Top 5 Picks for Next American Idol

Pia Toscano appears to be the front-runner, Karen Rodriguez gets the boot.

Mar. 18, 2011— -- There's no shortage of talent this season on "American Idol," but there's still only one winner.

Karen Rodriguez, the bilingual singer from New York, is out of the running. She was eliminated from the contest Thursday night after receiving the fewest audience votes for her rendition of Taylor Dayne's "Love Will Lead You Back" in English and Spanish.

The judges decided against saving her after she gave a last-chance performance of Mariah Carey's "Hero." Breaking the news to Rodriguez, Randy Jackson said the decision to send her home was not unanimous, though he would not reveal who wanted to save her.

Haley Reinhart, the 20-year-old college student from Wheeling, Ill., who smudged her lipstick while belting out Whitney Houston's "I'm Your Baby Tonight," and Naima Adedapo, the 26-year-old dance instructor from Milwaukee who gave a pitchy performance of Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do with It," joined Rodriguez in the bottom three.

As the remaining 11 finalists move on to next week's round of competition, the field of likely winners is taking shape -- though who will ultimately claim the top prize is still anyone's guess.

"I think you've got a deeper talent pool than possibly any season since season five," Brian Mansfield, USA Today's "Idol" blogger told

Mansfield said the race is still "wide open."

The Hollywood Reporter's music editor Shirley Halperin agreed. "It is harder this year," she told "The talent is closer to each other. There's not that wide disparity between best and worst."

Still, Mansfield and Halperin were able to narrow the field down to five likely winners. They are as follows:

The Front-runner: Pia Toscano

Toscano, a native of Howard Beach, N.Y., was first on both Mansfield's and Halperin's list.

A previous "Idol" contestant, she made it to the Hollywood round in season six. But this season seems to be her year.

"She's the presumptive winner at this point," said Halperin, author of "American Idol: Celebrating 10 Years." "Everybody loves her. she can do no wrong, she's a great singer, she's beautiful -- she's got the whole package. You see both guys and girls react to her when she sings."

"She's got to be in the lead by a long mile," Halperin said.

Mansfield called Toscano an old-fashioned 'American Idol' throwback in the same vein as a previous winner, Carrie Underwood. "She can throw down a big ballad," he said. "I'm still waiting to see if she can do more than that."

The Spoiler: Casey Abrams

Abrams, the bearded, burly contestant from Idyllwild, Calif., has won over the audience with his eclectic charm and style.

Mansfield calls him a huge variable in the competition because of his recent health scare. Abrams suffers from ulcerative colitis and missed last week's results show to get blood transfusions. His illness, which is worsened by stress, is serious enough that it could force him out of the competition, Mansfield said. But if he stays in, Mansfield puts him easily in the top 3.

Halperin agrees. "He's got what Taylor Hicks has ... charisma, an old soul feel to him. He's funny and charming and cute in a burly man sort of way. He also has the sympathy vote with all these health problems. If he can hang I think he's going to go far in this competition." The Toss-up: Paul McDonald

A Nashville singer-songwriter, McDonald has been touring the country trying to hit it big. Could he make it to the top of "Idol?"

Mansfield could see him going all the way or flaming out early. He's that unpredictable. Halperin agrees. With his crazy outfits, his chicken dance and unique voice, he's hard to pin down.

That said, his looks and style have already won over "countless women," Halperin said, especially the older female viewers who make up a large part of the show's audience.

It also doesn't hurt, Mansfield said, that he looks most like the past three winners, David Cook, Kris Allen and Lee DeWyze.

The Glamberts' Revenge: James Durbin

There's no doubt that Durbin, the Santa Cruz, Calif., rocker with Asperger's and Tourette's, is reminiscent of season eight runner-up Adam Lambert. Both Lambert and Durbin have commented on their similarities.

It's possible that all those Lambert fans, known as Glamberts, still miffed that he didn't win could throw their weight behind Durbin. "It would be nice payback for the Glamberts," Halperin said.

Mansfield puts Durbin in the top 5 but doubts he can win. "I don't know that a rock singer is going to win this show," he said. "I'll believe it can happen when I see it."

The Dark Horse: Lauren Alaina or Haley Reinhart

Mansfield thinks child country music prodigy Alaina from Georgia could win even though early favorites usually falter.

First, he said, she'll have to learn how to take criticism. And it's possible the other country crooner in the competition, Scotty McCreery from Garner, N.C., could take her out.

For Halperin, the dark horse is Reinhart, even though she was in this week's bottom three and most people will disagree. She said the 20-year-old student with the amazing voice is still finding her footing. But once she does, "she could really wow us."