And then there were two.
In just six days, America will have a new Idol in either Alabama rocker Bo Bice or Oklahoma farm girl Carrie Underwood. But before the countdown to the finale could begin, there was the matter of eliminating yet another pop star aspirant. Someone had to go, and this week, that someone was 21-year-old Fort Myers, Florida, postal worker Vonzell Solomon.
Wednesday's "American Idol" results episode paved the way for next week's season finale: a battle of the sexes pitting affable, long-locked favorite Bice against the country-lovin' Underwood. But for the always-beaming girl who became affectionately known to "Idol" regulars as "Baby V," it was the end of the line.
Of this season's competitors, perhaps Solomon — who'd auditioned for 2003's "Idol" competition, but failed to make it past the show's producers — had come the furthest. She leaves "Idol" a much better vocalist than her audition tape would imply, and exhibited both magnetism and an expansive range whenever she hit the stage. Solomon managed to survive the bottom three on more than a few occasions, and outlasted several audience favorites, including Constantine Maroulis and Anwar Robinson. But ultimately, she was no match for the likes of Bice and Underwood.
"My 'American Idol' journey has been crazy — a lot of emotions balled up into one," she said, as the requisite show-capping video montage documenting her "Idol" run rolled, just seconds after host Ryan Seacrest publicized this week's vote results. "But it's been all worth it."
Joined onstage by the show's two finalists, Solomon handily fought back tears and maintained her composure through her last "Idol" performance: a rendition of Brotherhood of Man's "United We Stand." She hugged her goodbyes to "Idol" judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, even thanking the latter — perhaps her toughest critic.
Wednesday night's episode was crammed with footage recorded from all three finalists' homecomings — trips filled with CD signings, local radio and television show appearances, parades, performances and various accolades: Solomon and Bo were presented with keys to their respective cities, while Underwood became the latest inductee into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame.
"Idol" analysts seem to favor Bice taking the top prize in next week's sing-off. But as the show's devoted know, when it comes to "American Idol," there's no such thing as a sure bet. The Bice and Underwood showdown gets underway Tuesday night at 8 p.m.