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This Thursday, once again at 9 p.m. at Sticky Fingerz, we debut a new wrinkle. The wildcard round pits the four second place finishers from the semi-finals in a battle to win your vote. Yup, the judges get the night off and leave it to you. Everyone that enters will get a special ticket. Near the Times table there'll be a bucket for each act. At any point during the night, you'll be able to cast your vote by dropping your ticket into your band's bucket.

So, yes, it could be simply a popularity contest, though if each of the participants brings a crowd like they did in the semi-finals, they'll all be on even ground. Also, hopefully, a few of you will come with an open mind.

Below, I've got refreshers on each of the wildcard acts and a case for each to win.

Stella Fancy, from round one, plays an irresistible brand of garage-style bossa nova. The band's been around for a while, but only since late fall in this incarnation. The five-piece's newness doesn't show except that they're playing new songs you probably haven't heard. With Jen Shaw (vocals, guitar), JP Langston (guitar), Jon Bierman (bass), Damian Thompson (congas), Dan Huff (drums).

Why they'll win: Because, like JT Tarpley said in his recap of round one, they're impossible not to like. Their arrangements, their hooks, their wardrobe choices (suits last time), Jen Shaw's voice — all pretty much irresistible. Don't discount charm.

Bonnie Montgomery also came from round one. As the highest point getter among third place finishers, she fills a spot Big Boots won, but had to decline (Boots lead singer Mason Maudlin is in Vancouver watching the Olympics). Fresh from several years in Nashville, the White County native writes folk-pop worthy of Music City and sings in a pitch-perfect voice that's a testament to years of studying opera.

Why she'll win: Because Nashville and opera are an affecting combo. And her songs are that good. Plus, she's a new commodity, and who doesn't like to see a new face mix it up?

Flash LaRue, from round three, includes members of Notion and The Poeboy Society and specializes in a winning brand of big tent rock 'n' roll. A lot of their shifting arrangements sound like contemporary indie rock, but at other times, they're full tilt Southern rock.

Why they'll win: Because they're infectious. And even with all the stylistic shifts, they're still the most straightforward rock 'n' roll act in the wildcard round. Everyone loves the rawk.

Iron Tongue, of course, came from round four. I told you about them here.

Why they'll win: Because throwback metal rules. And for sheer spectacle, Iron Tongue's hard to beat.

March 5: Bobby, Elise Davis, Brother Andy & His Big Damn Mouth, Underclaire


Who? Lead singer/songwriter in last year's winner, Velvet Kente.
On Underclaire. Absolutely superb musicianship. Strong melodies and head-nodding polyrhythms. Very apparent attention paid to song structure and composition.

Leigh Wood

Director of the Arkansas Community Arts Cooperative (ACAC).
On Underclaire. I deem this nu emo. The
vocal effects, the drumming, the power chords — it all equals emotional, tailored semi-rock. The chicks dig it, but it's just not my bag.

Greg Spradlin

Who? Local guitar god and vocalist.
On Underclaire. We haven't seen this level of performance thus far. Great songs done well. Really top notch.

Kathryn Heller

Local music geek and proxy judge.
On Underclaire. Tuned-in and talented musicians.

Jeff Riggs

Who? Host of “Arkansas Showcase,” Fridays noon-2 p.m. on KABF 88.3 FM.
On Underclaire. Well controlled rock. Definitely a group to see.

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