Forget about David Hasselhoff's waterworks during last season's "American Idol" — the show has a new star crier.
By uncontrollably bawling through Tuesday's show — like a Beatles fan on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (it was British invasion night, after all) — Ashley Ferl earned more camera time than any audience member in "Idol" history, including five appearances during Sanjaya Malakar's rendition of "You Really Got Me" alone (see " 'Idol' Recap: Jordin Is A Revelation, Sanjaya Channels My Chemical Romance").
Simon Cowell referenced her, Ryan Seacrest brought her onstage, and "Idol" bloggers spent numerous paragraphs theorizing just what on earth had her so thoroughly in tears.
So who is she? Well, according to a Fox spokesperson, the 13-year-old from Riverside, California, was not a special guest, despite her prime seat next to the show's executive producer, Nigel Lythgoe.
A reporter from the Los Angeles Times who attended the taping managed to corner the instant celeb, but her "state of inconsolable sobbing" made for a difficult interview. (Calls to her presumed home phone were not returned.)
Apparently, Ashley and her mother got tickets on a Web site to attend a taping of "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" that also included a dress rehearsal for "Idol." When producers spotted her crying during the run-through, they offered her the prime seats.
Contrary to some speculation, she was not hired by Sanjaya (although she certainly helped him).
"I'm not going to say it was all a setup, I have nothing that indicates it was, but I have to say that the moment I saw her crying it popped into my mind, 'How perfect for Sanjaya,' " mused Ron Lemon, editor of Reality TV Calendar. "Doesn't matter that she was probably crying throughout the show. The camera's focused on the Sanjaya experience. Ryan milked it. Even Simon hyped it when he said the little girl's face 'says it all.' "
It turns out Ashley is in fact a Sanjaya supporter, but only partially. She told the Times she was voting equally for Malakar, Melinda Doolittle, Gina Glocksen and Jordin Sparks.
As to why she was so emotional, the only thing she told the reporter that could possibly explain her effusive reaction was: "This was the coolest thing ever."