Finally! After a (very) long and (really) arduous process, the pop star hopefuls are at last whittled down to a slim 24 people. What a journey it’s been so far!

We begin in media res with Jennifer still having a breakdown over the elimination of her secret lover Chris Medina. She begins questioning whether she has the stomach for judging at all. It’s so hard! Tensions! Will! She! Go! On?! Yes. She basically takes like a five-minute breather and is comes back all better. So much for the climactic two-episode-long build-up.

Anyway, Karen Rodriguez’s shameless ploy to win Jennifer’s affection by singing “If You Had My Love” and a Selena song pays off, and she’s the first to make it in. Also in are judge favorites Robbie Rosen and Julie Zorilla, which wasn’t much of a shocker since the judges have basically been singing both their praises since they moseyed onto the screen. What was a shocker though was Tatynisa Williams getting in, since frankly her “singing” ain’t that great.

Next is the Great Cowboy Showdown of 2011 as resident country singers Scotty McCreery and Other Cowboy Dude With The Black Hat face the panel one after the other. Scotty is obviously the one chosen, since he has gotten way more face time than the other guy. Can’t say I’m a fan of his deep voice or the weird kissy-face he does while performing, but I guess if they HAD to pick one cowboy, he’d be the one to choose.

Jovany Barreto and his pinched facial features are in, as is forgettable frizzy-haired maid Lauren Turner. Good for them. Thankfully, Rachel Zevita is in too. I say “thankfully” because she basically said that if she didn’t get selected, she’d break her 83-year-old grandmother’s heart and bring shame down on her entire family. So yeah, good thing she got in so that didn’t happen.

After one girl is out and heartbreakingly says that it’s time to “go back to reality cuz this was nothing but a dream,” more people are let in. Kendra Chantelle, Jordan Dorsey, Ke$ha/Lauren Alaina, Stefano Langone, are all safe. Also, it’s around this point that the judges whole “Surprise! You’re actually in!” fakeouts starts to get really old. Like, guys, it stops building tension when ALL the people you give a hard time to are the ones who get selected. Switch it up a little, guys!

Anyway, the dance continues. Jackie Wilson is out (giving a rather bitchy exit interview), and churchy showstopping superstar Jacob Lusk, Pia Tosccano, and Asperger/Tourettes wunderkind James Durbin are in. Good for them! All three of them are very talented (especially Jacob) and seem nice, so I’m glad they made it.

Next is Casey Abrams, who, despite his creep factor, I really like. The judges apparently do as well, calling him the most talented person on Idol ever. Really? I mean, he’s good and all, but the most talented ever? Seems like a bit of an overstatement. (How awesome would it be if they said that and then were like “but you’re not making it, sorry. Have fun with your big talent, loser.) But yeah, yay Casey! He’ll go far, that one.

At this point, things take a grim turn, as two girls and three guys fight for one spot each. First up, it’s final two girls Thia Megia (of the Milwaukee mom sweater Megias) and brassy rocker lady Jessicca Cunningham. Despite Jessica guilting the judges hardcore by telling them it’s her birthday and she’s 25 and she’s tried out 7 times and she’ll basically kill herself if she doesn’t get picked, the judges are like “Nah. Maybe number 8 will be the charm” and pick Thia instead, ensuring weeks of poor fashion choices for the foreseeable future. Yay, Thia! Jessica gives a very salty exit interview, flipping a double bird at the camera and saying how the judges ruined her birthday and subsequent birthdays to come. Way to go out with dignity, lady.

Last but not least, it’s time for the final three guys to learn their fate. Bootleg Andy Milonakis Jacee Badeaux, creepy ginger house elf Brett Loewenstern, and normal talented Colton Dixon are all up for that final spot. Hilariously, due to some bad math on Brett’s part, they thought there were two spaces left at first, but Ryan cruelly burst their bubble and was like “Nope, one. Now get in there and fight for it, freaks!” So they go in, hand in hand (seriously), and take their seats. After the judges deliver the usual ego-boosting rhetoric about how talented all of them are, they deliver the news that…Brett will be going on. I’m sorry, WHAT?! I mean, I’m glad Jacee didn’t go through since I am a heartless monster and don’t like him or his sob story, but terrifyingly orange BRETT got picked over the handsome and talented Colton? Y’all crazy, judges. The other contestants better sleep with one eye open, cuz Brett will totally crawl under their doors and eat their livers in their sleep like that guy from that one X-Files episode. Seriously, the dude creeps the hell out of me.

Anyway, that’s your final 24, everyone! How do you feel about it? To me it’s a pretty mixed bag, but I see a few definite frontrunners. Karen Rodriguez, Robbie Rosen, Jacob Lusk, Casey Abrams, and maybe even James Durbin all seem like they’ll be fan favorites for their talent and down-to-earth relatability. Also, begrudgingly, I have to admit that Scotty McCreery will probably go far since he’s the only country act and I think some ladies will be drawn to his deep booming voice. Sigh… I’m still rooting for Clint Jun Gamboa and Thia Megia, but let’s be real, America hates Clint for being mean to Baby Huey and Thia is a little too quiet, so both of them will probs get kicked off in the first couple weeks. A boy can dream though, can’t he? Anyway, see you next week, when the real stuff starts!