How Does ‘American Idol’ Top 12 Compare To Previous Seasons?

With Lilly Scott, Alex Lambert and Katelyn Epperly sent home, season nine lost three of its most interesting contestants.

After an embarrassingly shaky start to the “American Idol” live shows late last month, many of the hopefuls — from Crystal Bowersox to Casey James to Lilly Scott — recovered to the point where we were no longer ready to declare season nine the worst in the show’s history .

And then came Thursday night’s results show . Standouts Scott, Alex Lambert and Katelyn Epperly were sent home, while sooo-not-ready-for-prime-time crooners Katie Stevens, Paige Miles and Tim Urban made the cut. That sound you hear? America erasing their DVR season passes of “Idol.” Which raises the question: Is this season’s newly announced top 12 the weakest we’ve ever seen?

Last season, which actually presented a top 13, gave us singers that were as talented as any we’d ever seen on “Idol” — Adam Lambert, Danny Gokey and Allison Iraheta — plus a slew of intriguing performers with both pipes and we’ve-never-seen-anyone-quite-like-you originality (Megan Joy, Anoop Desai and Matt Giraud). Then, of course, there was dark-horse winner Kris Allen.

While this year’s top 12 includes the impressive Bowersox and they-could-surprise-us contestants Siobhan Magnus, Michael Lynche and Casey James, the upper echelon doesn’t compare at all with last season’s. The bottom tier, meanwhile, filled with the likes of pitchy-pitiful Stevens, Miles and Urban, are far weaker than last season’s early top 13 castoffs like Alexis Grace and Michael Sarver.

Such is the case when comparing season nine to season seven. By this point in 2008′s “Idol,” the fluff had been excised, and we were left with intriguing middle-of-the-pack singers Carly Smithson, Kristy Lee Cook and Michael Johns. Again, there was no one near as overmatched as Stevens, whose blubbering reaction to making the top 12 made clear even she knew she didn’t deserve it. You’d have to go back to season six’s Sanjaya Malakar to discover contestants clearly unfit to be part of the top 12.

But it’s not just an examination of season nine’s bottom-feeders that has us so underwhelmed by the top 12 we’ll see — and, unfortunately, hear — next week. It’s that so many contestants with high ceilings were shown the door. Lambert had Jason Castro-like potential. Epperly seemed like a more poised version of Brooke White. Scott had the most potential of all of them — arguably the strongest contestant aside from Bowersox.

At least Bowersox is still around, as is Magnus. Those two women seem like the only ones left who might genuinely inspire us week to week. Lee Dewyze is a competent rocker in the mold of David Cook. James is a perfectly fine Southern-fried frontman, Lynche can bring both soul and emo guitar-rock verve. But goodness, where’s the excitement?

There does seem to be a genuine anger bubbling on the Internet after Thursday’s elimination show. “Idol” had finally provided us with a heaping handful of singers with vocal talents to match their cultural freshness and risk-taking innovation. Any comparison to past seasons aside, here were some folks we could be excited about each week. And now, three of them are gone. “American Idol” voting public, we have only ourselves to blame.

What did you think of Thursday’s results? Is this the weakest “American Idol” top 12 yet? Let us know!

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