Michael Slezak
February 03, 2010 AT 12:00 PM EST

And then there were 181. Yep, after tonight’s eighth and final audition episode of American Idol‘s ninth season, we’re down to fewer than 200 aspiring singers who have a chance of inheriting Kris Allen’s crown and sash at a confetti-covered ceremony to be televised on Fox in late May. (No swimsuit competition included, unless the eventual winner is Casey “I took off my shirt for Kara” James.)

The “Road to Hollywood” episode — which patched together the good, the bad, and the deluded from Idol‘s trips to Boston, Atlanta, Orlando, Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Denver — included familiar faces (welcome back, Jessica Furney, Rose Flack, and Frankie Jordan), hardscrabble backstories (“it’s hard for theater majors to connect, yo!”), and one additional word (“yeah”) from catatonic guest judge Joe Jonas. (If you missed my pal Annie Barrett’s full, hilarious transcript of The Eyebrowed One’s Dallas audition episode, please click here and check it out.)

But the good news is, over the next two weeks, the fight for the season 9 title — as well as Ellen DeGeneres’ attempts to redefine the Idol judging panel — will begin in earnest. Elvis impersonators and “crazy accordion ladies” will be strictly verboten, but emotional breakdowns, petty infighting, and ultimately brilliant singing will be strongly encouraged. I couldn’t be any more excited if I heard that David Cook was coming to New York City to tape a scoop-filled Idolatry interview. Oh, wait, he already did! And we’ll be posting the footage on our PopWatch blog in the very near future. (If you want to know about it the second it goes live, follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.) And until then, head on down to the comments to share your thoughts about tonight’s show, and your favorite season 9 auditioner to date. (For me, it’s still Janell ‘she’d better get some serious screentime next week’ Wheeler. But y’all probably already knew that!)

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