By Michael Slezak
February 17, 2010 at 12:00 PM EST

Well that was more like it! After an interminable two-hour episode on Tuesday, American Idol returned to peak better form tonight, presenting a zippy 60-minute telecast in which 17(ish) hopefuls advanced to the season 9 semifinals, and several hyped contestants were sent home in tears. And while the judges made several questionable calls over the course of the evening — choosing this over this? srsly? — the good news is that starting next Tuesday, the power is back in the hands of the Idoloonie Nation. (In other words, us!) [West Coasters: There are SPOILERS ahead, so back away from the Internets if you don’t want to read ’em.]

The 17 new semifinalists announced tonight (joining the 7 shown advancing on Tuesday) are (drumroll please): Janell “I’m still obsessed with her ‘House of the Rising Sun‘” Wheeler, Lilly “silver hair, golden voice” Scott, Lacey “orange-scarf audition” Brown, Ashley “looks like Jordin Sparks” Rodriguez, Haeley “#LOLAdorbsButCanSheSing?” Vaughn, Katie “all for you, grandma!” Stevens, Siobhan “’80s revival” Magnus, Michelle “who dat!” Delamar, Paige “hey, what happened to my screentime?” Miles, Tyler “season 9 heartthrob” Grady, Joe “fighting the cannon-fodder label” Muñoz, Alex “probably not with that name!” Lambert, John “got mentally undressed by Shania” Park, Jermaine “watch out for band sabotage” Sellers, Andrew “please cover ‘Cold Hearted'” Garcia, and Tim “not Chris Golightly*” Urban. Oh, and did I neglect to mention, CRYSTAL BOWERSOX? (Bow-er-sox! Bow-er-sox!)

Those cats — along with Didi Benami, Katelyn Epperly, Michael Lynche, Aaron Kelly, Todrick Hall, Casey James, and Lee Dewyze — will compete from now through May to assume the tiara and sash currently being worn by Kris Allen (who’ll appear on the Feb. 25 Idol results show to perform and discuss his recent trip to Haiti with the UN foundation, ’cause he’s awesome like that).

(* Interestingly, when Ryan Seacrest was shown tonight flanked by the top 12 guys, former foster kid Chris Golightly was in the mix, but when each of the contestants were shown in their individual “happy dance” shots, Tim Urban had taken his place. A Fox spokesperson was unavailable for comment, but joesplace blog quotes a fellow Hollywood Week contestant (via Twitter) saying he was disqualified due to an old contract issue. Update: A press release from Fox re. the top 24 states the following: “It has been determined that Chris Golightly is ineligible to continue in the competition. American Idol contestant Tim Urban has replaced Golightly as part of the Top 24.”)

What do you think of this season’s Top 24? Who are your early faves? Who are the safest bets for elimination next Thursday? Post your thoughts in the comments section, then click over for all the details in my full American Idol top 24 TV Watch recap. And to get up-to-the-minute Idol coverage (like a link to my recent gallery of underrated Idol grads’ excellent tunes) follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.