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At last? Though the semifinals just began this week, here we are already at the finals. Instead of doing two weeks of semifinal competition, the show decided to do it all in one fell swoop, eliminating a record-setting eleven people in one episode, leaving the stage of the Idol Thunderdome soaked with blood and tears. But mostly blood.

Yeah it was brutal! To see so many semi-familiar faces tossed out like unwanted rags. Just "Goodbye, Junebug!" "See ya in hell, Frizzbo!" Just so casual, cruel, cold, mean. Well, not mean. These people knew what they were getting themselves into. They knew that the Grim Reaper eventually comes for all but one. (In Idol's case, the Grim Reaper is just Paula Abdul with a blanket thrown over her head, holding a broom and going "OoooOOOoOooo" like a child's idea of a ghost. Even now that she's off the show. Even now.) Everyone has to know that the odds are stacked against them, as they are in most of life. As the poet Rita Dove Miley Cyrus says, "There's always gonna be another mountain / I'm always gonna wanna make it move / Always gonna be a uphill battle / Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose." (Yes, nearly every single website that has that song's lyrics has "gonna wanna" and "a uphill." Thanks for nothing, Sara Teasdale Miley.) So, no, the point is, the show isn't really mean, but it is blunt and final and crushing.

Though it isn't always final! Perhaps the hardest thing for the contestants last night was that once they found out that they hadn't gotten the votes needed to put them in the Top 10 — meaning, America liked them the least — they didn't even have closure. Because there was going to be a judges' save wild card thing at the end of the night, when they'd make an unknown number of people lip sync for their lives and then they'd pick a number, any number, to go through to the big finals. So they had to endure more stress, only this time twinged with a real, true, sinking feeling of desperation and impending gloom. Everyone was kneeling there hoping the guillotine might break, basically. And break it did for three of them! Three lucky few. A confusing few?

So let's talk who's through. It should be no surprise to you that Willy Whispers himself, Paul McDonald, is through. Wait, yes it should be! In America's illustrious 700-year history, we've proven ourselves to be people who do not take kindly to murderers. And yet we voted through one Paul McDonald, a grinning flop-demon with a sparkle in his eye, a scratch in his throat, and a big huge scary knife in his hand. I knew people liked him — there is undeniably something strangely likable about him, but that is just his way of getting you into his crooked cottage so he can murder you! — but I didn't think they liked him more than certain other people.

Obviously a bunch of gimmes were sent through. Lauren Alaina, the producers' clear favorite to win the whole shebang, easily made it. Pia Toscana, who seemed very confident in her own sure-thingedness. When Ryan said she was safe she just nodded her head like "Yup." But then in a quick second she realized that she should be showing human emotions of relief and glee so she put her head in her hands and tried to act all surprised and whatnot. But there was that second, and that second was all it took. Pia Toscana is Pia Toscana's biggest fan. Pia Toscana expects to win this damn thing. Pia Toscana should be careful about the way she acts! People notice things. Anyway. You know who else was a lock and indeed went through last night? Yes m'am, little Baby Lockthemdoors himself, Scotty McReary, sailed on into the finals. And did you hear the screeeeeams as he walked out on stage last night? Trouble, guys. Absolute trouble. These are not the resigned screams of Sanjaya fans, who everyone knew in their heart of hearts could not sing. No, this is a musical lust, which could really meddle with some of the producers' plans. Or he could totally biff it once in the big league competition, which is entirely likely.

There are some boring middle-grounders who made it, people like Haley Reinhart, Thia Megia, and Jacob Lusk. (Yes, I know he can sing his crazy Slimer head off, but I think he's a one trick pony whose trick has already gotten a little old, so he'll be sent to the glue factory soon enough. The Slimer glue factory.) And then, of course, terribly, dreadfully, miserably, inevitably, we have Poopcloth the Magnificent, James Durbin, the faux-rockin', ham-hockin', cold-clockin' sumbitch who people like because he can go wwhhhhhhyyyyeahhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHH like Adam Lambert did. That will be the quote inscribed on his tomb after he is voted off:

"wwhhhhhhyyyyeahhhhhhhhhhhhHHHHH" - Poopcloth. Annoying.

Then there was the wild card draw! Who would they pick to sing once more for all the marbles? Surprising choices. People like Blonde Girl, and Dark-Haired Guy. Crazy. Also, they had poor little Robbie Rosen come out and sing. You know what? I'm so glad he's not through. He seems like a nice, humble, sweet kid and he really shouldn't be dragged any further into this nonsense. If he wants to finish high school and go major in theater and then come to the city and audition for plays and stuff when he's 22, then I fully support that. But his is not a marketable enough talent for him to throw away a "normal" adolescence for all this garbage. I mean, frankly, I feel the same way about almost all of the young teenagers that appear on this show, but for some reason Robbie seems particularly like someone who doesn't need the ruining. So I'm glad. And you'll be glad too someday, Robbie. At least, I hope so.

They had Ashthon and Naima sing, and they both ended up being added to the finals, as did... uh oh... Stefano. Tim Urban, watching from the edge of Ryan's bed back at home, threw his wine glass against the wall, surprising even himself with his outburst. He wanted this Stefano, with his bird-like features and coy smile, gone! Gone! Back in the studio, Ryan felt a little wind knocked out of him and suddenly he had a headache. He knew he was going to be in for it when he got home, no matter how many times he told Tim that he has no control over such things, this is just how life works, sometimes we're surprised, sometimes not the best thing happens.

Of course, too, Ryan's mind was whirring, trying to teach it to ignore the quiet kernel that had suddenly winked into existence inside of him, a little knot or nugget of hope and curiosity that appeared when he thought about Stefano being around for the next few weeks. It wasn't the same kind of dreadful Colton pull. No, Ryan knew just where that came from — that was just the drunkenness of chemistry, the stormy weight of basic want. This new feeling, this was something else. Change, maybe. A new idea, perhaps. Or a memory, even? Of better, easier times. Whatever it was, Ryan was different just then, slightly, molecular. Tim felt it too, at home sweeping up glass, a strange shiver running through his body.

And indeed new things are here! Here we are, gang. With finalists. How do you feel? Are you sad about Junebug or Frizzbo or that poor lumbering Tim Halpert guy, who I thought for sure would take a place in the finals over Paul McDonald? Do you feel bad for Julie Zorilla, the prettiest girl to ever vomit and poop herself at Homecoming? Do you pity all the losers, who will now be forced to roam through a dark, dank maze, pursued by the skitter and giggly shuffle of Paul McDonald, hunted until all their skin has been eaten? I suppose it's too bad. I suppose it is.

Last night was bloody, last night was difficult for all of us. But now we're through it and we have to look ahead. After all, you know what they say. Gonna wanna, it's a uphill.