We have a top 32! Granted, we got to that point after a few more excruciating group auditions, bizarre omissions (Audrey Turner, you deserve a long, fruitful career managed by people who appreciate your talent) and the even more bizarre choice of cobbling together assorted rejected contestants into groups so arbitrary the producers didn't even tell us which named contestants went where, or what they'd call themselves, what'd they sing or how they'd justify their sudden collective existence. Couldn't some actual groups get those spots?

But enough about the terrible first half-hour. Once the contestants got to sing on their own, also known as what they auditioned for this show to do, things became solid again, even if we must question maybe a third of the judges' specially chosen songs. (You mean the judging panel wants to hear "If I Ain't Got You" again?) Most of these solo singers will be singing solo again. Some will not. Read on as we rank the top 32 (named, that is; if the judges aren't going to bother identifying the instagroups, neither are we), some of the more interesting or outrageous omissions (like Audrey Turner), the judges, and the likes of...

For judges and their pets, groups and their doppelgangers, and a boat, click NEXT.

For hot people, a rally of swag and our favorite axed contestant, click NEXT.

For our strongest 20-11 contestants yet, click NEXT.

For the top judge, the top onlooker and the top singers of the top 32, click NEXT.

Interview: Judith Yaphe of the National Defense University discusses Saddam Hussein's diplomatic maneuvers and the members of his inner circle

NPR Weekend Edition - Saturday October 5, 2002 | SCOTT SIMON 00-00-0000 Interview: Judith Yaphe of the National Defense University discusses Saddam Hussein's diplomatic maneuvers and the members of his inner circle Host: SCOTT SIMON Time: 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM SCOTT SIMON, host:

The United Nations is under building pressure from the US and Great Britain to come up with a tougher resolution forcing Iraq to disarm. So far, the 15-member Security Council has yet to reach unanimity on its mandate or method guiding arms inspection. And now UN inspectors say they may delay their October 19th return to Iraq until the Council reaches agreement. The divisions among Security Council members buy precious time for Saddam Hussein. By agreeing to arms inspections when he did, Mr. Hussein robbed the Council of the momentum it needed to reach an early resolution. Also, the two memoranda of understanding Mr. Hussein negotiated with the UN in the late 1990s may help him keep sensitive sites off limits to inspections. Saddam Hussein's diplomatic tactic so far may demonstrate a gift for creating gridlock in the international community, a strategic skill that might be more valuable to him now than military might. Judith Yaphe is a senior fellow at the National Defense University. She studied Saddam Hussein and some of the people who advise him. She joins us in our studios.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Professor JUDITH YAPHE (National Defense University): Thank you for inviting me.

SIMON: It would seem over a period of years that Saddam Hussein agrees to something in order to look as if he's eager to negotiate and then the qualifications come in. Do Saddam Hussein's recent actions follow a pattern?

Prof. YAPHE: He has been very shrewd, and I have to use the word `ept' as opposed to inept, in his domestic decision-making. How do you run a country, a republic of fear? But his miscalculations have come in as foreign adventures, if you will. And probably two contravening things are true. On the one hand, he believes he knows best. I think that there linger in him thoughts that, `Surely the Americans are not going to fight to the end to remove me. There's got to be some point in which we can achieve a compromise. I've simply got to find where that level is.' Now that's a decision he might make on his own. He does have people who understand the US, who've served a long time in the US, who know our system and have worked our system very well. On the other hand, he also is surrounded by yes-men who will tell him basically what he wants to hear because they know if he asks their opinion and it's not his opinion, they could be shot in the hall. That has happened. web site national defense university

SIMON: Tell us what you could, please, of the people who seem to have his ear. Some of them are people that we might recognize from their appearances on "Nightline," for that matter--I mean, Tariq Aziz, Nazar Hamdoon.

