The "American Idol" final 12 was determined Thursday, eliminating four more hopefuls.
Early favorites Sundance Head and Sabrina Sloan were voted off, as well as Antonella Barba, whose controversial Internet photos have caused a storm of publicity (see " 'Idol' Final 12 Celebrate With Simon; Antonella And Sundance Head Home"). We caught up with the four castoffs, who were all shocked to be heading home.
Thanks to those racy Internet pictures (see "Sexy Pictures Won't Get Barba Booted From 'Idol' — But Wednesday Night's Song Could" and "Antonella Barba: 'I Want To Be Known For Singing, Not In Any Other Way' "), the 20-year-old Point Pleasant, New Jersey, native is the show's most controversial singer since Corey Clark (see "Corey Clark Advertises Paula Abdul Affair, LP On 'Primetime' "). In the end, though, her publicity could not make up for a string of performances berated by the judges.
Q: With all you were going through, what was it like hearing all those negative critiques each week?
A: It's difficult to be put down, especially on national television. More so, it's just difficult to hear that you're not good when you've made it this far and you know that you've made it for a reason. At the same time, sometimes I think they say things just to say things. I try to only listen to their constructive criticism, because negativity can just bring you down. What will make me sound better will be believing in myself and having confidence.
Q: How did you stay focused?
A: The vocal coach told me, "Don't mistake that feeling in your stomach for nerves. Sometimes it's not you being nervous, it's just your adrenaline preparing yourself for how big of a thing you're about to do." So I turned my nerves into positive energy. And before I got onstage, I would say a prayer.
Q: Stephanie Edwards described the two of you as best friends. How hard was it standing next to her and knowing one of you was going home?
A: I knew she was going to make it. We both thought we were both going to make it, actually. She's very sad for me. It was hard to go up onstage with her. I'm so happy for her, though.
Q: Do you think your heated exchange with Simon about Jennifer Hudson lost you some fans?
A: I don't think that was a heated exchange. It was an honest comment and hopeful for me. I look at Jennifer Hudson as a role model, and it's so inspiring to see how far she's gone from the show. I didn't mean any disrespect towards the judges. It's like, he's been wrong before about someone who's made it so big. Hopefully the same thing can happen to me.
One of the most popular contestants since his audition aired, the 28-year-old Porter, Texas, native struggled through the Hollywood round and in his first week of the semifinals, but seemed to be settling in. Singing Pearl Jam's ""Jeremy" got mixed him reviews, but he was still expected to continue.
Q: The judges were genuinely shocked when you were sent home. What do you think happened?
A: I'm not real sure what happened. I don't know if America just considered me to be safe, that I didn't need the votes. That's what I think. At least, that's what I'm going to hope for, for my own morale. But I have to tell you, I was extremely disappointed and I was even angry. You can see when I did "Jeremy" — when it goes into the verse "Daddy didn't give affection/ And the boy was something mother wouldn't wear" — I was holding myself. I held my shirt. I felt like that was my chance to speak to America. I was really disappointed.
Q: Your father, Roy Head, had a hit song. Would you have sung it?
A: Absolutely. I would love to have done that. I didn't make it to the '60s [theme night], obviously, but if I would have, that would've been a treat to do. My dad has been a great mentor in my life. He's taught me everything I know. I wouldn't be who I am today if it wasn't for my dad. I love him to death.
Q: Do you think singing "Jeremy" was a risk?
A: If we're not taking risks, it's pointless to be there. Anyone can come out and sing a song, but it's when you take a risk that makes it worth it. I feel like I did do that song well. Maybe I just didn't understand. I thought everyone knew who Pearl Jam was and what the song "Jeremy" was, 'cause in my life there was nothing bigger when the Seattle movement hit. And it was a time in my life when I actually was mowing lawns just to get the money to buy records. And Pearl Jam was one of my favorite bands and I felt that it was an honor to be able to do it on the show. Pearl Jam had never cleared a song to be performed on "American Idol" before. And when they told me they cleared the song for me to do it, I said, "Well, there's no other way. I've gotta do this song. If out of nothing but just respect for Eddie Vedder." It is what it is. I made that decision. I still feel good about it. I don't know if that's what tanked me or what. I do know that I was the #1-voted male for the last two weeks.
