WNYW’s Julie Chang Handicaps American Idol Finalists

With WNYW/Channel 5 as the New York home to American Idol, membership has its privileges for entertainment reporter Julie Chang. In-season her focus is the “Idol Chatter” during the  10 p.m. newscast with Ernie Anastos and Dari Alexander. Chang had been handling entertainment fare on Good Day New York until recent personnel changes. Last year, Jill Nicolini was brought on board mornings from WPIX and Anne Craig left the station and the arts beat behind.

Chang just returned from Los Angeles after the Top 13 finalists were unveiled Thursday. She’ll return to the red carpet for the two-night finale in May.

FishbowlNY caught up with the busy, frequent flier for her take on season 11 of Idol, which remains the most popular show each week.

Among the group vying for the title are several singers with ties to the New York area: Elise Testone who grew up in Kinnelon, New Jersey; Jermaine Jones, who hails from Pine Hill, New Jersey; Jeremy Rosato was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, although listed Valrico, Florida as his hometown on the show. Rounding on the local field is Flushing’s Heejun Han.

“In the last ten years, eight of the winners have come from the South,” Chang tells FishbowlNY. “I feel that this year we really have a strong shot at having a winner from the Big Apple.”

Chang, though, admits Jones billed as the “Gentle Giant,” is likely the most vulnerable given his two “saves” from the judges. He was an unprecedented add-on to the semi-finals, and joined the Top 13 as wild card selection, not voted in by the nation.

However, Chang doesn’t find many similiarities between Jones’ road to the finals and eventual X-Factor winner Melanie Amaro‘s shocking “bring back”.

“I look at them as apples and oranges,” Chang says. “I kind of feel like the Melanie drama was produced… With Jermaine, it just looks a little more organic.”

While Chang wouldn’t go so far as to pick an Idol champion, she does think the 28-year-old Testone, with her power sound, could be someone to reckon with all season.

“I think [she] has the voice that could win the whole thing,” Chang says.

Then there’s Han, who like Chang is Korean-American, and also like Chang enjoys being in front of the camera. Arguably, his signature moment thus far in the competition came during the taped Hollywood Week in January. But it was as a funnyman that he first shined, battling with his nemesis, cowboy Richie Law. In fact, Han’s jokes and facial expressions didn’t go unnoticed by Idol mentor Jimmy Iovine. Last week in his comments about each semi-finalist’s performance, Iovine told Han this isn’t “American Comedian.”

“I think his personality on top of his amazing voice could carry him to the Top 5,” Chang says.

She holds a special place in her heart for Han, the first Korean to reach the finals.

“I’ve developed a rapport with Heejun as if he is my own younger brother,” Chang admits. “He is so genuine and sweet.”

Like Jeremy Lin turning the Knicks and the NBA on its side, Chang believes Han will have the same effect in the entertainment world.

“I feel that same kind of momentum with Heejun,” Chang says. “He’s breaking that stereotypical mold of how Asian people are somewhat subdued and submissive.” 

While covering the Top 13 party in Los Angeles, Chang heard someone call her name. Han’s brother spotted the Channel 5 reporter. She was thanked for the support of Han, and was invited to meet Han’s mom.  

“Now I feel like I’m part of the family,” Chang says.