With the elimination of Syesha Mercado, it seems the show's producers have what they've wanted all along: a season-finale match between the two Davids
David Archuleta, American Idol, ...
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She doesn’t have to change her name to syNOsha, does she?

Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself, considering how the contestant formerly known as sYESha Mercado saw her surprisingly long season 7 run end in a third-place finish tonight, giving us the finale that’s pretty much been a foregone conclusion for the last 10 or 11 weeks: David ”Snuggle Bear” Archuleta vs. David ”Cougar Bait” Cook!

Yes, it’s a little discouraging that we’re headed for the season-ending extravaganza that Nigel Lythgoe has been dreaming of (and unsubtly lobbying for) since late February. But even the most ornery American Idol fan would have to admit a David-David showdown is going to be more suspenseful than any matchup involving the aggressively chipper model-actress-belter who never quite won over the judges, the squealing audiencebots, or the majority of EW.com readers.

And despite the fact that Syesha never quit trying to foil Nigel’s best-laid plans, I think she knew she had less chance of cracking the final two than of seeing Simon show up for a live broadcast in a turtleneck. (Note that she failed to grin broadly during tonight’s show opener, and she wasn’t wearing sequins, either!) I mean, Randy pretty much foreshadowed Syesha’s exit during Tuesday night’s performance show when, after her fine cover of Alicia Keys’ ”If I Ain’t Got You,” he praised her late-season surge and declared, ”That’s why you’re standing there at No. 3!”

At No. 3? Um, Randy, didn’t you mean as part of the final three? Our votes count, right? You guys don’t have all this mapped out back when you name the final 24, do you? You’re not, like, focus-grouping the auditions and preselecting the winner based on the opinions of a dozen blond, college-educated, Ford-driving, Coke-drinking, AT&T-texting women between the ages of 18 and 34, are you?

Oh, good, whew. You scared me there for a second, dawg. Next thing you’re gonna try to tell me my beloved Fantasia Barrino has dyed her hair electric pink and taken to howling and hopping around like the Exorcist Bunny!

Anyhow, back to Syesha: She was never my favorite contestant — in fact, she outlasted three or four singers I liked better — but I grew to admire her over the last 13 weeks. For starters, she showed amazing restraint by not hurling her microphone at the judges on Tuesday after they criticized her for performing a forgettable dance track from the Happy Feet soundtrack that had been assigned to her by the show’s producers. (As a reader named Coolkid asked on our EW.com message boards, ”Why didn’t the producers improve Hell’s Kitchen‘s ratings by having a ‘Slice-up Syesha’ challenge on their next episode? It’s basically what they’re doing already!”)

NEXT: This year’s best dressed

Syesha also wins my award for best-dressed contestant of the season. (Two of her signature looks cracked my 10 best outfits list, and not a one of ’em ended up on my 10 worst). She put together a not-too-shabby list of very enjoyable performances, among which I’d include ”Tobacco Road,” ”Yesterday,” ”Vanishing,” ”One Rock ‘n’ Roll Too Many,” ”Hello Again,” ”I Thank the Lord for the Night Time,” and ”Fever” (chair and all). And best of all, tonight Syesha handled her ouster with class and poise, keeping her chin up and refusing to get washed off the stage in a sea of tears.

So let’s all put our hands together one last time and give the woman a giant group seal clap. (Ryan and Paula, you guys are so good at it: Why don’t you get us started!)

As for the impending all-David showdown, did any of you guys wonder if we were headed for a shock elimination when, midway through the show, Ryan declared, ”The math is simple, but the reality is hard to swallow”? Okay, I figured I was the only one — I really should never pay attention to anything Seacrest says prior to 9:53 p.m., right? And seriously, why didn’t I take the hint once Syesha got left behind on the platform while the two Davids returned to the stage singing ”Ain’t No Stopping Us Now”?

(Side note: I must say that as Kaopectate-inducingly awful as the group numbers have been all season, I have to give credit to Rocker David for gamely playing along, and never making a ”take me now, God!” face, even though I suspect that’s what he’s whispering on the inside.)

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of hidden clues, did anyone else notice that during tonight’s Ford ”music video,” it was Rocker David who got the product-placement shot in front of the three Fords, while Little David was shown at the piano and Syesha inside the mansion?

(Side note No. 2: I’m paying close attention to the Ford ”music videos.” I promise to make an appointment with my therapist — just as soon as season 7 is over.)

But enough about me crying; instead, let’s focus on the tearful contestants, all of whom moved me a little with their displays of raw emotion on their hometown visits.

If I were judging the back-home footage (oh, who am I kidding — of course I’m judging it), I’d have to give the gold to Rocker David, perhaps because I strongly approve of grown men sobbing on camera. (It’s healthy, y’all!) And indeed, seeing David and his brother get overcome by the crush of fans who turned out for his Kansas City welcome parade actually got me a little choked up, as did David’s visit to his elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Gentry. Bonus points to the resident rocker dude for pitching in on weather duties for his hometown Fox affiliate, and for generating the best fan moment, when that hysterical(ly funny) teenage girl exploded in sobs and declared, ”I want him to win so bad!”

NEXT: The return of Fantasia

Little David warmed my heart as well when he turned on the waterworks for his trip back to Murray, Utah. It seemed no matter where the kid went — mall, high school, local radio station — the crowds were huge and boisterous. I got a little worried for the teenage moppet when that girl latched on to his shirt and threatened not to let go, but nothing scared me more than the moustache on Murray mayor Daniel Snar.

Okay, maybe the sight of Lou Ann Palmer, mayor of Sarasota, Fla., performing an unsteady handstand came close. And also that moment where a crazed fan attempted to shove her tiny infant into Syesha’s arms for a cringe-inducing photo op. But those bizarre bits added a little humor to Syesha’s bittersweet hometown visit, which, while well attended, didn’t seem nearly as frenzied as the Davids’. Plus, my heart broke a little when Syesha’s dad explained how his daughter’s Idol run has been inspiration for him as he continues his fight to overcome drug addiction. Maybe I’m easy to manipulate, but hearing that admission made me feel a little more empathetic toward the sometimes off-putting diva when she sat in her limo and cried that ”this is my dream and I’m living it.”

Also living her dream: the aforementioned Fantasia. And let me just say this about my all-time favorite Idol. Yes, her screechy performance of ”Bore Me (Yawn),” and her sculpted fuchsia tresses, and her skintight black bodysuit, were all a hot, hot mess. But she also brings such an unbelievable energy to the stage, an unvarnished, slightly maniacal, and completely un-self-conscious commitment to her performances, that I just can’t help adoring her. Accuse me of overdosing on ‘Tasia Kool-Aid all you want, but anyone who can terrify the Swaybots (TM) into stunned silence has got to be doing something right.

What did you think of tonight’s elimination? How about Ryan’s flub of attributing ”The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” to Chaka Khan, not Roberta Flack? Did you sense a little tension between Rocker David and Randy when they discussed the latter’s Tuesday-night critiques? And who will (and should) win season 7? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, but before you do, check out part 3 of our Jason Castro interview (below), in which he gives us his personal take on what’s been happening this season in the Idol ”mosh pit.”

Episode Recaps

American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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