Dolly Parton. Mariah Carey. Andrew Lloyd Webber. Can season seven of “American Idol” be any gayer? Heck yes! By scooting a pretty-sure queer (top-10’er David Hernandez stripped! At a gay club!) and enlisting mentors whose homo legions easily outnumber judge Paula Abdul’s brain cells, the sing-off practically waved Roy G. Biv every time it aired. Then, we had Danny Noriega – quite possibly more flamboyant than a Scissor Sisters show – whose personality was at least more rainbow-colored than, say, Kristy Lee Cook. Remember her? No? Thought not. As “Idol” closes in on five, with the male troika taking the lead, those left will continue braving Simon Cowell’s slams – and nodding their heads like they know what Paula is trying to say – to become the next singing victim of some saccharine middle-school-scribed song. Who’ll be the (un)lucky dawg?
5. Syesha Mercado
Minus parting his hair in the middle and wearing the same black tee, there’s nothing that Simon Cowell likes better than superhuman-lunged crooners. Syesha’s the closest to being one (as she tried proving once with an off-putting, ear-piercing Mariah whistle), but she doesn’t rack up as many kudos from the judges as you’d expect. No surprise there. Every week, save for a winning saucy, animated rendition of “One Rock & Roll Too Many” from “Starlight Express,” she’s been dissed for being a clone of somebody – uh, er – everybody else. Whitney one week; Fantasia another. If she weren’t as dull and predictable as Simon’s wardrobe (“I Will Always Love You” during Dolly Parton week: Shocking!), she might stand a chance at becoming more than a second-rate Whitney. Before the crack, of course.
4. Brooke White
Poor Brooke. I’m inclined to cry, as she does, every time the adorable Carly Simon-esque songstress wraps up a shaky ditty. Since an emotionally intense “Let it Be” cover where the G-rated nanny poured passion on the piano (or, heck, even a stripped-down “Love is a Battlefield”), Brooke’s become a walking-talking vibrator, performing with obvious uneasiness during Mariah Carey-Week “Hero” and Andrew Lloyd Webber-Week “You Must Love Me.” After botching lyrics to the Evita love-plea (and asking for a do-over), it might’ve been hard to heart her, but she dodged the outing bullet when over-belter Carly Smithson packed her Irish accent to head home. Luck (and lots of it) seems to be on Brooke’s side lately, but if she doesn’t shake those nerves – and end the lip-pout and don’t-feel-bad-for-me banter – how can we go on loving her?
3. David Archuleta
His shy-guy smile and gosh-darn cuteness are shoo-ins for fan redial (and maybe for the big finale) – and he’s got a helluva voice. But, Archie, enough with the snail-paced lift-me-ups. I’ll be the first to proudly admit I swooned over the teen’s raw Eva Cassidy take on “Imagine,” and he pretty much had me riding shotgun in the Little David Bandwagon until I realized during Mariah Mania: This dude can only make folks cry – and feel bad for not going to church. Where’s the fun factor? If he doesn’t find it, or eff it up like on his failed attempt at fun with “We Can Work it Out,” he could be the next Clay Aiken – off recording a pre-mature disc of covers and starring in “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” Whoopty-do!
2. David Cook
A rocker dude tackling Mariah’s “Always be My Baby”? Doesn’t that sound as impossible as getting Amy Winehouse off drugs? Think again. David dropped the mind-lingering-hook “do do doop dum” and transformed the poppy nugget into a thumbs-up haunting rock ballad. Known for refreshing-but-borrowed arrangements, like that of “Billie Jean” and “Eleanor Rigby,” the charismatic stage performer’s ear-worthy lower register has consistently mastered the vocal and spirit for seven weeks – it’d be a crime to count the unfocused take on Our Lady Peace’s “Innocent.” Dolly’s “Little Sparrow” was a showy vocal piece; “Music of the Night,” even if he relied on the standard arrangement, brought a different side of him: the raw, sophisticated, romantic one. Am I swooning? Yep.
1. Jason Castro
Jason’s chances are higher and higher than Plastered Paula every week – even sans Archie’s range, which would account for the breathy, vocally under-par “Memories” – and that, folks, poses a vital question: Are we ready for an “Idol”-spawned John Mayer? Ab-so-lute-ly! How refreshing to see the guitar-wielding guy tackle hippie folk with total glory, like he did with Dolly’s “Travelin’ Thru” from “Transamerica,” the ukulele-driven “Over the Rainbow” and the bongo-ized “I Don’t Wanna Cry.” He nails the emotional depth, the strumming, the look (tight pants! dreads! smile!) – and, when he’s on, my wide-open eyes to the tube.