Q: What is your next move?
A: I'm gonna get a band together. We're gonna start playing, and I'm gonna throw down everywhere I can and just be a road warrior. Try to keep my fans happy — put stuff out on the Internet that they can listen to. And just keep on going. If anything else, this gives me more gas in my tank. And I just can't wait to get into my yard and hug the trees. I'm going to go fishing tomorrow. And just try to ground myself and hash this out — figure out what happened. I'm extremely confused. I've been riding this roller coaster for months now, and it's like doing 80 in a Ferrari and then just hitting the wall. I just don't know what happened. I'm a little bit confused. I don't know which direction to go in. It's a terrible thing. I could understand if I was sucking or whatever or just doing a terrible job, I could have prepared myself. But there was no doubt in my mind that I was gonna make it into the top 12. So emotionally I had no shields for this, and it's really eating at me.
If one bad song choice can halt a strong "Idol" run, then Sloan is living proof. The 27-year-old from Studio City, California, was coasting through the semifinals until Wednesday's rendition of En Vogue's "Don't Let Go (Love)" earned mostly negative comments.
Q: The judges were genuinely shocked when you were sent home. What was going through your mind?
A: I was shocked too. I was definitely surprised and really hadn't prepared myself for going home. Part of that is because of the judges' comments, saying, "You will definitely be here! You deserve to be in the top 12!" And I took that under consideration. America took it under consideration and thought I was safe and didn't need to vote. It feels like that was kind of what happened. I watched the show for five years and I tried to prepare myself every Thursday, 'cause you just never know and these things have happened before. I absolutely wanted to be in that 12. I'd already gotten ready to sing with [next week's guest coach] Diana Ross.
Q: Should the judges watch what they say?
A: It's hard because I'm sure they're not thinking about it as they are giving the comments, but America absolutely listens to them. And people who maybe didn't even catch the show and just catch the comments and take that into consideration then vote for who they think doesn't have a shot of getting in and who they want in. But at the same time, of course I want them to say that. It's really hard to tell. I would have rather that Simon didn't say [that it sounded like a hotel performance] when he did. That's not really true, but they have their opinions. And knowing that they were shocked by [the decision] too was definitely a consolation that they didn't mean for it to happen."
Q: Simon complained about the poor song choices made last week. Are you happy with your decision?
A: I still feel good about it. I still don't feel like I would have changed it. I haven't had an opportunity to watch it back yet, so it's possible that it was wrong. But I don't think it was a bad song choice.
"Idol" was "just another audition" for the 25-year-old waiter/ independent singer/ model from Kew Gardens, New York, but even without a lot of early camera time, he made it all the way to the final 16.
Q: Any theories on your elimination?
A: I honestly think it was Simon's comments this week and the previous week. My performance did not warrant me coming home. I'm really disappointed and I'm still shocked. It's really hard for me to swallow. I never expected to be home this early.
Q: Do you think things like VotefortheWorst.com are messing with the voting?
A: I don't know if it's messing things up. Sundance and Antonella were on VotefortheWorst and they got voted off. I do think they need to get a handle on those Web sites. But yesterday was definitely not based on votes alone. You had four contestants who were either extremely talented or in the media so much that they would have gotten through, so something's up. But I'm really happy I got in this position, being seen by 30 million people each week for three weeks.
Q: What do you think about the judges saying you need to show more originality?
A: I was doing songs where they recommend [that you not change them] so much. I was doing Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, I wasn't doing 311. I didn't want to change those songs too much, because they would have said, "Don't mess with those." So it was lose-lose for me.