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Image: "Idol" judges and Ryan Seacrest
Michael Becker  /  Fox
Despite adding new judge Ellen DeGeneres, left, the “Idol” panel leaves a lot to be desired this season. And with Simon Cowell, right, about to depart and host Ryan Seacrest, center, trying to be edgy, the chemistry is all off.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 5/25/2010 12:26:50 PM ET 2010-05-25T16:26:50
Commentary

Regardless of who wins the Crystal Bowersox-Lee Dewyze showdown on “American Idol” this week, season nine will still go down as the most frustrating season in the show’s history.

Despite some of the heat-of-the-moment criticism, this isn't the worst year ever. Season six was probably the low point where it seemed like there might not be enough talent out there to sustain the franchise, while season three looks a lot better now that Jennifer Hudson has made it in Hollywood. I'd take this group over either of those two classes.

However, this was the first year where it seemed like “Idol” was flailing. There's no more aura of invincibility that kept rival networks from challenging it with programming they had any hopes for. And with Simon Cowell set to depart following Wednesday's finale, this is a scary new road for "Idol" to travel.

What makes it even more frightening for "Idol" fans is how close things were to being even worse.

Bowersox’s diabetes rendered her unable to compete on one of the Tuesday semifinal performance nights. If “Idol” had eliminated her rather than switching the date of competition to Wednesday so she could perform, May would have been a very uninspiring final month of the season, and maybe those vote totals would continue to decline. It's something to wonder about as we look at some of the factors that led "Idol" to reveal cracks in its facade this season.

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Problems on the panel
The biggest change was the chemistry among the judges, and between the judges and Ryan Seacrest. Or, rather, the lack thereof.

With Paula Abdul gone and Simon a lame duck before the season even began, it was a different dynamic on the judges' podium that nobody seemed able to navigate. Simon wasn’t the alpha dog he had been. He’s now light on the snark and heavy on the wink despite a group of finalists that could have used some more withering takedowns. That left a vacuum that could not be filled by the current crew.

Ryan tried, but it just doesn't work to have the host be the edgiest member of the crew. He’s supposed to be the friendly ally of the contestants and the audience, so the biting “comedy” bits with Simon were uncomfortable to watch.

Kara DioGuardi looked like she wanted to take the reins, but with Simon getting the last word after every performance, it was hard for her to put her stamp on things. Randy Jackson is Randy Jackson: He’s always the same. It was always “just all right for me” unless the singer was “in it to win it.”

That left Ellen DeGeneres, who took the uncomfortable role of replacing Paula. She said early on that she didn’t know a ton about music in particular, but she did know about being an entertainer and performing live, and could contribute that knowledge as well as the perspective of the fan.

I wish she had done that and had been the professional equivalent of the wickedly funny people who flood my Twitter feed after every song. Instead, she had an up-and-down year filled with what seemed to be scripted one-liners, random praise and reluctant criticisms.

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I’ll be very curious to hear what she says in the next few weeks about whether this season met her expectations and whether it seems like something she wants to keep doing. DeGeneres is a hilarious comedian and the best talk-show host this side of Oprah, but she also seems very nice. She doesn’t seem to be a mean-spirited person, and she did not ever look comfortable when a contestant struggled. Booing herself for offering criticism got old, and if she never uses the word "pitchy" again, that will be too soon.

‘Bandstand’ or ‘Idol’?
This was also the year where the results shows were more "American Bandstand" than "American Idol." Traditionally, the Wednesday shows have centered around the contestants, that week’s guest mentor and whichever former “American Idol” participant had an album or concert tour to pitch. That changed a little last year when Lady GaGa, Flo Rida and Katy Perry were among the performers, but this season became much more of an “American Top 40” vibe.

In the past month alone, we’ve seen Rascal Flatts, Shakira, Lady Antebellum, Sons of Sylvia, Lady Gaga, Bon Jovi, Travis Garland and Justin Bieber taking the “Idol” stage (some live, some on tape). Don’t get me wrong: I’d rather watch any of them than another “Idol” group sing, but it just seemed off. Did we really needed to see Sons of Sylvia and Bieber perform on tape? Isn't that what the MTV and VH1 families are theoretically for?

