Six weeks ago, as the finals began, I offered up an overview of how the competition looked at that point. We're halfway through now, so let's look back and see how well I did, and what's changed since then. I'll start with the departed contestants.
Brandon: I thought he was "the most disappointing of the twelve so far....he's really got his work cut out for him if he wants to make it to mid-season." He probably never should have made it to the final 12 in the first place.
Stephanie: A mildly surprising early dismissal, but I warned you: "...she is in danger of being this year's Elegant Black Woman, and that's a contestant who always goes home about three weeks sooner than anyone thinks she will..." Not only did she never recapture the magic of her first semifinal performance, she had the bad luck to come along in a season that was filled with strong African-American women.
Chris S.: After the semifinals, I thought he was "the best of the men," but he fell flat every week once the finals began, making him a strong contender for this season's Biggest Disappointment award.
Gina: Six weeks ago, she seemed to be "the only rocker chick; that alone will keep her in the running for a few weeks, and might even carry her to the final six," I thought. She turned out to be less of a rocker than I thought, delivering a mediocre "Paint It Black," and having her best moment with Charlie Chaplin's "Smile." Her departure in week four was the biggest shock of the season, coming as it did after two very good weeks. She was finding her personality and her style, and I wish she'd gotten to stay longer.
Haley: I thought that voters might "keep her around into the top 8 or so;" hard to get more accurate than that. Haley will be best remembered for providing an answer to the question "How long can you survive on sex appeal alone?"
Sanjaya: Didn't belong in the top 12. Didn't belong in the top 24. Probably didn't belong at Hollywood Week. He only gave one remotely competent performance (that would be "Besame Mucho"), and his "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" will go down as the worst performance ever by an Idol finalist.
And that leaves us with our final six singers. Working our way up from the bottom:
Phil and Chris R.: I didn't think either would get this far. Phil "could be the first guy to go," I predicted, and I thought that Chris might "survive for another week or two" purely on his boy-band/Timberlake sex appeal. One of the two should be the next to go; barring any real surprises in the performances this week, I'd bet that it's Phil.
LaKisha: Six weeks ago, I thought that LaKisha's "voice alone should carry her at least to the top 3 or 4, but I'm not sure she can win it all." I'm even more sure now that she won't win, and I'll be surprised if she makes it to the final three; Chris R. might even beat her out of a spot in the final four. Like Stephanie, she's never matched the performance she gave on the first semifinal night, and she's slipped slowly down my list of contenders all season long.
I think there are only three people left with any chance to win the competition.
Blake: "He could be a dark horse threat to make the final two," I predicted; the only change I'd make now is that he's not such a dark horse. I think he certainly makes the top three. Winning is a longshot.
Jordin: In March, I said, "if she's smart (and I think she is), she's soaking up as much as she can from those older women. I expect her to improve by leaps and bounds as the season progresses." But even I never expected the kind of progress she's shown. She's given, in my opinion, the two best performances of the finals ("I Who Have Nothing" and "A Broken Wing"), and she's a definite threat to win.
Melinda: "Does she have a weakness?" I asked six weeks ago. I still think she's the clear front-runner, but there are some potential pitfalls. I know a lot of people who believe that her humility is a put-on, and they get more annoyed by it every week. I think it's genuine, but when it becomes so much of an issue that the judges are pointing it out, as Simon did last week, it's a potential trouble spot. Another possible problem is complacency; Melinda and Jordin are the only singers left who've never been in the bottom three, and if either of them has an off night, they run the risk of their fans not getting out the vote because they don't really think they're in trouble.
Finally, as we get closer to the finals, I think that the question of whether Melinda can be contemporary will grow. In nine weeks, Melinda has sung eight songs that are older than she is. Assuming that the final three will be the traditional judges' choice/Clive's choice/singer's choice night, I'd expect the judges to choose much newer material for her, and I look forward to seeing how she copes.
To close, I'll go out on a limb and predict that the order of elimination in the next few weeks will be Phil, LaKisha, Chris, Blake. That'll leave us with Jordin and Melinda, which would be the best Idol final yet; I'm still rooting for Melinda, but I think that final is too close to call. (If Blake manages to slip into the final two, he loses to either Jordin or Melinda, and it won't be close.)