We can count on certain things from "American Idol" — near-perfect performances from Melinda and ever-wackier hairstyles from Sanjaya — but in many ways, this season has been unpredictable.

Take the situation we find ourselves in now. I'm not talking about Chris Richardson's brief display of his less-than-perfect attitude when he snarled that "nasal is a form of singing" or the fact that Paula Abdul has now started to consistently make sense.

I'm talking about the fact that LaKisha — who, after she sang the heck out of "I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" the first week, was going to be the one to beat — is now giving us lackadaisical performances at best, while Phil Stacey is suddenly raising the roof.

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Phil's version of "Where the Black Top Ends" sounded so good and was delivered with so much cool and casual confidence that it actually made me feel bad for ever daring to wonder why he has been heralded as some kind of a hero for having missed his baby's birth to come to his "Idol" audition.

Meanwhile, LaKisha just seems so over everything. I realize she just doesn't have one of those over-the-top "Idol" personalities, but it would be nice if she didn't give off the impression that appearing on the nation's No. 1 show was such an imposition.

But LaKisha's bad attitude is somehow less disturbing than Sanjaya's good one. I get that it must be overwhelming to be 17 and have the world discussing your hairstyles, to be the recipient of Howard Stern's attention and to have prompted hunger strikes from strangers and proclamations from the show's most famous judge that he will quit if you win, but when Sanjaya gloats about how he has given people something to talk about, it's disturbingly evident that he doesn't get that he is the butt of the joke.

This is somewhat related to the fact that the nastier the judges' comments, the wider the boy's smile gets.

Where, exactly, does his capacity for denial come from? Martina McBride made a valiant effort to break through it by earnestly making singing suggestions rather than smiling awkwardly and saying how much she liked him, the way the last few mentors have, but what's one woman's voice against a screaming crowd?

Will the Sanjaya reign continue? Will he realize he has simply become a pawn for those out to ruin the show? Will he eventually just walk out there with a scalp as bald as Phil Stacey's? Who knows?

Predicting what will happen this season would be more challenging than making a seemingly tone-deaf 17-year-old boy sound good covering Bonnie Raitt.

Anna David is a freelance writer. Her first novel, "Party Girl," is coming out in June 2007 from HarperCollins.

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