There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to some of the selections. Garland got a prime spot because he was discovered by Perez Hilton, or so Ryan seemed to indicate. That just felt weird, since it isn’t like Hilton has an obvious connection to the show. Jason Derulo, DioGuardi’s discovery, also got a prime slot, though at least his song was getting radio airplay.

Indistinguishable
Finally, it has to be said that this group of finalists was unusually indistinguishable. Nobody was terrible — it will be a solid final 10 for the "Idol" tour — but everyone was just about the same each week. Aside from Dewyze, nobody stepped up their level of performance as the season went on, and since nobody was truly awful either, the show was boring. How many times can we really hear four judges say things that boil down to “that was just all right for me” every week?

Enjoy the Bowersox-Dewyze finale — it should be great. The folks at Fox and 19 Entertainment hope it will make you forget the rocky road the show took to get here.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/craigberman.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Photos: Idol finalists

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  1. Two for the show

    Crystal Bowersox, left, and Lee Dewyze are the last two standing on season nine of "American Idol" in Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 19. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. One more battle

    Bowersox, left, hugs Dewyze as they learn they've made it to the end. (Frank Micelotta / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. So long, James

    Casey James performs his farewell song after being eliminated on "Idol" on Wednesday, May 19. Judge Randy Jackson once called James "probably the best musician/guitar player we’ve ever had on here." (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Kid 'n play

    Justin Bieber performs on the "Idol" elimination show on Wednesday, May 19. Msnbc.com's Craig Berman says of the teen singer: He makes Aaron Kelly look like a grandfather, or at least as old as Simon Cowell. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Crystal fest

    "American Idol" finalist Crystal Bowersox performs at the Ottawa County Fairgrounds in Oak Harbor, Ohio, on May 14. The show's top three contestants visited their hometowns, performed for fans and reunited with family. (Jeff Kowalsky / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Comfort of home

    Bowersox hangs with family and friends during her hometown visit in Toledo, Ohio, on May 14. (Ray Mickshaw / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Deep in the heart of Texas

    Casey James is mobbed by fans during an appearance in Grapevine, Texas, on May 14. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Key to his success

    James holds a key to the city during his hometown visit in Grapevine, Texas, on May 14. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Off and running

    Lee Dewyze performs during a concert at Arlington Park Racetrack in Arlington Heights, Ill., on May 14.. (Jeffrey Phelps / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. All for me?

    Dewyze rides in a car with his parents, Lee and Kathy, during a parade in Mount Prospect, Ill., on May 14.. (Jeffrey Phelps / Picturegroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Top three

    And then there were three. The final contestants on "American Idol," from left, Lee Dewyze, Crystal Bowersox and Casey James, in Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 12. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. No longer safe

    Michael Lynche performs "Will You Be There" as his final song after being eliminated on Wednesday, May 12. Lynche would have been gone five weeks ago, but he was the recipient of the lone judges' save this season. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Oh, my girl

    Lynche hugs Crystal Bowersox onstage in front of his baby daughter on Wednesday. Big Mike was hoping to make the top three so that he could get a parade in his hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla. (Frank Micelotta / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Waiting game

    Ryan Seacrest and "Idol" squeezed ever ounce of stress out of the elimination announcement as Bowersox found herself in the bottom two with Lynche. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Back to where it all began

    Former contestant Fantasia performs her new single "Bittersweet" on "Idol" on Wednesday. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Go sit down

    Lee Dewyze gets the word from Seacrest that he's safe. Casey James was the first singer to move to the final three on Wednesday night. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. There goes my hero ...

    Bon Jovi performs "Superman Tonight" during the elimination show on Wednesday, May 12. (Frank Micelotta / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Texas bound

    Casey James, left, greets his family after being declared safe. The finalist gets a trip home, complete with a parade and a welcome-home party. (Frank Micelotta / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. 'Stay hungry'

    Fifth-season "American Idol" contestant Chris Daughtry performs his latest single, "September." When Seacrest asked what advice the rocker might have for the remaining contestants, Daughtry told them to "stay hungry and don't compromise the music you love -- stay what's true to you." (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. The final 4

    The four remaining contestants on "American Idol," from left, Casey James, Crystal Bowersox, Lee Dewyze and Michael Lynche, pose backstage in Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 5. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Fly him to the moon

