I figured out last night what I dislike most about American Idol.

It’s Paula Abdul. The woman lacks credibility as a judge. Just once — just one time — I’d like to see Paula point a menacing finger toward the stage, stare at one of these wannabe singers, shake her head and bark out something sordid.

“That was terrible,” I’d like her to holler. “That was bloody horrible. You suck. You really stink.”

Instead, all you ever hear out of her mouth are contrived compliments and expressions of love. Sickening.

Thankfully, we can easily dismiss Paula’s declarations as deranged drivel. A few weeks ago, she said this year’s contestants are “the best we’ve ever had,” which actually meant the group is wretched.

The exception, perhaps, is David Archuleta, a teenager who sat behind a piano last night and beautifully belted out a pop tune called Angel. Randy Jackson, a relatively honest and seemingly objective judge, called Archuleta’s effort his “hottest of the whole season,” which said a lot, considering the kid’s mostly solid performances in previous shows.

Archuleta is the one to beat this season, unquestionably, and that’s largely because, despite Paula’s bafflegab, he has no real competition.

The only strong competition Archuleta had before last night was David Cook, but all that changed when the latter took a number from the Canadian band Our Lady Peace called Innocent and turned it into a dog’s breakfast. Paula, of course, loved it, but bad-cop judge Simon Cowell called it “pompous” and Randy said he didn’t get it.

Undeniably decent performances last night came from Jason Castro, who must have caused Judy Garland to spin in her grave with his funky rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow, and usual cellar-dwell­er Kristy Lee Cook, who sang well and looked even better in regurgitating Martina McBride’s Anyway.

Likely to be booted from the show: Sayesha Mercado, Carly Smithson or Brooke White, none of whom distinguished themselves.

If only Paula could accompany them out the door.

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