As Haley Reinhart goes up against chosen ones Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina this week in a battle for a spot in next week's "American Idol" finale, it's safe to say she's the biggest underdog in "Idol" history--more so than Kris Allen (who was overshadowed by Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert for much of his season), Taylor Hicks (who at one time never seemed to stand a chance against Daughtry and McPhee), runner-up Blake Lewis (who went up against a triumvirate of belty divas in Season 6), or any other contestant. Haley was a Season 9 reject, and this season she was on the chopping block so many times early on, most viewers expected her to go right after Ashthon Jones and Karen Rodriguez. Many viewers probably still assume Haley has no chance against aggressively pimped country kids Scotty and Lauren. But they're wrong. I actually predict Haley will make it to the finale.
Why? How? Read on.
1) She Has Celebrity Support - Haley has the endorsement of the much-worshipped Lady Gaga, who let her sing the unreleased Born This Way track "You & I" two weeks ago and clearly bonded with her last week. Revered Idols Kelly Clarkson and Adam Lambert have also enthusiastically tweeted their support, and I've always hypothesized that once Haley's rumored love interest and occasional duet partner, fellow growly jazz Idol Casey Abrams, got cut, many of his votes would go to her. She also has at least one "Idol" big-wig in her corner: Universal Records' Jimmy Iovine, who arranged to have her sing "You & I" and has frequently praised her on the show. But perhaps most impressive is the fact that this week, after hearing her game-changing cover of the Animals' "House Of The Rising Sun," the members of Led Zeppelin contacted Haley and gave her permission to cover their songs this week. (She'll be doing "What Is & What Should Never Be.") Zeppelin have only ever granted one other "Idol" contestant, Season 8's Adam Lambert, such permission, so Haley's in mighty good company.
2) The Country Vote Will Be Split - I suspect "Idol" producer Nigel Lythgoe, who recently launched a country talent competition, "CMT's Next Superstar," once fancied the idea of an all-country Scotty/Lauren finale. And he may still get his wish. But the truth is, not everyone in America digs country music, so this means that non-country fans have only Haley as an option, while the country vote will be split. (Fans of old-school country & western are more likely to vote for Scotty, and pop-country fans will favor Lauren, though my guess is the unstoppable Scotty will prevail.) It's also possible that some of popular eliminated contestant James Durbin's votes will go to Haley, since she's the edgiest contestant left (no, she isn't Gaga-edgy, but at least she takes risks and flashes some leg on occasion).
3) America Loves Underdogs - Haley has experienced the steepest upward trajectory in "Idol" history, the ultimate underdog story arc, metamorphosing from bottom-three cannon fodder to girl-to-beat. A few weeks ago, most viewers (including myself) would have been shocked to imagine Haley making the top three; it was in fact a surprise when she even made the top 13 back in February. But since "House Of The Rising Sun," the rising Haley has had many pundits predicting that she actually has a chance of winning this whole thing. The fact that the judges have continued to berate her--over-criticizing her performances, while over-praising the others'--has only galvanized her sympathetic fanbase, who've rallied behind her and sent frontrunners like James and Casey home instead. Even Haley's feisty attitude last week, when she finally stood up for herself and sassed back to her biggest critic, Randy Jackson, worked in her favor. ("Idol" viewers usually prefer contestants to be humble, self-effacing, and perpetually polite.) Haley's hard work, from Season 9 reject to Season 10 top three finalist, has paid off, and that's a story America can get behind.
4) She's Non-Threatingly Sexy - While "American Idol" has spawned its share of male heartthrobs (the bedroom-eyed Constantine Maroulis, ruggedly handsome rockers Chris Daughtry and David Cook, pelvis-thrusting powerhouse Adam Lambert, tween-friendly cutie Kris Allen), the females that have prevailed on this show have been girl-next-door types. Sure, maybe Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Katharine McPhee, and Jordin Sparks vamped it up later (did you SEE Jordin's performance on last week's results show?), but they were all fresh-scrubbed and rosy-cheeked while competing. Haley still has that girly appeal, with her small-town background and curly golden locks, but her sultry growl and sleepy eyes belie a certainly womanliness beneath her wholesome facade. In a pop age when hotties like Rihanna, Katy, Ke$ha, and yes, Gaga rule the charts--and on a show where her two competitors are an innocent lass who's literally afraid to utter the word "evil" and a Norman Rockwellian all-American boy who seemingly spends his spare time playing baseball and eating apple pie--Haley's subtle sexiness may resonate with viewers.
5) iTunes Numbers Don't Lie - Of the top 25 most popular "Idol" iTunes downloads this season (based on the number of iTunes song ratings and their star ratings), Haley has six of them, according to last week's figures, with "House Of The Rising Sun" at number one, "Bennie & The Jets" at number two, and "Rolling In The Deep" at number three. (Her "Blue," "I Who Have Nothing," and "Piece Of My Heart" are also on the list.) Scotty has three, and Lauren has only two. Of course, this information must be taken with a grain of salt, since the rejected James Durbin also has six songs on the list. But the fact that the top three tunes are all Haley tracks has to count for something.
6) She's The Only Remaining Contestant Who's Had A "Moment" - "Idol" producers and viewers love moments--those watershed performances that have everyone gabbing around the watercooler the next morning, and will be seen in "Idol" highlight reels for seasons to come. Lauren's moment, sadly, took place before the competition even began, when she sang in the audition room with Steven Tyler. Scotty's delivered some solid performances, but the closest thing he's had to a "moment" was his understated "You've Got A Friend" on Carole King Night. Haley, conversely, gave two of the best "moment" performances of the season with "House Of The Rising Sun" and "I Who Have Nothing." And that brings me to my final point...
7) She's Peaking At The Right Time - Lauren peaked way too early, then never quite lived up to the promise of her famous first audition. Scotty has been consistent throughout the competition, but we haven't seen a huge amount of growth from him. Haley, on the other hand, keeps getting better; her two "moment" performances have taken place during the past two weeks, and it's those performances that are fresh in voters' minds. Remember when Kris Allen sneaked into the finale at the last minute with his top three week performance of "Heartless"? Don't assume Haley won't pull off a similar feat this week.