I know this has been the cruelest season ever, but in the last couple of weeks, American Idol has actually softened up a little and been a bit more humane with their dismissals. So I’m back, and I make no apologies.

And now that the show is being nice, here’s my not-nice assessment of the finalists. If any of them stumbles across this site, please don’t take it personally. You’re all just cute as a button to me, I swear to gosh!

(And note: I’m just sharing my personal preferences, not predicting the order they’ll be eliminated in. America, in addition to getting other national elections wrong, apparently prefers Scott Savol to Nikko Smith, so who cares what they think anymore.)

12. Lindsey Cardinale – Of all the remaining contestants, Lindsey was the only one I really couldn’t remember at all. I would’ve remembered her if she’d been bad, but I also would’ve remembered her if she’d been better than average. And if you don’t stand out after three weeks of semi-finals, you can’t be all that special.

11. Scott Savol – I really don’t understand his appeal. He doesn’t look like an American idol, as the judges might say (in order to avoid saying something far crueler), he doesn’t sing that well and he came off as kind of an asshole in the early weeks of the show. Who’s voting for him? People who like tinted glasses? How he got more votes than Nikko Smith last week, I’ll never know.

10. Anthony Federov – Sorry to be the jerk here, but all Anthony has going for him is a faint resemblance to Clay Aiken and a grade-A sob story. He’s a decent singer, but he’s way out of his league. I’m hoping he can only ride the sympathy vote so far because he really doesn’t deserve to make it any further.

9. Constantine Maroulis – Tons of charisma, ounces of talent. In fact, maybe his charisma really only weighs a few pounds. All he’s got going for him is the novelty angle and the schticky but memorable introduction he got when he “quit” his “band”. Simon’s right: if this were “Rock Idol”, he never even would’ve gotten a call back. Match him up with Bo Bice and that’s more clear than ever.

7-8. Jessica Sierra & Carrie Underwood – I’m still not sure which one’s the rock one and which one’s the country one, but they’re both pretty good, and they smile real nice.

6. Vonzell Solomon. Wonderful voice, very charming, and her version of “Respect” earned her quite a bit of mine. Vonzell is this year’s Trenyce. She should drop the last name and drop out somewhere around the middle of the show. Now for the love of God, no more Alicia Keys!

5. Anwar Robinson – A few weeks ago, he might’ve been my #1, because he has a great voice and a sweet disposition. But, honestly, could this guy be any cheesier? Like we really needed another mid-tempo lite-jazz arrangement of “What’s Goin’ On” or “What a Wonderful World”. I’ll bet you a million dollars he knows every De La Soul album by heart. Whoever’s voting for him are the same people who made that awful Black Eyed Peas song “Where Is the Love” a #1 hit. Please, Anwar. That neo-hippie ghetto love nonsense was a bunch of manufactured bullshit long before you stole it from Arrested Development. I dare you to sing “Sex Machine”. Do it, and all will be forgiven.

4. Mikalah Gordon – She’s like Fran Drescher meets Avril Lavigne, and even though I can’t stand either of them, strangely, that’s a good thing. Call her cocky if you want to. She’s got personality — and the talent to back up her attitude. And if you haven’t seen her vulnerability show through, you haven’t been paying attention. Even when her singing is just OK, like last week’s performance of “Somewhere”, she’s always entertaining.

3. Nadia Turner – Why do the judges keep saying she doesn’t have a great voice? She kinda does. At least I agree with them about what a dynamic performer she is. She gives it her all every time she takes the stage, and if she secretly sucks, she sure fooled me.

2. Nikko Smith – My second-favorite contestant has already been cut — and reinstated. So maybe I don’t have my finger on the pulse of America, but I stand by my assessment: he’s a major talent. What Nikko understands that most of the others don’t is that a song — or a good one, at least — is actually about something, and if you sing it well, the audience knows how you feel about the song’s subject matter. 2/3 of these kids, if they had sung “Let’s Get It On”, you would’ve thought they were singing a meatloaf recipe. But when Nikko sang it, you knew it was about, you know, sex.

1. Bo Bice – Bo is probably the only person at this stage who really deserves to win. Not just a great singer, not just a fabulous performer, but a true one-of-a-kind bigger-than-life personality. He’s got a great act, and the reason it works is that it never seems like an act. I don’t even like classic rock, but when he sings it, I do. Let’s hope he doesn’t get slaughtered when the producers start doing their theme weeks and everyone’s forced to sing something from the “classic catalogue” of DeBarge. Not that he couldn’t bang out a kick-ass rendition of “Rhythm of the Night”, mind you… He’s that good.

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