One month ago, 12 young men and 12 young women were hand-picked from among thousands and thousands of hopeful singers to have their shot at joining the ranks of hitmakers like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. And on Thursday night before millions of viewers, that group was whittled down to the final dozen, who will face the trial by fire that is American Idol.

It was a tense, tear-filled live show on Thursday as Idol said goodbye to four more semifinalists — Kady Malloy, Asia’h Epperson, Luke Menard and Danny Noriega.

The 12 finalists for Season 7 of American Idol are:

• David Archuleta: This 17-year-old from Utah has been considered a front-runner since the early auditions. In the last semifinal round, Simon even predicted that David would make it down to the final two in the competition. But will the young singer be able to live up to the hype?

•Jason Castro: With his dreamy eyes and dreadlocks, this Texas cutie-pie has yet to make a misstep in the competition — though it remains to be seen whether his aw-shucks "I’m not good with interviews" attitude will keep charming the audience or become grating as the competition goes on.

•David Cook: He seemed to be on the edge of elimination during the first two weeks of semifinals, but this 25-year-old Oklahoman won everyone over — even Simon — with his rocked-out rendition of Lionel Richie’s easy-listening hit "Hello." For his sake, let’s hope that doesn’t become "goodbye" anytime soon.

•Kristy Lee Cook: This nature-girl from Oregon sold her horse to make it to the Idol audition in Philadelphia last summer. Was it a wise investment? Or, as Simon predicts, is she "forgettable" and destined for an early exit in the finals?

•Chikezie: He’s got a name everyone loves to say and when he’s at his best, he ranks among the best of this year’s singers. But is that enough to beat the early favorites?

•David Hernandez: The Arizona native has been able to survive this season’s first major scandal, StripperGate. Only time will tell if this will continue to dog the 24-year-old or whether it will become a minor footnote in Idol history.

•Michael Johns: The first of two international Idol finalists this season, this Aussie hunk — he now lives in Atlanta — has brought rugged good looks and solid vocals to the competition. But is there a limit to how far his Down Under charm can get him?

•Ramiele Malubay: She’s the pint-sized singer with the towering voice who was able to impress the judges in the early rounds by proving that good things do come in small packages. Will she gain the confidence in her abilities to power through to the Idol championship?

•Syesha Mercado: From a marketing standpoint, she’s perfect — adorable, charming, talented, ready-for-prime-time. Can the Miami songtress put the whole package together into an Idol crown? Or will she go too far and come across as a bit canned?

•Amanda Overmyer: Plucked from the precipice of elimination after a confounding performance (and hairdo) in week 2 of the semifinals, the brassy lass from Indiana redeemed herself this week and earned her way into the finals. The big question remains — Will she make the same mistake twice? And will she be forgiven a second time?

•Carly Smithson: Even though this tattoed Irish gal has been pegged as the odds-on favorite since the beginning of the auditions, she has yet to blow the roof off the theater during the semifinals, which the judges have chalked up to questionable song choice. So how long can she continue on in the competition until she picks a winner of a tune to sing?

• Brooke White: She may come across as naive in her interview segments, claiming to have never watched an R-rated movie in her life, but this Arizona girl has shown real sophistication in selecting and arranging her songs during the semifinals, pushing her to the forefront of the ladies in the competition. Will she remain the front-runner or is there an inevitable fade in her future?

Tune in next week as these 12 hopefuls give it their all in the hopes of becoming the next American Idol!

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