You know you’re watching a very special episode of "American Idol" when even Simon Cowell comes across as warm-hearted.

But that’s just what the guy seemed on Wednesday night, as he all but glowed with joy over some of the 24 singers who made it through to the next round.

Melinda, a diffident former back-up singer who made vaguely constipated faces while she sang, even managed to extract a kiss out of him.

I don’t know if he’s still feeling good after feeling himself up so enthusiastically during those final auditions we saw last week or if somebody slipped him some happy pills, but there was almost no sign of the cantankerous Brit we all love to hate.

It wasn’t just Simon showing his sweet side in the Valentine's Day episode, either. How about all that enthusiastic applause whenever someone returned from an audition, almost as if the waiting hopefuls thought they were sitting in the Pasadena Civic Auditorium simply to cheer on their friends and forgot they were there in an attempt to forge their own paths to stardom?

And it would be impossible to discuss sugary moments and not mention Sanjaya, who wept like a baby when his sister got dismissed and smiled with his entire face the rest of the time.

Or Lakisha, who had such a tear-jerking quality to her that it distracted us entirely from this weird moment when Paula said something indecipherable to her about icing and her being "wonderfully beautiful."

Of course, this is "American Idol," not "Touched by an Angel," and by the end of the episode, producers were reminding us of that fact by sending the final two girls, then the final two boys, in together in order to hear who’d made it.

After all the sweetness that had transpired, you’d better believe they milked the moment for all it was worth.

Sending in Antonella and Marisa, arguably the two best-looking girls there, and showing footage that thoroughly suggested Marisa was not only more confident but also more deserving, but then giving Antonella the coveted spot was so knife-twistingly harsh for Marisa that it made us forget all about Sanjaya’s grin and Lakisha’s tender tears.

While the paring down of the boys wasn’t nearly as dramatic — despite the fact that Sundance doesn’t seem to have performed well beyond his first audition, Thomas has made enough obnoxious comments by this point for us all to be ready to say goodbye to him — there was a rough moment afterwards when Sundance offered to hire Thomas as his bodyguard.

And that made the harshness of what went down with the girls seem about as sweet as, well, a Valentine.

Anna David is a freelance writer. Her first novel, "Party Girl," is coming out in June 2007 from HarperCollins. E-mail her at anna@annadavid.com.

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