    Aaron Kelly performs his farewell song during the elimination episode of "American Idol" on Wednesday, May 5. The 17-year-old failed to advance past Frank Sinatra week. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Don't break him

    Michael Lynche, left, hugs Kelly after the hammer dropped on Wednesday night. Once again in the bottom two, Lynche "has more escapes than Houdini this season," said msnbc.com's Craig Berman. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Channeling Ol' Blue Eyes

    Harry Connick Jr. performs on "Idol" on Wednesday, May 5. The singer served as mentor this week and offered up his own critique of the show. "The word 'pitchy' does not exist, judges," Connick griped. “We need to stop saying that. 'He's singing out of tune' -- that's how we say it." (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Rat pack

    Harry Connick Jr. mans the piano as the contestants, from left, Michael Lynche, Lee DeWyze, Crystal Bowersox, Aaron Kelly and Casey James perform the group sing on Wednesday, May 5. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Something's fishy

    Singer Lady Gaga performs during the elimination show on Wednesday, May 5. Msnbc.com's Berman wrote, "Pants, or no pants?" The answer was "no pants." And also "no shirt." Just something that looked like underwear covered by a black fishnet. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Five alive

    After the elimination show on Wednesday, April 28, the final five "American Idol" contestants are, from left, Michael Lynche, Aaron Kelly, Crystal Bowersox, Lee Dewyze and Casey James. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. So long, song

    Siobhan Magnus performs during the "Idol" elimination show in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 28. Msnbc.com's Craig Berman said of the singer: She seemed like the dullest person on Earth in her pre-show videos, but one of the most colorful performers once the music started. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. 3-2-1 ... gone

    Magnus, left, hugs Casey James after host Ryan Seacrest delivered the bad news on Wednesday, April 28. Michael Lynche was the other singer in the bottom three. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Reaching for the stars

    Shakira, left, performs with Rascal Flatts on "American Idol" on Wednesday, April 28. Msnbc.com's Berman reports that when Seacrest asked Shakira to give the contestants advice, the singer said: "It comes to my mind that sentence, that quote from Roosevelt: … Keep your eyes on stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground." To which Ryan, Rascal Flatts and millions of viewers shouted, "That's Casey Kasem! 'Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!' " (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Just what we 'Need'

    Lady Antebellum performs "Need You Now" on Wednesday, April 28. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Green with envy

    Actress Cameron Diaz, center, takes the stage for a "Shrek" montage. Seacrest Seacrest has a bit part in the new movie "Shrek Forever After." (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Safe again

    Contestants Aaron Kelly, left, and Crystal Bowersox had no trouble moving to the next week after the vote totals came in on Wednesday, April 28. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Six shooting for the top

    The final six contestants on "American Idol," from left, Aaron Kelly, Crystal Bowersox, Casey James, Michael Lynche, Siobhan Magnus and Lee Dewyze, on Wednesday, April 21. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Blinded by the white

    Dressed in their best charity whites for 'Idol Gives Back" night, the final final 12 contestants perform together on Wednesday, April 21. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. His time to go

    Tim Urban, center, is eliminated from the competition on "Idol" on Wednesday, April 21. Craig Berman of msnbc.com had this to say about Urban: There has never been a contestant with a better smile, or one who showed it as often. He was always just happy to be there, even when he was being ushered out the door. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Lending a hand

    Fergie and the Black Eyed Peas perform at "Idol Gives Back 2010" on Wednesday, April 21, in Pasadena, Calif. (Vince Bucci / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. The lucky ones

    The final seven contestants on "American Idol," from left, Michael Lynche, Aaron Kelly, Lee Dewyze, Crystal Bowersox, Siobhan Magnus, Tim Urban and Casey James are seen backstage in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 14. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Big Mike safe again

    Michael Lynche, left, and Katie Stevens are the last two standing with host Ryan Seacrestt and it was Stevens who learned she was out of the competition on Wednesday, April 14. Lynche survived elimination the previous week on a judges' save. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. King for a day

    Former "Idol" contestant Adam Lambert performs as part of the elimination show on Wednesday, April 14. Lambert was serving as mentor to the singers for Elvis week. He performed an extended version of his single "Whataya Want From Me." (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. First of two to go

