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I'd bet on Drew to go the furthest in this category, but I also think that America will continue to be charmed by Rachel despite her vocal shortcomings. 'Idol' hasn't had a female winner since season 6, and 'The Voice' kept the testosterone flowing, so I'm not sure whether a girl will be capable of winning 'The X Factor' either, but between Drew and Melanie and Stacy Francis in the Over 30s, perhaps Simon's new show will buck the trend.
L.A. Reid's Boys
--Brian "Astro" Bradley: The precocious 15-year-old rapper who wants to buy his mom a house if he wins. For 15, he seems a little too arrogant, and L.A. voiced concerns over whether the kid would be able to stay grounded and maintain the right attitude if he was put through, which is a valid question. Still, he's undeniably talented, and he's doing something that hasn't been done in these singing contests before, so I'm intrigued to see whether the audience embraces him.
-- Chris Rene: A total no-brainer; Chris is arguably the most recognizable contestant so far (aside from Stacy Francis) and his troubled past has made him an instant favorite with sympathetic viewers. He's got a unique voice, a gift for songwriting, and a child to support, so I'm hoping he goes far and the pressure doesn't prove to be too much for him.
-- Phillip Lomax: The smooth crooner who was forced to sing a swing version of Rihanna's 'Please Don't Stop the Music' to Rihanna -- so cruel, L.A. -- has been a divisive figure so far, given his retro vibe, but he's certainly easy to listen to.
-- Marcus Canty: He had a memorable audition thanks to a Stevie Wonder track and a relatable story, after his mom gave him an ultimatum to make his musical career work within two years or find a real job.
L.A.'s group is undoubtedly the strongest and most consistent across the board -- I think that Phillip will probably be the first to go from this team, while Chris has the best chance of winning the whole competition.
Paula Abdul's Groups
-- The Brewer Boys: I think that this duo has been pretty consistently mediocre, but in Paula's world, perhaps that makes for an excellent mentoring opportunity. I can't remember anything they've sung, only that they have a disturbing penchant for flipping their hair in unison, and I don't foresee them going far in the competition.
-- Lakoda Rayne and InTENsity: I honestly didn't think that either of the Frankenstein groups were good enough to warrant a pass to the voting rounds, especially after Paula seemed so enamored of 4Shore and The Anser, but much to my bewilderment, both the awkward country foursome and the ten-piece teen group were sent through. I guess perhaps the judges felt obligated to stick with them in order to justify their decision to cobble them together in the first place; god forbid we start doubting their judgment!
-- The Stereo Hogzz: 4Shore's matching t-shirts and The Anser's promise rings were no match for The Stereo Hogzz's dapper suits. And I guess their singing ability, too, but I didn't find them more or less remarkable than any of the other (generally lackluster) groups.
Paula has definitely found herself saddled with the weakest category, but I wonder if audience goodwill towards her will keep her contestants around longer than they deserve to be.
Nicole Scherzinger's Over 30s
-- Josh Krajcik: He's the cuddly guy next door, but the devoted husband certainly has an interesting enough voice to merit his inclusion over a dud like James Kenney (who works "five" jobs, though two of them are at the same place and another two are being a husband and a father). I'm rooting for the burrito seller -- he's genuinely talented and seems genuinely nice.
-- Dexter Haygood: Like me, Nicole obviously loves an underdog, because even though the formerly homeless Dexter gave an admittedly terrible performance last week, Nicole still wanted to give him a chance (and made me cry in the process, damnit). He hasn't got a chance in hell of winning, but why not let him live the dream for a little longer? (Oh, because this is a singing competition, you say? Touché.)
-- Leroy Bell: Possibly the most attractive 60-year-old in the world, Leroy was an obvious choice (but still felt like a long shot) so I'm happy to see him getting the chance to compete. He's got a glorious voice, but I worry that he'll get lost in the shuffle.
-- Stacy Francis: The other no-brainer; there was only room for one weepy diva in the category, and unfortunately for the also-supremely talented Elaine Gibbs, that title was always going to fall to Stacy Francis, whose rendition of 'Purple Rain' was incredible last week (and who has perfected the art of mascara tears).
Given the overexposure of both, I wonder if it could come down to Stacy and Chris in the finale, or whether the other contestants will be able to distinguish themselves enough in the coming weeks to catch up to their lead. I certainly hope that they do, otherwise it'll be the most blatant audience manipulation a reality show has ever gotten away with. Right now, I'm kind of rooting for Drew, purely because her voice is the most unique and already sounds album-ready.
'The X Factor' airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8PM ET on Fox.
So there you have it, your Top 17. Did your favorites make the cut, or do you disagree with any of the judges? (I'm looking at you, Simon.) Share your reactions below!