By Jeff Labrecque
May 26, 2012 at 02:00 PM EDT
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To be a truly great host on Saturday Night Live requires a multitude of skills that elude even some of our favorite stars. He or she needs to be fearless. A willingness to be, as Josh Brolin said this year in his SNL monologue, “career-endingly stupid.” On top of that, things have to go just right — even the most game guest is at the mercy of the show’s writers and ensemble and they’d be the first to admit that all their shows are not created equal. But as Seth Meyers has often said, the show often takes on the personality of the host. Lackluster sketches can be blamed on the writing sometimes, but drab material might also reflect the mood and enthusiasm of a tentative or distracted host during the week leading up to the show. So when everything comes together and Saturday Night Live delivers a show that has you snorting till Tuesday, well, the host deserves the lion’s share of the credit. Happy accidents don’t typically happen on SNL. There’s simply no place to hide. When the show is great, it’s because the host is, and that’s why we revere Tom Hanks and Justin Timberlake, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. They make it look easy, but as we know from many other guest hosts, it’s not.

This year for the first time, EW.com readers have voted after every episode to determine who was the season’s best host. The most recent host was pitted against the four most popular previous hosts in a popular vote, and the one with the least number of voters was eliminated while the four survivors advanced to the next week. Like any democracy, it’s a system that’s not without its flaws, but judging by our Final Five, the process performed reasonably well. Melissa McCarthy, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Radcliffe, Will Ferrell, and Mick Jagger were all excellent hosts who boldly epitomized Brolin’s credo. McCarthy coated herself in ranch dressing, Radcliffe mocked Harry Potter, Mick deigned not to be so cool (and hence became even cooler).

Before we announce the inaugural winner of Mr. (or Mrs.) Saturday Night Live, though, there are three other non-democratic awards to present.

Most Underrated Host: Maya Rudolph (Feb. 18)

At the time, everyone raved about Rudolph’s return to SNL, when she reunited with Amy Poehler on “Bronx Beat” and played Maya Angelou on a prank reality show. A few weeks later, though, she was voted off in favor of Sofia Vergara. Ever since, readers have commented that Rudolph’s show was the best of the season. (Stop blaming me, commenters! Democracy can be cruel and unjust!) I loved this episode from start to finish, and its resonance with fans can’t just be attributed to voters’ guilt for neglecting to keep her in the game. She crushed it.

Best Non-host Host: Jon Hamm

Bummer that Jon Hamm didn’t host this year, but he almost made up for it by becoming a de facto member of the cast. He popped up at 30 Rock numerous times, playing Snooki’s baby-daddy, shirtless sax-playing Sergio, and Italian crooner Johnnie Prosciutto. Should he officially host next season, he’s got to be the frontrunner for Mr. Saturday Night Live 2013.

Best Sketch Starring the Host: “Taste Test,” with Melissa McCarthy

“There’s a Hidden Valley Ranch party in my mouth!” I still have McCarthy’s desperate Trekkie, Linda, cued up online as a go-to laugh break. She ends up coated in ranch dressing, but the more subtle line that gets me every time is when she motions disparagingly to Abby Elliott and says to the moderator, “She’s gonna ruin it, Roger.”

NEXT: The first-ever Mr. (or Mrs.) Saturday Night Live is…

Christopher Polk/BET/Getty Images

Mike Coppola, Jason Merritt, Oleg Nikishin/Epsilon[/caption]

…Jimmy Fallon.

The SNL alum delivered one of most memorable shows in several years when he returned to host the Christmas episode, a celebration of the best things about the show, past and present. But it wasn’t just the reunion of Jimmy and Tina Fey, Jimmy and Rachel Dratch, Jimmy and Amy Poehler that made this show classic. Fallon himself was better than he had ever been as a cast member of the show; he’s matured and grown more confident as a performer. Yes, he still broke in the middle of sketch — but at this point it was something to savor. He should do the Christmas show every year — in fact, let’s suggest just that.

Date of episode: Dec. 17, 2011

Number of times he’s hosted: First time… but he certainly knew the ropes

On the show to promote…: Christmas

Musical guest: Michael Buble

TV ratings: 5.2/13

Special guests: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Tracy Morgan, Rachel Dratch, Horatio Sanz, Chris Kattan, and Jude Law

There’s a very reasonable argument to be made that Fallon (and Ferrell and Rudolph) enjoyed an unfair advantage over the competition — they’re SNL veterans, after all — and they shouldn’t be considered. If in five years, each year’s winner has been an SNL alum, then perhaps we’ll need to revisit the rules, but in Year 1, it’s difficult to imagine a more appropriate honoree. Well done, voters. Congratulation to James Thomas Fallon, Mr. Saturday Night Live 2012.

Final Vote

  1. Jimmy Fallon (36.9 percent)
  2. Melissa McCarthy (33.4)
  3. Daniel Radcliffe (21.1)
  4. Mick Jagger (5.9)
  5. Will Ferrell (2.7)
  6. We’re just a week into the summer hiatus, but it’s never too early to start looking ahead to next season, which might need some dynamic hosts to assist in filling the void created by the departure of Kristen Wiig (and perhaps other cast members). I already have my short list of first-timers that I’d like to see dare to look “career-endingly stupid”: Ryan Gosling, Elizabeth Banks, and Joaquin Phoenix, for starters. Who would you like to see in Studio 8H next season?

    Read more:

    Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon talk ‘SNL’ glory days

    Kristen Wiig on ‘SNL’ exit rumors: ‘When I do leave, it will be the hardest thing’

    ‘SNL’: Best recurring sketch of all-time

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