    Andrew Garcia, front left, soaks up the love one last time after being eliminated from "American Idol" on Wednesday, April 14. Msnbc.com's Craig Berman said Garcia was the "calmest, happiest exit interview that I can remember." (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Dreamy

    Former Idol contestant Brooke White, left, and Justin Gaston perform a duet of "If I Can Dream" on the show on Wednesday, April 14. (Michael Becker / Picturegroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Line of nine

    The top nine contestants perform at the start of Wednesday's elimination show in Los Angeles. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Still nine lives

    The "American Idol" contestants remain unchanged after the judges used their only save to keep Michael Lynche, center, in the mix on Wednesday, April 7. The rest of the pack includes, clockwise from left, Tim Urban, Crystal Bowersox, Andrew Garcia, Casey James, Siobhan Magnus, Aaron Kelly, Katie Stevens and Lee Dewyze. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Big Mike's big finish

    Michael Lynche sang "This Woman's Work" for his final song after being eliminated, and apparently it worked on the judges. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Not the best Beatles

    Lynche, left, was in the bottom three with Aaron Kelly, center, and Andrew Garcia on Wednesday, April 7. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Michael Jackson-like

    Jason Derulo performs his single "In My Head" during the "American Idol" elimination show on Wednesday, April 7. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. The safe set

    "Idol" contestants, from left, Lee DeWyze, Casey James and Tim Urban remained safe during the elimination show on Wednesday, April 7. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Ax to grind

    With guitar in hand, Rihanna performs her new song "Rockstar 101" on Wednesday, April 7. Ryan Seacrest introduced her as "a superstar who dominates both pop culture and the charts." (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. The girls are safe

    "Idol" contestants, from left, Siobhan Magnus, Crystal Bowersox and Katie Stevens survive to sing another day on Wednesday, April 7. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. The kid's allright

    Former "Idol" runner-up David Archuleta, left, takes the stage with Seacrest. The singer performed John Lennon's "Imagine." (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. All together now

    The final nine, from left: Casey James, Lee Dewyze, Katie Stevens, Tim Urban, Siobhan Magnus, Andrew Garcia, Crystal Bowersox, Aaron Kelly and Michael Lynche. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Down to single digits

    The top 9 were revealed on Wednesday, March 31. They are, clockwise from bottom left, Katie Stevens, Aaron Kally, Lee DeWyze, Casey James, Andrew Garcia, Tim Urban, Crystal Bowersox, Siobhan Magnus and Michael Lynche. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Didi's last hurrah

    Didi Benami, with Ryan Seacrest at her side, watches a video of her time on "American Idol" after being eliminated on Wednesday, March 31. (Michael Becker / Picturegroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. A real idol

    R&B star and guest mentor Usher performs his new single "OMG" on Wednesday, March 31. (Michael Becker / Picturegroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. The bottom 3

    This week's lowest vote-getter were (from left) Didi Benami, Katie Stevens and Tim Urban. (Michael Becker / Picturegroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. The Teddy Bear returns

    Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard performs "Don't Make 'Em Like You No More" during the Wednesday, March 31 show. Studdard announced that he was going on tour with season 2 rival Clay Aiken. (Michael Becker / Picturegroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. Final 10

    The remaining finalists after the Wednesday, March 24 elimination show are, clockwise from bottom right, Aaron Kelly, Crystal Bowersox, Michael Lynche, Andrew Garcia, Katie Stevens, Lee Dewyze, Siobhan Magnus, Casey James, Didi Benami and Tm Urban. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. Taking her final bow

    Host Ryan Seacrest presents eliminated contestant Paige MIles for her final round of applause on Wednesday, March 24. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Show stopper

    Celebrity mentor Miley Cyrus took the stage on Wednesday, March 24 to sing her new song "When I Look at You." (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. The bottom three

    Paige MIles (from left), Tim Urban and Katie Stevens had the dubious distinction of the being the lowest votegetters during the second week of the finals. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. Oh so young

    Singers Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato perform during the elimination show on Wednesday, March 24. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. Snore

    The top 11 perform Wham's! "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" during the group sing on Wednesday, March 24. Perhaps they should have stayed asleep. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. These Stones keep Rolling

