idol three 'American Idol' Top 24: Scotty McCreery, Pia Toscano and other early faves“American Idol” made a major change to its format this season: The Top 24 is not performing live this week. Instead, their performances were pre-taped a few days before this week’s episodes.
Also a big change? The field will be cut from 24 to 12 in one shot on Thursday (March 3), when the Top 5 guys and girls (as chosen by the viewers) and the judges’ wild cards advance to the Top 12.

Zap2it was on the scene with 700 other audience members when the boys took the stage on Friday, Feb. 25, and when the girls had their turn on Monday, Feb. 28. Believe us when we say this may be “Idol’s” most talented Top 24 ever.

Naturally, each day of performances had its ups and downs — luckily, there were more ups. With those ups came new front-runners and early favorites to win the entire thing. It was a tough and arduous task, but we’ve selected our early favorites. Here are our top three guys and girls:

kar 'American Idol' Top 24: Scotty McCreery, Pia Toscano and other early favesJames Durbin: Man, this kid is fun to watch on stage. James has
a great stage presence and a fantastic voice. It’s nice to have a
rocker in the group, even if he does have a slight bandanna obsession
(he was wearing a bandanna tail.) James is reminiscent of Season 8
runner-up Adam Lambert, which is a compliment of the highest order.

Karen Rodriguez: This girl can sing and looked absolutely
gorgeous on stage. She made a brilliant decision and decided to sing in
Spanish and English. We’re thinking this might come down to a showdown
between Karen and her BFF Pia.

Scotty McCreery: In his Top 24 performance, Scotty stuck to his roots and went full-out country. And guess what? The audience loved
it. Scotty is clearly a fan favorite (along with Durbin and Casey
) and definitely popular among the younger set. We like that he
has no interest in becoming a crossover artist a la Carrie Underwood and is sticking to who he is. Carry on, McCreery!

Pia Toscano: We had taken notice of Pia throughout the audition
process, but never had her down as one of our favorites. Now? She is
hands down our favorite girl. Pia was the last girl to perform Monday, and the show definitely
saved the best for last. You guys are in for a real treat as we think it will go down as one of the show’s greatest performances ever. Dare we say the competition has a new

paul 'American Idol' Top 24: Scotty McCreery, Pia Toscano and other early favesPaul McDonald: Among the guys, Paul was definitely the most comfortable on the
“Idol” stage, and his more subdued performance was a
welcome change from all the screaming/high notes. Paul’s stage presence
and distinctive voice should take him far in the competition. Also? The
dude’s teeth are crazy-white. We’re just sayin’.

Thia Megia: The “America’s Got Talent” alum has become one of our “Idol” favorites, and it’s insane to think she’s only 15. We’re pretty sure, to borrow a phrase from Randy Jackson, that she could sing the phone book and we’d still love it.

Who are your early “Idol” favorites, Zappers?