Two ways to illustrate the thesis:
The Early Ousters: Whether Tamyra Gray before Nikki McKibbin, Christina Christian before R.J. Helton, Trenyce before Josh Gracin, or Charles Grigsby and Rickey Smith before Carmen Rasmussen and Kimberly Locke, the AI voting has consistently protected mediocre white singers while eliminating more-talented African Americans. Now, some (like my wife, okay) would argue that McKibbin and Gracin were supported because of their compelling narratives (the ex-stripper/single mom, the Marine dad), not their race, but, c'mon -- how else explain Goat Girl?
The Top Dogs: Neither Kelly Clarkson nor Clay Aiken were ever in jeopardy during the competition, not once falling in the bottom two or three. No matter how mediocre their performances were -- even when Clay sang "Everlasting Love" and enunciated every syllable like he was the official pronouncer for the National Spelling Bee, or sang Billy Vera's "At This Moment" without a shred of the desperation or sadness needed to sell the song. Girls and geeky guys just love that goofy-looking elf. Clay's like the dream camp counselor everyone wanted growing up -- and, indeed, he works at camps for special needs children.
At the same time, non-white front-runners Justin Guarini and Ruben Studdard each had an elimination scare despite singing well during the week in question. Now, look: Ruben's as non-threatening and teddybear-like as they come, but while he's making adult hearts melt, I don't think he connects with kids the way Clay does.
So, I'm predicting Clay will win -- Tuesday performances unseen, and Andy will ride the Ruben 205 Express. Loser buys the next dinner for the four of us -- if it's in California, at Postino, home of some blessed truffled macaroni and cheese -- and if in Pennsylvania, I think it's time to introduce the Lloyds to some authentic Italian cooking.
So, Andy, how can Ruben win this thing?