Political Idols [UPDATED]

If the presidential candidates have one goal, it’s to maximize face time. Get in front of as many voters as possible while expending the least amount of jet fuel and energy. Tonight, you’ll see the philosophy on display when all three candidates show up on American Idol for the show’s philanthropic extravaganza , Idol Gives Back . Twenty-four million people tuned in to last night’s show—only 3.5 million less than the populations of Indiana, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina combined. The candidates will ask Americans to donate to charity and—just guessing here—find a way to make a strained link between philanthropy and their platforms.  

Clearly, this begs for an analogical match-up of the candidates to their Idol doppelgangers.

Hillary Clinton: Kristy Lee Cook

Cook is not going to win American Idol , but she continues to slip into the next round week after week after week. Sound familiar? After early stumbles, she’s been getting progressively stronger with every week—something the judges once thought was impossible. At this point, she has embraced her bottom-of-the-barrel status and knows that the only way to stay alive is to put a smile on her face and keep on fighting.  

Last night’s performance of “Anyway” spoke to embittered female voters nationwide—this after her bald pander to American sensibilities with “God Bless the U.S.A.” kept her alive two weeks ago. Clinton, meanwhile, has been courting female voters from the get-go and turned to the Rocky metaphor last week to grovel at the feet of Pennsylvanians.

John McCain: Carly Smithson

McCain and Smithson are both grizzled vets in their respected fields. McCain has tried to be president once before but fell short in the 2000 Republican primary. Smithson has already had a record contract but failed to gain any traction on the airwaves. They both have quirky arms: Smithson’s tattoo and McCain’s inability to raise his hands above his head. Neither of them is a typical American—Smithson is a native Irishwoman and McCain was born on a U.S. military installation in Panama —yet they’re aspiring for the country’s most famous—and arguably most important—titles.  

Smithson’s performance of Heart’s “Crazy on You” dovetails nicely with McCain’s widely reported temper, as does her spot-on croon of The Beatles’ “Come Together” with McCain’s campaign finance and environmental efforts. Simon Cowell often tells Smithson that she’s a great singer with a bad tendency to pick the wrong song to sing—just like McCain is a gifted politician who can’t seem to pander to enough fat-walleted donors. Last night’s “Show Must Go On” should’ve been McCain’s theme song last summer when he was out of money and on the brink of electoral death.

Barack Obama: David Archuleta

Archuleta is that baby-faced wunderkind that Idol has always been waiting for. He’s young yet poised beyond his years. His rendition of “Imagine” elevated Lennon’s words beyond the ‘60s and transcended the generation gap. His performance of “The Long and Winding Road ” echoes Obama’s patience with Clinton’s sentry position in the battle for the nomination. Archuleta attracts a rabid, delirious group of screaming fans called the “Arch Angels” that vote without fail for the cherubic contender. Obama’s rabid, delirious fans are simply called “idealists.”  

Archuleta, just like Obama, is presumed to be the front-runner—but he still has to knock off the remaining contenders first. Naturally gifted, uncharacteristic gaffes—like Archuleta’s brain fart during “We Can Work It Out” or Obama’s Rev. Wright imbroglio—are the only things that stand in both contenders’ ways of reaching the finals.

Spot comparisons we missed? Hit up our inbox .

UPDATE April 10, 8:30 a.m.:   Looks like Hillary stands no chance against Fergie. Per the NYT , the candidates weren’t important enough to make it into Wednesday night’s show. They’ll show up on tonight’s elimination episode instead.