    The top 11 contestants on "American Idol" after the elimination show on Wednesday, March 17, from left in back row: Katie Stevens, Tim Urban, Michael Lynche, Siobhan Magnus, Lee Dewyze, Didi Benami; from left in front row: Andrew Garcia, Casey James, Aaron Kelly, Crystal Bowersox and Paige Miles. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. First to go

    Eliminated contestant Lacey Brown performs in Los Angeles on Wednesday, March 17. She sang "Ruby Tuesday" as part of Stones' night and Simon Cowell said she performs like an actress. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Le$$ is more

    Ke$ha sports a Native American headdress while performing on Wednesday, March 17. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  66. Miles ahead

    Paige Miles, left, and Lacey Brown embrace at the end of Wednesday's show. Miles had laryngitis Tuesday while she was performing and could still barely talk on Wednesday -- but survived to sing again. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  67. 'You' go, girl

    Orianthi performs her hit "According to You" on "American Idol" on Wednesday, March 17. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  68. Shake, rattle, roll on

    Contestants Andrew Garcia, left, and Tim Urban managed to stay alive on Wednesday night. On Rolling Stones' night, Garcia sang "Gimme Shelter" and Urban sang "Under My Thumb." (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  69. Show 'em how it's done

    Season 7 "American Idol" winner David Cook performs during the elimination show on Wednesday, March 17. (Michael Becker / PictureGroup via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  70. Lucky dozen

    The top 12 contestants on "American Idol," from left: Tim Urban, Siobhan Magnus, Lee Dewyze, Paige Miles, Michael Lynche, Andrew Garcia, Didi Benami, Lacey Brown, Aaron Kelly, Crystal Bowersox, Casey James and Katie Stevens arrive at Fox's Meet the Top 12 event at Industry in Los Angeles on Thursday, March 11. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  71. Crystal Bowersox

    The 24-year-old mother, who's been playing music since she was 10, is an early fan and judge favorite. On Tuesday, March 9, after she nailed Tracy Chapman's Give Me One Reason," Simon Cowell declared her to be "the one to beat." (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  72. Didi Benami

    The performer struggled for the first two weeks of the semifinals, but redeemed herself the third week with her version of Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon." Kara DioGuardi called the performance one of her favorite moments on the show this season. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  73. Katie Stevens

    The 16-year-old has struggled during the semifinals, with the judges repeatedly telling her to sing songs that reflect her age. She has the voice and is taking the judges' advice, so she could catch the leaders with time. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  74. Paige Miles

    The Michael Jackson fan hasn't wowed the judges so far. Simon warned her about pandering to the judges by singing one of Kara's songs, "Walk Away," in the second week of the semifinals, and she offered a rather forgettable "Smile" the following week. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  75. Lacey Brown

    The judges seem to expect future success from the 24-year-old Texas native. They panned her for her cover of "Lean On Me" the second week of the semis, but loved her the third week when she gave them Brandi Carlile's "The Story." Simon even said, "The 'wow' moment was the whole performance." (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  76. Siobhan Magnus

    The 20-year-old glassblower has been considered one of the top female contestants of the season. She's got the confidence, and though she's lacking a sense of style, week after week, she impresses most of the judges with her voice. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  77. Michael Lynche

    The new dad has wowed judges and viewers since the beginning of the season. He's one of the few who seems comfortable on stage, and is the only one to have gotten a standing ovation from Randy Jackson and reduce Kara to tears with his singing. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  78. Casey James

    The 27-year-old full-time musician has certainly made an impression on Kara, but he has also offered solid performances week after week. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  79. Aaron Kelly

    The high-school senior is one of the guys who appears to have the confidence to be an "American Idol," though he's had his troubles. In the third week of the semifinals, he performed "I'm Already There," which, as Ellen DeGeneres noted, was a lot of song for such a young performer. (At 16, he's the season's youngest.) (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  80. Tim Urban

    The 20-year-old Texan has had a rough time with his performances. But in the final semifinals round, he impressed the judges with Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah." Ellen even ran onto the stage to give him a big hug. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  81. Lee Dewyze

    The 23-year-old has been placing high on the judges' scorecards all season with his commercial-sounding voice. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  82. Andrew Garcia

    Garcia knocked the judges out of their seats with his cover of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" in Hollywood, but unfortunately, that's all the judges can talk about. In the third week of the semifinals, he tried to make them move on from that performance with a cover of Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle." (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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