Prof. YAPHE: There are four people who have survived extraordinary times, companions of Saddam going back to before the revolution. Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri is one. I think he's vice president, very close to Saddam, and he is used for certain special missions, including to the Arab-Islamic world. Nazar Hamdoon was ambassador here for, I think, eight years in the 1980s and did a stellar job selling Iraq and his two or more years, maybe four years at the UN. He is a clear, articulate spokesman who understands how to address things. Now whether he has Saddam's ear today, I don't know. Tariq Aziz is the spokesman. Tariq is told what he needs to know. No public spokesman is going to say something that has not been vetted and cleared with Saddam Hussein.

Taha Yassin Ramadan, another long-time figure, a Mosuli Arab from Mosul, who rose within the Ba'ath Party militia and was head of the People's Army for a long time--I think I once thought that he would pose a likely challenge. I was surprised that he survived, but he does. These people survive to a great extent because they pose no threat to Saddam Hussein, and probably never have. They have been totally loyal, unlike some others over the years. Most of his other companions, the people who came to power with him, have long since been purged; most of them executed. But the point is he keeps moving people in and out, which keeps them off balance. Nobody has time to build a power base.

SIMON: What is the charm that Saddam Hussein has managed to evince, at least intermittently, with Russia, Turkey, with France?

Prof. YAPHE: I'll be cynical, but I think realistically a lot of it, bottom line, is economic charm, and that's the second part of this great offensive he's been on. He has told, for example, the neighbors, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, all of whom have very fragile economies and who now are benefiting from cheap Iraqi oil flowing through opened pipelines, especially Turkey and Jordan and Syria, excuse me, and Jordan truck traffic. Saddam's message to them is, `If you don't support me, if the Americans invade, if I go down, my economy's finished and so is yours. So your fate is directly linked to mine.' They listen. The Russians have a lot of investments, not so much the $8 billion or more that they're owed from all the past years of arms sales, but they're also looking to lucrative new contracts that they have been signing for the time when sanctions are over, regime change or no.

SIMON: Saddam Hussein has been in power nigh on 30 years, as they say, and for most of that time, the Iraqi people have known war, suffering and isolation.

Prof. YAPHE: Yeah.

SIMON: How does he stay in power?

Prof. YAPHE: Nearly 50 percent of the Iraqi population today is under the age of 16. Never knowing anything but war and sanctions, they' re not well educated anymore. All the things that made Iraq a hallmark through the 1980s are gone--best place for medical care, education, all of these things. And the answer is fear. There are neighborhood watches. If three Iraqis get together and talk about anything, two may run off probably to report it and the third one will think about it 'cause you're not secure. And the risk is not just to you as an individual, but to your family. The best example I can offer is this: We love political humor here... web site national defense university

SIMON: Yeah.

Prof. YAPHE: ...right?

SIMON: Yeah.

Prof. YAPHE: Well, in Iraq, political humor is a crime, punishable by death. You do not joke about Saddam Hussein.

SIMON: Saddam Hussein was a relatively young man when he came to power.

Prof. YAPHE: Yes, he was.

SIMON: I mean, how was he prepared for it? Did he go to Sciences- Po in Paris? Does he have diplomatic skills that he sharpened?

Prof. YAPHE: No. He's got better skills. He trained and cut his teeth, so to speak, on assassination attempts first as a street thug, as a teen-ager, in his hometown of Tikrit, went off to Baghdad, joined the party. He was involved, I think at the age of 19, in an assassination attempt as the shooter against the leader at the time, Qassem; failed. He escaped. If you believe the stories, he took a bullet from his leg and swam and rode horseback to escape. A lot of bravery here. But he rose essentially within the party as a security czar, but he was brought into the government by his cousin, Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr, who was a general, a Ba'athist and who led the coup in 1968, the first coup in July that brought them to power. Then two weeks later, there was a correction movement and the Ba'athists stood alone. But the point is he was brought in by his cousin who was encouraged to bring him in. It's a family thing. And his ruthlessness was appreciated, but he used that ruthlessness and his position within the apparat that did the security to consolidate his position and to eliminate potential rivals. By the mid-'70s he was virtually in charge.

SIMON: Professor Yaphe, thanks very much.

Prof. YAPHE: You're very welcome.

SIMON: Judith Yaphe, a senior fellow at the National Defense University.

And the time is now 18 minutes past the hour.