For a season that the judges kept trying to tell us had one of the strongest groups of finalists in "American Idol" history, it sure seems like Randy, Paula and Simon wouldn't mind skipping the usual elimination rounds and just clear-cutting their way to the top 12. Unfortunately for them, Thursday's "Idol" elimination night booted just four contenders from the contest. In one of the show's most emotional early-round ousters, Jason Yeager, Alexandréa Lushington, Alaina Whitaker and Robbie Carrico all got the boot.
Yeager, 28, was the first to fall, two nights after his smarmy disco boogie through the Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Runnin' " inspired Simon to say that it sounded "like you were drunk at a party."
Yeager said he had a feeling his tank was going to come up empty on Thursday night based on the judge's responses on Tuesday. Asked what advice he could give the other contestants, Yeager said, "last Tuesday I just really felt, like, really honestly, I put everything out there for me. I was really surprised by their criticism ... song choice, just finding that really perfect song that really showcases your vocals." Trying to cushion the blow, Simon said it wasn't that Yeager was a bad singer, it's just that he doesn't stand out.
After an unexceptional, awkward performance of Chicago's soft-rockin' "If You Leave Me Now," Lushington, 17, isn't going to get a chance to avenge her "Star Search Juniors" loss to early favorite
David Archuleta. Randy said he still thinks she's got skills, but as is often the case, it was a bad song choice that did her in. "It was a lot of fun ... up until tonight," a clearly disappointed Lushington said before singing her way off.
Next to go was Whitaker, 16, who was so clearly shocked and upset by her dismissal that she turned her back to the camera and burst into tears before squeaking, "I can't sing," and apologizing to host Ryan Seacrest for falling apart. This year's youngest contestant was done in by a vanilla take on Olivia Newton-John's "Hopelessly Devoted to You," despite Simon calling her one of the competition's "dark horses" the night before and saying he liked her more after the performance than a few weeks earlier.
"Sorry, this is embarrassing," she said, turning to get another hug from Kady Malloy, who dodged a bullet Thursday night. Clearly sensing that the traditional walk of shame sing-off was in jeopardy, Seacrest attempted to give Whitaker a pep talk about how far she'd come, and Paula chimed in with her usual positive final note. "You are such a gifted, bright young talent," the judge said. "We say it's just the beginning, and I know it's hard to hear that, but, Alaina, truth be told, this is a start of an amazing career for you."
In a touching moment, Seacrest gave Whitaker the choice of whether to sing or not, and when she said she couldn't because it would sound "terrible," the rest of the female finalists came down to surround her and offer support as the teenager soldiered on. Her eyes still red with tears and her voice shaky, Whitaker slowly stepped out from the group hug as the song went on, her voice growing stronger and more defiant as she took center stage for the last time.
The final contestant to exit the stage was former boy-band member — and alleged Bret Michaels Hair Club for Men member — Carrico, 26, whose shaky rendition of Foreigner's "Hot Blooded" got the cold shoulder from the judges, who said he lacked authenticity.
"It was a bad song choice and I could have done it better," admitted Carrico, who is Britney's ex and a former member of Boyz-N-Girlz United. As if he hadn't sent the message clearly enough all through the competition, Simon boiled Carrico's elimination down to one word. "I've said this from day one: It's authenticity," the judge said. "And I think the public saw what we saw, and that was the problem. It just never, ever felt real, Robbie. Sorry."
Fox said that nearly 31 million people cast votes after Tuesday's and Wednesday's shows. The 12 finalists will be announced on March 6 following the next elimination round.
Seacrest also announced that the second annual "Idol Gives Back" charity event, scheduled for April 9, will feature appearances from Brad Pitt, Miley Cyrus, Reese Witherspoon, Mariah Carey, Snoop Dogg, Daughtry and Carrie Underwood.
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