.

Jermaine, learn from the lessons of the past. Go “Circle of Life” this week, murder some Josh Groban ballad, and then go back to a Disney song, maybe “Beauty and the Beast.” At best, you’re a lisping, less marketable Peabo Bryson. That’s not a terrible thing to be. But you’re not not NOT Luther.

Lisanti: In the double-bill of my nightmares, Jermaine is opening for, and then dueting with, Antony and the Johnsons. At the bottom of an empty swimming pool. In an abandoned mental hospital. Where they conducted horrific experiments on the patients, the extent of which are only revealed through the discovery of a cache of reel-to-reel tapes that, when played back 50 years later as part of some unrelated criminal investigation, fill that same pool room with the anguished, echoing lilting of some very damaged souls. I guess I’m saying I find his voice a little unsettling. And so will America.

KANG ODDS: 55:1
LISANTI ODDS: 200:1
VEGAS ODDS: +2200

DEANDRE BRACKENSICK

Kang: While I would love to envision an America where Milli and Vanilli’s kid falsettos his way to the Finals, the public will ultimately decide that they don’t want to hear a dude sing in such a high register every week. Which is really too bad. R&B always needs two or three dudes who can sing an entire song in falsetto, and now that Maxwell is working at that Dairy Queen, D’Angelo’s getting lost in Soundgarden covers and Robin Thicke is succumbing to male-pattern baldness, it’s about time we crowned a new king of the high notes. I don’t know if DeAndre’s that guy, but he’s certainly got the pipes for it. We’ll see in Week 5, when he inevitably decides to take on Maxwell’s version of “This Woman’s Work.”

Lisanti: There’s a good chance that if you’d watched Thursday’s results show, you’d be a little higher on Deandre’s Diva potential. Upon learning he was not among the voters’ chosen Top 10, he VERY DRAMATICALLY flipped his hair around as he stomped over to contestant limbo to await a possible callback for the Sing for Your Life second chance. It was simultaneously hilarious and sad. But he murderkillslayed his last-chance song with a minimum of sassy hair theatrics. He’s in it to win it, a secret Power Brat, a falsetto-spraying Diva-in-training. A savvy coach will steer him into the Timberlake lane, though; hard R&B’s too tough a stretch for him.

KANG ODDS: 40:1
LISANTI ODDS: 30:1
VEGAS ODDS: +2500

JEREMY ROSADO

Kang: He’s the most likable guy on the show this season, but I think he’ll ultimately get derailed by his nerves. I think there’s a future for Jeremy Rosado as the chubby nice friend in some far-flung rebrand of High School Musical, but I don’t know if he’s got the week-to-week performance chops to make it much further than the top seven or eight.

Lisanti: You’re a fattist. He’s a big, talented teddy bear! I lay the odds at 5:1 that by the end of the season, Fox is selling a matched set of plush Rosados and Jermaines. (Don’t squeeze the Jermaine, though. The sound that comes out is really creepy. You won’t sleep that night.)

KANG ODDS: 40:1
LISANTI ODDS: 30:1
VEGAS ODDS: +3000

COLTON DIXON

Kang: Somewhere in Europe, there’s a very bright university student writing a very true, but ultimately irrelevant, dissertation about how the end of American culture came when we began manufacturing rebellion. There will be some discussion of co-option, Elvis, Eminem, and the machine’s endless appetite for consuming and converting the visible, taggable symbols of whatever revolution. Colton Dixon, his skunk stripe, his bat-like suits, his Good Charlotte looks, and his completely dumb, boring version of rebellion will hopefully be detailed in a footnote. Something like: “Je déteste cette Colton Dixon et j’espère qu’il se voté loin, mais chez les adolescentes en Amérique prévaudra toujours. Hot Topic ne peut pas être arrêté.”

Lisanti: I’m too lazy to throw that last part into Google Translate. But let’s just assume it says “One singing Jared Leto is already one too many” and move right along.

KANG ODDS: 25:1
LISANTI ODDS: 20:1
VEGAS ODDS: +700

JESSICA SANCHEZ

Kang: In the misogynist/tweenophobic world of Idol, Jessica Sanchez doesn’t stand a chance at the Finals, especially in a year stacked with cute, nonthreatening boys. Her best shot is to knock out five awesome performances, bow out too early, stir up international outrage, and parlay that into a tour of Southeast Asia, including a week of sold-out shows at the Araneta Coliseum in Manila.

