Thursday night is when some "American Idol" dreams will come true, and a dozen or more will be crushed and sprinkled all across the seizure-inducing new IdolDome stage. But before all that carnage and celebration, we once again turned to some of our "Idol" experts to make some predictions about this season's front-runners after the top 12 women did their thing on Wednesday night.
Because he just can't get enough of all things "Idol," we turned to MTV News' resident expert Jim Cantiello for his take on which ladies soared and which ones crashed and burned. Despite a few serious stinkers, JC said he continues to be shocked by the caliber of vocalists on the show this season. "You believe that these were the finest singers they found while on the road," he said, noting two "atom-bomb-sized surprises" on Wednesday night.
His first revelation was former housekeeper Lauren Turner, whose choice of Etta James' "Seven Day Fool" he deemed perfect and full of attitude. "[She] stood out from the pack with her gravelly blues voice and in-your-face performance style," he said. The other big surprise was show-closer Pia Toscano, the raven-haired beauty who sang the Pretenders' "I'll Stand by You," which he said, "dug deep and showed off her pitch-perfect pipes. Her range was sick, she had confidence, she effortlessly hit some major power notes. America stood up and noticed, as did the judges, who gave her the first official standing ovation of season 10."
If he had to pick a stand-out front-runner, though, at this point, Cantiello is still going with 16-year-old sassafras Lauren Alaina. "[It's her] race to lose," he said. "She's everything 'Idol' is looking for. [She] got up onstage and looked like she could have commanded a live audience 10 times bigger without flinching. She has stage presence, a powerful voice, and she has a unique ability to live somewhere in between R&B, pop and country."
And while he thought the Carrie Underwood/Kelly Clarkson comparisons from Randy Jackson were not off the mark, Cantiello wondered if Alaina's need to always be the center of attention might start grating on voters' nerves? As for the other 16-year-old, Jim said Thia Megia has great pitch and a large fanbase, but he just can't "picture her at the Nokia, covered in confetti. Unless she steps up her personality."
A great measure of how polarizing "Idol" contestants can be is the list of hot prospects submitted by Top Idol blog founder Melinda Green. One of her favorite performances was from this year's obligatory oddball, Rachel Zevita. Though the judges thought Zevita blew it with her jazzy, off key take on Fiona Apple's "Criminal," Green loved it. "I really hope we see more of her. Alas, I think the judges would prefer sending through Ashthon Jones," Green said of the Nashville native with the giant, blow-out hairdo whose sultry cover of Monica's "Love All Over Me" earned raves. Green wasn't sipping the "Idol" juice, though. "Every performance I've seen of this girl has been the same tired R&B diva wannabe shtick we're treated to every season," she said.
She also liked Naima Adedapo, but is looking for more personality from the Erykah Badu-like singer and clothing designer. Lamenting how many of Wednesday night's singers opted for tunes we've heard a dozen times in past seasons, Green said Karen Rodriguez made it interesting by singing half of Mariah Carey's "Hero" in Spanish, but wondered if it was a bit too obvious pandering to judge Jennifer Lopez.
Green agreed with Cantiello that Alaina might start to strike some viewers as a "precocious coquette as taught by her stage mother" and said despite her "perfect tone," Thia Megia may not have the emotional maturity to connect with the songs she's singing. "With this year's emphasis on youth and the show's clear aim of getting a viable female winner, we'll be forced to see more of both Thia and Lauren Alaina," she lamented.
Bottom line, Green agreed that Toscano can go far and just needs to show more personality and that Turner has the goods that could take her deep into the competition. "She's got the kind of voice I love," she said, agreeing with Randy Jackson's description of Turner as a mix of Amy Winehouse and Florence Welch. "If 'American Idol' wants current, they best do everything they can to keep Lauren Turner around. She's the real deal, no theatrics, just raw talent."
Do you agree with our experts? Who do you think is headed for elimination tonight? Let us know in the comments below!
Don't miss "Idol Party Live" at 10 p.m. Thursday on MTV.com, following the "American Idol" results show, for analysis, celebrity guests and even some karaoke — get in the conversation by tweeting with the hashtag #idolparty! In the meantime, get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.