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Idol Watch: Did America Get It Right? Did the Judges? And Who Really Has a Shot?

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Quick spoilers for last night’s American Idol selection for finalists:

Last night on American Idol‘s two-hour[!] results episode—the reason DVR fast-forward buttons were invented—America and the judges’ panel winnowed down 24 semifinalists to …

…a lucky 13: Ashthon, Casey, Haley, Jacob, James, Karen, Lauren A., Naima, Paul, Pia, Scotty, Stefano and Thia. The only big surprise to me was America’s choice of Haley, but I guess her burlesque-y, bump-and-grind semi performance paid off better than I thought it would.

(I hadn’t picked Karen either, but in retrospect I’m not surprised: she gave a clean, straightforward ballad performance that was a little boring and pageanty to me, but I’m not an Idol voter—it was pretty much a textbook Idol Woman performance, and voters recognized it as such.)

Then the judges weighed in. We had heard they would not be bound to the past finalist format, either in number or gender balance, and they chose one guy (Stefano) and two ladies (Ashthon and Naima) to round things out. Naima was the only one of the remaining group I saw as a real contender to go all the way—although the fact that America rejected her first time out suggests the audience just may not connect with her. Stefano earned his spot with an excellent sing-for-your-life curtain call, but he’s otherwise been unmemorable to me. As for Ashthon, I put her down as a wild-card pick myself, and I could see her charm and stage presence getting her several rounds in this thing—but given her thin voice, her choice of Jennifer Holliday’s—sorry! “Jennifer Hudson’s”—”And I’m Telling You I Am Not Going” was puzzling.

Now comes the process of figuring out who is in that group of four or five singers who have a serious chance at actually winning this thing, and in which order everyone else goes. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I’d give best odds to Casey, Jacob, Pia and Thia—and maybe Karen, who I might have underrated but who could be a kind of Jordan Sparks balladeer winner.

But I have been very wrong before. Let us know your top contenders. I promise not to remind you of them come the end of the season, if you don’t remind me of mine.