So before I start filling this space with angry rants about Jessica Sanchez’s seemingly endless spot in the Bottom Three, I’d like to say that Jessica Sanchez is by FAR the best female voice this season and perhaps the best pubescent singing prodigy they’ve trotted out in years. She’s got somewhere between 10 and 15 more moves than the rest of the contestants — she’s got the strut, the knee-bend-and-growl, the super-high warbly note, and even a smattering of stank. If this were figure skating, she’d be the girl who could land the triple axel before everyone else.

Lisanti: I’ve been conducting the J-Chez train longer than anyone. I scouted her in the parking lot at the cattle-call round, eavesdropped on the first clipboard-shattering notes she sang at a screening producer while 10,354th in line to sit in the stands at Crazy Dreams Arena for 14 hours, and warned Randy Jackson that “we’ve got a live one coming” before she burst through the double doors of the audition room. Step off on the hyperbolic praise: The record clearly shows I invented Chezmania. Your posing is unseemly. Mariah Chezzy is my girl. But she’s got no chance to win this silly show. Bigger and better, bigger and better. Probably outside of America, but still.

KANG ODDS: 20:1
LISANTI ODDS: 18:1
VEGAS ODDS: +400

HEEJUN HAN

Kang: We saw his first hiccup last week when he mumbled his way through a bad, thoroughly unremarkable, and mostly unknown Robbie Williams song. There’s a chance Heejun knew that the Asian voting bloc and the good will he built up for talking craps about Cowboy Richie would carry him through to the Final 13, allowing him to stash his four or five best songs. But it’s more probable that he just overestimated how much America wanted him to not sing Michael Bolton. So, Heejun, here’s a list of songs that Michael Bolton either sang or covered over his illustrious career. Give each one the full Michael Bolton treatment, because America loves Michael Bolton.

  • “Time, Love and Tenderness”
  • “Missing You Now”
  • “Love Is the Power”
  • “Whiter Shade of Pale”
  • “Lean on Me”
  • “Dock of the Bay”

That’ll get you to the Final Seven, at which point I think you should just start singing Big Bang and Lee Seung Chul songs until America votes you out.

Lisanti: Go ahead and plow straight ahead with the further Boltonization of Heejun. I have grander plans. Three words: Total rocker reinvention. His next five songs:

  • “Welcome to the Jungle”
  • “Girls, Girls, Girls”
  • “Carry on My Wayward Son”
  • “Cherry Pie”
  • “We Are the Champions”

He’ll deliver these with such a potent mix of front-man chops, showmanship, and confounding semi-irony that we won’t know what to think. We’ll just know to vote. And vote. And vote. And vote. And vote. What round are we in now? I meant to stop in the Final Four.

KANG ODDS: 15:1
LISANTI ODDS: 12:1
VEGAS ODDS: +1200

SHANNON MAGRANE

Kang: Can anyone explain what the fuck is going on in this video? Why is a 16-year-old girl wearing a prom dress? Why is she stealing all of Celine’s hand motions? Why is she pointing at me? Why, in the world, did she decide to sing a song about lighting a candle? Before this performance, I had Shannon Magrane penciled in to the Final — despite her problematic height — but this gave me reason to pause. First of all, she’s kind of a hot mess here. A very pretty, well-composed, and talented hot mess, but a hot mess nonetheless. Why is she waving her arms so much? Why is she making that weird, pained face?

Lisanti: Ladies and gentleman, your Next! American! Idol!

(Also, never say the words “hot mess.” Very Perez Hilton circa 2008. Joe Magrane will put one under your chin.)

KANG ODDS: 6:1
LISANTI ODDS: 2:1
VEGAS ODDS: +700

SKYLAR LAINE

Kang: If you had Skylar and Heejun both sing the same song and played the recordings to a random Boston resident, I think they’d have a harder time understanding Skylar. She’s about as country as they come. Like I bet she’s drank more beers in her 18 years than I have in my entire sad, 30s blogger life. And if you put her in a zoo, she’d probably shoot all the animals and then convince you that it was somehow the humane thing to do. All this country energy transfers itself really well on the Idol stage. She’s clearly the best performer, she plays to her strengths, and she’s got that weird confidence that makes Brandi from Storage Wars such a force in the antique/second-hand auction market. I could actually see her winning the entire thing, but only if she can knock out two gospel standards. That’s a tall order.

