"American Idol" finalists Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis are attractive, talented and have millions of adoring fans. But who is the winner?
The two telegenic singers - The Beauty and The Beatboxer, respectively - will try to out-sing, out-groove and out-charm one another in this week's fairy-tale finale. Who's going to win? It's a tough call. Though many argue that Sparks is the clear frontrunner, Lewis is full of surprises.
Sparks, the 17-year-old daughter of retired NFL player Phillippi Sparks, sits pretty in one corner. The bubbly teen with the killer voice from Glendale, Arizona, is poised beyond her years, yet her girl-next-door goofiness endears her to viewers of all ages. She was born to win "American Idol," her fans say. If not, someone please get this girl a show on the Disney Channel.
"I'm very, very strong willed. This is what I want to do," she told reporters in a Friday teleconference. "It's what I've been wanting to do for so long, and I think that if people did vote for me, that I could represent it well if I actually won. It would be amazing. I would love to win. ... I don't know: just vote for me if you like me!"
Sparks' bold yet sweet personality has eclipsed some suspect song choices, like the depressingly old-fashioned "I Who Have Nothing." She performed that number twice this season - last week it was panned by Simon Cowell, whose face turned even gloomier when his favorite contender, Melinda Doolittle, went home.
If Sparks is this year's Miss Congeniality, Lewis, 25, of Bothell, Washington, wins awards for Most Creative and Best Dressed. The stylish beatboxer, who has been experimenting with hair color in recent weeks, has shown talent for choosing songs that play to his strengths and altering song arrangements to inject contemporary pizazz.
He's had his ups and downs, but won much acclaim for his takes on Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know," which highlighted his lilting voice, and "You Give Love a Bad Name," perhaps his greatest "Idol" hit. His decision to add hip-hop beats to the latter impressed Cowell and irked guest mentor Jon Bon Jovi.
"I don't think I've really ever listened to the judges I think on this show," Lewis told reporters last week. "I kinda nod my head and smile and say thank you."
His fans argue: He's a risk-taker! He's cute! He's cool! But none of these qualities matter when Sparks is in the picture, says Rolling Stone executive editor Joe Levy. Lewis has it going on, but this week he might be gone ... gone ... gone.
"Jordin brings more to the table and she has all season," Levy told The Associated Press. "Blake is a limited singer and his presentation is limited as well. ... He hasn't shown himself to be versatile or as winning as Jordan. So, on talent alone, I would give it to Jordin."
The soulful singer/high school student "is just better on TV than Blake," he added. "And in fact, probably better on TV than anyone else this season."
Her young age provides that edge needed to win over female voters. "For the teen girls, she's one of them. For the moms, she's everything they want their daughter or son to grow up to be," Levy said.
Even Lewis appears to be on Team Jordin. "She's 17 and she's already a woman," he gushed, before going on to sabotage himself. "She performs, she's good-looking, she's got a fantastic personality and it reads really well on camera. And so I love Jordin Sparks. ... Regardless of the finale, I think she already won it in my mind and she was my pick in the beginning."
Kelly Clarkson, the original American Idol, is also pulling for Sparks, while Rosie O'Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck of "The View" are placing bets on Lewis.
Songwriter Sean Garrett, who's worked with Beyonce and Usher, is not playing favorites. He is both impressed by Lewis' creativity and Sparks' growth as a singer.
"It's going to be really, really interesting," he told the AP. "I mean, I think they both stand for something great. ... Hard work, creativity, poise. Standing there and not quitting."
Indeed, the pressure of performing live on the top-rated competition - and standing out amid the Sanjaya phenomenon - was no easy task. Everyone's a winner, right?
(Get ready for your big moment, Jordin.)