When Season 9's Top 12 women step out on American Idol's semifinals stage tonight, they enter an arena that has been distinctly unkind to their people in recent times. In the past three seasons, only one woman—Jordin Sparks—has made it to the show's finals. The past two years have been guy-on-guy showdowns, locking out the women entirely. Last season, Allison Iraheta was the lone female in the Top 5 (she came in fourth).
Click Image to See Richard Rushfield's Prognostications on the Top 12 Women
For many Idol watchers, the blame for this state of affairs lies in the rise of text messaging among the very young, enabling tween girls to develop texting superpowers unimaginable to the fully grown, and thus to file hundreds of votes apiece each week for their favorite cute boys.
Whatever the root causes, the buzz on this season is that the women's field is the strongest it's been in years, with a host of very strong contenders. Tonight, America will get its first look at the 12-who-would-be-queen, and seek to slip on the glass slipper once worn by Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Fantasia Barrino, and Sparks.
We have now seen the ladies of Season 9 during the audition episodes and Hollywood Week—what follows is our tip sheet to sort out the contenders from the long shots.
Richard Rushfield is a four-year veteran of the American Idol beat and the author of a recent memoir, Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost.