CLINT COOPER: Rossville's Lauren Alaina Suddeth appeared to get the fright of her life Thursday night when "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest pulled one of his weekly feints in telling her that ... unfortunately ... she would have to put up with the judges for another week. Her eyes seemed to fill with tears at the thought she might be departing, having already told the host she was disappointed with her performance of the song "Any Man of Mine." Then, once cleared, she abruptly left her fellow singers, hugged Seacrest and sat down in the "safe" seats. My hope is she will gain the strength and perkiness she showed in the early weeks of this year's show in order to bear the weekly selection process. While she's still my pick of the women for her potential, the judges seemed to have more praise lately for Pia Toscano (misplaced, if you ask me) and Thia Megia (a real talent, and 16, like Lauren).
KAREN NAZOR HILL: Lauren continues to be my No. 1 pick as well. And it truly has nothing to do with her being a local girl. She is good. Really good. I love everything about her - from her incredible voice to her 16-year-old charm. I think the judges were too critical of her this week. Though I didn't particularly like her song choice, I thought her performance was spectacular. The important thing for Lauren to remember is that she has to give it her all each time she goes onstage. The judges no longer have a say-so who progresses from week to week. America decides. Lauren has to step up to the plate each time. I'm cheering for the cheerleader.
CLINT: As to the men, rocker James Durbin, Mr. Musician Casey Abrams, wide-ranging Jacob Lusk and country crooner Scotty McCreery are my favorites. Even as I say that, I know that "AI" needs a real winner this year - a singer who will sell records, a singer who will appeal to young people. As much as I admire Abrams - who missed Thursday's results show with his second hospitalization for ulcerative colitis - and Lusk, I wonder about their "hit" power. Durbin is really good, but I don't have a sense of what he wants to be. I do believe McCreery could do well in Nashville now, but is he the American Idol? Both Paul McDonald - he of the Elaine Benes (of "Seinfeld") dance moves - and Stefano Langone have contemporary voices, but I don't believe either one of them can go all the way. Time will tell.
KAREN: When the final auditions began, I thought the men were stronger singers than the women. I've changed my mind. At this stage of the game, I don't see a man making it to the top two. I really like Casey, but it may be that I like his personality more than his singing. I was greatly disappointed in his performance last Wednesday, but after People magazine reported that he had been taken to the hospital to be treated for ulcerative colitis soon after, I realized that he was probably ill while onstage. Still, he seems to have the best shot to win among the men, but it's still early in the competition.