'Idol' Viewers Give Mandisa The Boot After Country Performance

One favorite is cut, two others hit the bottom three in bombshell vote.

It wasn't long ago that "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell branded soulful powerhouse Mandisa the competition's best female singer. But Cowell has also been saying all along that when it comes to survival on "Idol," song selection plays a key role.

If the show's remaining contestants didn't trust him before, they should now. Never was Cowell's advice more spot-on than at the end of Wednesday's elimination episode, when three of the program's favorites ended up in the bottom three, teetering on the edge of competition extinction. According to "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest, around 35 million viewers participated in this week's vote, and when all was said and done, America gave 29-year-old Tennessean Mandisa the chop.

The country theme wasn't kind to Mandisa, who became the fourth of the 12 finalists to be eliminated, leaving eight "Idol" hopefuls still in the race to the May 24 finish line. Cowell had characterized Mandisa's rendition of Shania Twain's "Any Man of Mine" during Tuesday's episode "fun" and "cutesy," but chided the singer for her "horrible" song choice (see " 'American Idol' Recap: Mandisa's Lost Her Luster, Katharine Comes Back Strong"). Before Seacrest delivered the bad news to Mandisa, Cowell once again took a moment to re-emphasize the importance of choosing tunes that suited each vocalist (see " 'Idol' Finalists Spill Song-Selection Secrets; Bo Bice Offers Advice ") — words the finalists will carry with them into next week, when they'll be belting out classics from Queen's extensive catalogue.

Mandisa struggled to fight back tears, and when asked by Seacrest — who told her she's "been a great spirit on the show" — for parting words, the diva smiled and thanked her fans for their votes and prayers, which "will continue to have full force for me. So I thank you, and I bless you in the name of Jesus."

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The country theme tripped up several contestants Tuesday night, including Elliott Yamin, a 27-year-old from Virginia, and 17-year-old Georgian Paris Bennett. While forecasting this season's bottom three has been something of a shot in the dark, this week's demotions were especially surprising. Like Mandisa, an "Idol" hopeful who seemed to have a legitimate shot at the crown, Yamin and Bennett had never experienced the unease of sitting in the bottom three until Wednesday night.

Cowell said that Yamin's performance of Garth Brooks' "If Tomorrow Never Comes," which he felt was a questionable choice, was "safe" and "hesitant" and warned that Yamin would "have to do better than that" if he was serious about winning. When it came to Bennett's take on "How Do I Live," Cowell broke character, calling it "excellent" after "Idol" colleagues Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul weren't as kind.

Wednesday night's program began with a performance of "I Can't Unlove You" from this week's coach, Kenny Rogers; the song's the first single off of the country legend's latest LP, Water & Bridges.

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