The American Idol judge hasn't a clue about the top contestant

With the American Idol talent pool down to 24 semifinalists – next week, the two dozen will be split into male and female groups as viewers start the voting process – judge Simon Cowell speculates that only three of them “have got a chance in the music industry.”

Asked by the Associated Press to comment on each semifinalist by name, Cowell said he couldn’t – because he didn’t recall who they are. However, he could offer up his opinion of every Idol season except the first: “predictable.”

Cowell was slightly more forthcoming when speaking to the New York Post. “It’s a real chocolate box of talent – or lack thereof,” he said about the current crop of contestants, which he thinks offers more personality than vocal power.

“When we made the decisions about who was going to go through,” he said of the selections he made with fellow judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, “we tried to mix it up as much as possible so that there would be people who the audience would be genuinely interested in.”

And while in past seasons he may have been able to predict the outcome of the talent contest, this time out he’s not sure at all.

“To me, it was absolutely crystal clear at this stage last year that Carrie Underwood would win the competition,” Cowell told AP. “So it all felt a bit obvious. Whereas this year, I could argue the case for seven or eight of the contestants. I genuinely don’t know who’s gonna win. I’ve got a feeling who are gonna make the finals. But once you’re in the finals, I think you’re gonna have the most open competition you’ve ever seen, which for us and the viewers at home, that’s a good thing.”

As for what was perceived as a slight – Idol winner Kelly Clarkson’s not acknowledging the show during either of her two Grammy acceptance speeches – Cowell said: “Look, she doesn’t need to thank me and she doesn’t need to thank American Idol. She does need to thank the fans who voted for her on American Idol. That’s all.”