April 13, 2009 at 12:00 PM EDT

I cannot tell a lie — okay, well that’s not true. (I lied to myself this morning when I said that four-pack of mini Cinnabons wasn’t going to totally wreck my diet.) But I cannot tell a lie when it comes to my favorite television program/unhealthy obsession, American Idol. And in this current eighth season that’s found new judge Kara “The Terrible” DioGuardi repeating the word “artistry” like a shrill parrot begging for a cracker, the sad truth has been that, as a whole, the top 13 finalists haven’t shown much artistry at all.

Maybe I got spoiled last year by warbly Brooke White and her piano, consistently cool David Cook and his ballsy song arranging skills, even Chikezie and his harmonica. But in many ways this year, I’ve been missing fourth-place finisher Jason Castro — with his befuddled energy, his gentle vocals, and his laid-back guitar-strumming — most of all. I can still remember when Idol‘s producers sprang him on the unsuspecting public during the first week of the season 7 semifinals. Usually, you can bet the contestants who get no screentime before the voting portion of the competition kick in are nothing but cannon fodder. But Jason’s “Daydream” was downright revelatory. The guy knew enough not to defile a classic melody with a zillion unnecessary runs, but still managed to “make it his own” (if you’ll forgive my use of a threadbare Idol-ism). And as the season progressed, Jason kept delivering the downloadable moments: “Hallelujah,” “Travellin’ Thru,” “Over the Rainbow,” “Memory,” and (my personal favorite) “I Don’t Wanna Cry” (embedded below).

And then, when season 7 was over: Crickets. By the time the holidays rolled around, it became a regular phenomenon to find my EW colleague and fellow Castrophile Kate Ward and I sitting in my office and glumly wondering: Where the heck is Jason’s major-label deal?

Well, today, finally, our moping is over, thanks to an email that arrived in my inbox titled “ATLANTIC SIGNS JASON CASTRO.” All caps, yes, and I’m not lower-casing a single consonant or vowel. According to the email, Jason’s collaborators on the disc, due later this year, are “Grammy Award-winning producer John Fields (Lifehouse, Switchfoot, Soul Asylum) and a number of acclaimed songwriters, including Kara DioGuardi (Kelly Clarkson, Jewel, Santana), Martin Terefe (Jason Mraz, KT Tunstall), Sacha Skarbek (James Blunt, Jason Mraz), Guy Chambers (Robbie Williams), and Jason Reeves (Colbie Caillat).

I know, I know…the road to Billboard chart success if littered with bargain-bin discs from Idol finalists, but I can’t help it. I’m stoked for a Jason Castro CD.Does that make me crazy? Possibly. But I don’t think I’m the only person out there who’s going to raise a glass tonight celebrating this news. What say you? Will you be pre-ordering Jason Castro’s debut disc? Or are you taking a wait-and-see approach to his post-Idol output? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Predict who goes home on ‘Idol’ next week!

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