Lisanti: We’ve really got to put a parental block on your A&E; since you discovered that show, you now communicate in Storage Wars references about 80 percent of the time. But that’s neither here nor there. Skylar is, by far, the most purely entertaining performer. She patrols the stage like she’s searching the audience for the man who done her wrong, and when she finds him, she’s going to sing his face to death. In the long run, however, I worry that all that aggression is going to work against her. The tweens will begin to think, “Hey, why’s she, like, so angry all the time? I’m gonna vote for Shannon. She’s tall and pretty, but she seems So. Nice. I want to be tall and pretty and nice one day.” It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Skylar eventually has to downshift the intensity as the competition progresses. She may kill it, but during an ill-advised Katy Perry Week rendition of “California Gurls” she may just quit in the middle, pull off her cowboy boots, and hurl them at Guest Coach Ke$ha. We just don’t know what’s going to happen with this one.

KANG ODDS: 5:1
LISANTI ODDS: 10:1
VEGAS ODDS: +1000

JOSHUA LEDET

Kang: I said everything I needed to say about Joshua Ledet last week. I’d be OK with him getting robbed by Phillip Phillips in the Finals, but if he gets gutted by, say, Colton Dixon, I’m going to finally quit Idol.

Lisanti: We’ve already established he’s the best singer in the competition (you’re still my girl, J-Chez!), and probably has the best prospects for a big post-Idol career. He should probably have Professor X design him a Cyclopsian ruby crystal-ball gag so that whenever he tries to open his mouth, he doesn’t unleash waves of devastating vocal energy that accidentally shears off Jeremy Rosado’s head, slices through the Idoldome roof, and takes down the KCAL9 Traffic Chopper.

But the best singer never, ever wins anymore. We know this. Look at the winners from the last four years:

SEASON 10: Don’t remember.
SEASON 9: That other guy, the cute one.
SEASON 8: Mediocre dreamboat.
SEASON 7: The guitar one, I think.

I’m nervous about Joshua even making the Top Five.

KANG ODDS: 4:1
LISANTI ODDS: 9:1
VEGAS ODDS: +900

PHILLIP PHILLIPS

Kang: Figuring out the Idol winner is always a pretty simple proposition. Put yourself in the mind of a 14-year-old girl with an unlimited text plan. Then think, “If I had to vote for one person to piss off every thirtysomething blogger who spends his mornings watching Mariah Carey videos on his computer, who would it be?” These vindictive little bitches have ruined nearly every Idol finale for me. Kris Allen, David Cook, Lee DeWyze, Scotty McCreery have sailed past their much more deserving competition and into terrible, untenable recording contracts. I’d like to think that this smelly army would elect Joshua Ledet or even Skylar Laine over Phillip Phillips, who looks like a less threatening Jude Law and plays the guitar oh so nicely and works ah shucks at his dad’s pawn shop, but all those improperly punctuated clauses equal a shitload of power in the Idol voting demographic. This is a lock.

Lisanti: My favorite part of doing Idol analysis is watching Jay imagine how the tweens marshal the terrible, collective force of their bloc-voting hivemind in a conscious effort to cyberthwart the “thirtysomething bloggers,” as if they’ve ever left their Facebook slamfeeds long enough to actually see a blog, much less determine the blogger consensus in need of destruction. That being said, the “Vote for My Future Nonthreatening Boyfriend Effect” is very real, and Phil Squared enjoys a massive advantage over the rest of the boys field. Still, my gut tells me this is the year the “Aspirational BFF Phenomenon” breaks the Nonthreatening Boyfriend spell, and the Magrane Train plows through PPJR in the finals. On the bright side, Phillips will go on to front the world’s greatest DMB tribute band, Tripping Phillies.

KANG ODDS: 1.5:1
LISANTI ODDS: 2.5:1
VEGAS ODDS: +350

Filed Under: American Idol, Idol, Jessica Sanchez, Joshua Ledet, Phillip Phillips, Shannon Magrane

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Jay Caspian Kang is a Grantland contributor. His debut novel, The Dead Do Not Improve, is on sale now.

Archive @ jaycaspiankang

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