For what it's worth, I think there's a very good shot that Iliza has this thing. It seems to me that there are two demographics at play: comedians and those at least marginally familiar with the comedy world... and people who are just watching TV.
As someone who's seen both demographics (less than a year ago, my husband and I went to our first live comedy club show and have been back a half dozen times since), I can tell you that I see something of an insiders clique to the comedy world. This is not groundbreaking news, I know, but I think there's a bit of a "bubble" there (to use another political metaphor). The question is, does LCS work more like reality TV, which has its own rules and conventions, or does it work more like a comedy competition? I think it's functioning more like the former simply because everything we see is filtered through the producers.
Iliza has been set up by the producers to win this thing. Whether she closed the deal or not, we'll find out tonight. She had by far more face time than anyone else. The only person who seemed to recognize the danger for the rest of them was Louis, whose desire not to challenge her (even though it was moot as the challenges were over) may not have stemmed from any misguided chivalry but from an insightful awareness that Iliza was having the chance to bond with the viewers at home in a way that the rest of them weren't. The more they challenged her, the more face time on TV she got. The producers played her up for sympathy, but part of it was these male comedians shooting themselves in their collective feet by putting her center stage, week after week.
The pimp spot (last spot) effect is very real, and there's a simple reason for it: you don't get to vote until right after the pimp spot. PG--as your 2004 election results show, it is impossible to underestimate the American public. Think of the public like toddlers: the last thing they see is the thing they want. (I'm not trying to be condescending here so much as explain a well-documented phenomenon with reality TV voting). Iliza has all the advantages here. I'll bet you money that they didn't draw lots for position, either--they were assigned. If Marcus was deemed her biggest competition, that's why he drew the worst slot.
I'm looking forward to seeing tonight. As it happens, I'd be happy if Iliza or Jim won (I found 'em both funny!), and Louis or Jeff wouldn't break my heart winning, either. Marcus to me is fairly unfunny, but I think impressions went out about three or four decades ago. They can be interesting and they can be dead-on, but they're rarely funny in and of themselves. Sometimes his impressions aren't in the service of humor.
The only one of these comics I've seen live is Adam, and he was good when I saw him over a month ago... thing is, though, he did the same set on TV. One of the reasons I'm *really* loving Iliza is that she has repeated very little material in all the many times we've seen her. I know that comics perfect a set and then go perform that set in multiple locales, but once you do a joke on TV, it dies. It can still be funny, but it'll never be *as* funny as it was the first time they heard it. I didn't laugh once at Adam's set last week, because I'd already heard those jokes. (I strained a chest muscle when I saw him live because I was laughing so hard, seriously).
Anyway, I think there's a perception among "real" comics who are out on the circuit trying to make a living with this crazy business that dues matter, that experience matters, etc. On LCS, dues and experience only matter if they make you a better comic--and not generically better, but better in the specific ways that work on TV.
By the way, I saw Mary Mack live... she was funny, but there were times that my husband and I (admittedly weird people ourselves) were the only ones laughing. And we saw Ty live, and he was fabulous. Matt Kirshen, too--also fabulous, and *excellent*. But now I'm straying way off topic. Obviously I have too much time on my hands right now.