Watching the seventh season of "American Idol," it's pretty obvious who the front-runners are. But to really get a sense of which singers are ringing fans' bells, the best place to look is on auction sites like eBay, where the business of "Idol" ephemera and bootleg tie-in products is booming, and, sadly for lone female contestant Syesha Mercado, pointing to a testosterone-heavy finale.
There has always been a flourishing black market for "Idol"-related merchandise, but this year's crop of mostly home-cooked products has reached a new level of intricate and sometimes creepy creativity.
Leading the pack with 86 different items for sale on the site as of press time is spiky-haired rocker David Cook. Though he's been praised for his ability to breathe new life into songs with his (often borrowed) rocking arrangements, the majority of the Cook offerings fall into the personalized buttons, shirts, magnets and necklaces variety. But one forward-thinking entrepreneur was offering the Web domain DavidCookSongs.info (sold for $1.99), and another is hawking a nice-looking black hooded sweatshirt with Cook's mug on it for $24.95.
Many sellers are trying to cash in by selling CDs by Cook's first hometown band, Axium, like The Story Thus Far, which is listed for prices ranging from $63 to more than $140 on Amazon.com. True superfans can even drop $358 for Cook's out-of-print solo disc, Analog Heart, on eBay.
A few of the offerings are almost laughably homemade, like the "Gorgeous Snow Globe Magnet," which had zero bids the last time we checked, and the $14 "It's a David Cook thing ... You just wouldn't understand" license-plate frame.
Not surprisingly, the finalist with the second-most swag is David Archuleta, with 82 items at last count. They range from the typical mouse pads, charm bracelets, snow globes and glamour shots to return-address labels listed at $1.75 for 30 and a big fat package of press clips for $3.99.
For those weepy 14-year-old girls on your list, there are "Future Mrs. Archuleta" T-shirts for $12.49, the clunky Web domain ArchuletaMusic.info and a somewhat disconcerting night-light ($9.99), which has a glowing image of the singer to help guide you to the fridge for a midnight snack of cookies and milk.
But perhaps the most over-the-top and, let's face it, really disturbing, Archullectible is the "Tabloach Ooak Kelly Tommy Pocket Size David Archuleta" doll ($24.99). The reimagining of the Mattel doll — fully dressed and carrying its own microphone — is small enough that the creator says you can "hang him from your rearview mirror, on your keychain, or tuck him in your purse!" Given its full "facial repaint" and custom non-removable wig, this doll is one of a kind, which might be a good thing.
If that's a bit rich for your blood, there's always the Archuelta purse ($18.99), made of stonewashed denim with a "pretty pastel butterfly shimmer cotton print lining," "sequin accents" and a picture of David on the pocket.
Though Jason Castro's online fans have been among the most vocal of any this season, his merchandising ranks well behind the other two male finalists, with a mere 53 items at press time, ranging from key chains and iron-ons to bottle-cap necklaces, dog tags and earrings.
But our new best friend, artist Loanne Hizo Ostlie, again ups the ante with her Castro Ken doll ($76 at press time), which looks way more accurate than the saucer-eyed Archuleta doll. Not only does the Castro doll come with the crucifix necklace he wore during the April 30 performance, a flannel shirt, a white wifebeater, jeans and an oversized belt bucket, its hair has also been rerooted to mimic the singer's signature dreadlocks.
If that's too wacky for your taste, there's always the "Jason Castro Is My Idol" wristband for $3.25 and the new "sexy" Castro T-shirt ($13.99), which kind of looks like other non-sexy T-shirts, but thankfully includes the important information that it was "never worn."
Alas, poor Syesha Mercado had only five items for sale on eBay at press time — just a smattering of buttons and wristbands, distinguished only by a "photo purse mirror" ($6.50) and a bleak-looking magnet featuring Mercado and Chikezie giving their cheesiest poses ($3.99).
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