It's been the season of Crystal Bowersox on American Idol. The 24-year-old single mom from Elliston in Ottawa County has mostly dominated the show from the beginning, earning weekly praise from the judges and growing support from a legion of “Momma Sox” fans.
But as last year's runner-up Adam Lambert proved, front-runners don't always finish first.
Now that the show has reached the top 5, competition will most certainly pick up. Gone are the I'm-just-happy-to-be-here contestants such as Lacey Brown, Andrew Garcia, and Alex Lambert.
The four who remain in addition to Bowersox are talented and, no doubt, competitionhardened: Casey James, the handsome frontman who plays blues guitar; Aaron Kelly, a teenager with a voice still jelling who sings love songs to his mom; Michael “Big Mike” Lynche, a mountain of a man with a tender side for his wife and baby daughter, and Lee DeWyze, a former paint salesman with a distinct raspy voice that makes you think of a sleepy Dave Matthews.
How will Crystal fare against her competition? Here's a look back at the show so far and a prediction of what's to come.
Hometown: Elliston, Ohio
Predicted finish: Winner
Best performance: “People Get Ready” by the Impressions for Inspirational Songs night
Worst performance: “No One Needs to Know” by Shania Twain for Shania Twain night
Strengths: By far the strongest artist among the group, she has been consistently excellent — even her off night was better than many of the other contestants' good days. She also has the strongest sense of herself as a performer.
Weaknesses: Not the most engaging performer when she sings; predictable at times in her song choice and arrangement.
Why she'll win: Again, she's asserted herself as the best performer among the group, and set the bar so high with the buzzed-about performance of “People Get Ready” she's unlikely to be topped by anyone this season. Has a fan base beyond the normal Idol viewers.
Why she won't: Last Tuesday proved she's human and that she can have an off night. She's also the only female singer remaining in the group, and as more and more male contestants are eliminated from the competition, those swing votes may go to the next guy.
Hometown: Mount Prospect, Ill.
Predicted finish: Runner-up
Best performance: “The Letter” by the Box Tops for Billboard Number 1 Hits night
Worst performance: “Hey Jude” by the Beatles for Lennon/McCartney songbook night
Strengths: Consistent and with a distinctive sound. Is capable of some “wow” moments on the show.
Weaknesses: As the American Idol judges have said repeatedly, DeWyze lacks confidence onstage, though that's getting better. He's not the most engaging performer, either. Seems better suited to be a front man for a band than a solo artist.
Why he'll win: Like Crystal, he has a dedicated following. The judges like him, and he's never really had a clunker performance. He could also pick up the swing votes as more guys are eliminated from the competition.
Why he won't: Can you really see this guy selling millions of records as the American Idol? He lacks the artistic ability of Bowersox, and the charisma of past Idol winners.
Hometown: Sonestown, Pa.
Predicted finish: Third
Best performance: “You've Got a Way” by Shania Twain for Shania Twain night
Worst performance: “Blue Suede Shoes” by Carl Perkins for Elvis night
Strengths: A big voice that's only going to get better. Is the kind of son every mom would want.
Weaknesses: At 17, his voice is still changing — have you noticed the occasional Greg Brady crack in his vocals? His age also makes some of the songs awkward, such as Shania Twain's ‘‘You've Got a Way,” in which he changed “the way we make love” to “the way you show love.”
Why he'll win: He seems to be picking up steam. He's the youngest of the performers, so that has to count for something. And seems like a nice kid. He probably picked up some of the Tim Urban votes when Tim was eliminated.
Why he won't: Too young. His voice isn't there yet. If Aaron had waited fi ve years to try out for Idol, he'd probably have won the competition. But he's not ready yet. A third-place finish will look good on his resume, though.
Hometown: Astoria, N.Y.
Predicted finish: Fourth
Best performance: “This Woman's Work” by Kate Bush for Billboard Hot 100 Hits night
Worst performance: “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles for Lennon/McCartney songbook night
Strengths: Is capable of “big moments” on the show, with a soulful voice that, at times, echoes the great Luther Vandross. He has the best stage presence of any of the remaining contestants — really, he's the only one with stage presence at this point. Also, has the husband-father story line to give him added appeal.
Weaknesses: Lynche is good, but when Ruben Studdard, whose singing style is similar, performed on the show this season, he reminded you of the limits of Lynche's range. Has made some bad song choices and even worse arrangements, like the campy Vegas production of “Eleanor Rigby.”
Why he'll win: He has the potential to get on a roll with the right song choices and strong performances.
Why he won't: He also clearly is not a fan favorite, having appeared in the bottom three twice. His first visit to the bottom would have been his last, were it not for the judges using their only save of the season to keep him from being eliminated.
Hometown: Fort Worth
Predicted finish: Fifth
Best performance: “Jealous Guy” by John Lennon for Lennon/McCartney songbook night
Worst performance: “Don't Stop” by Fleetwood Mac for Inspirational Songs night
Strengths: He's the kind of lead singer to build a band around: good looks, distinctive voice, can comfortably handle a guitar.
Weaknesses: As much as he looks to be a frontman, he hasn't been the most charismatic onstage. His bluesy vocals are surprisingly weak and limited.
Why he'll win: The cute factor, and the fact chicks dig guys who can play guitar.
Why he won't: Tuesday night was his second-best performance of the night, and he still finished in second-to-lastplace. If your best isn't good enough, then what else can you do?