When his time came, mono-monikered "American Idol" wonder Chikezie made it look easy, way too easy. The former Los Angeles International Airport baggage handler was the latest finalist to get the ax when his number came up Wednesday night.
After admitting Tuesday night that the negative reaction to one of his earlier ballad choices shook him — but that members of the "Idol" band convinced him to follow his heart — the former Transportation Security Administration worker from Inglewood, California, exited the contest with his signature charm and good grace. Thanks to 30 million fans who voted — the highest total so far this season — Chikezie Eze will still be hitting the road this summer with the rest of the gang, but the dream of "Idol" stardom is over.
(We found a group of folks in the Army's 82nd Airborne division who are as obsessed with "American Idol" as we are! See what they thought of this week's episode in our Newsroom blog.)
The soft-spoken singer took the news well, giving fellow bottom-three contestant Syesha Mercado a big hug and offering no final words. He was done in by a forgettable version of Luther Vandross' "If Only for One Night," which, ironically, he sang with a renewed verve Wednesday night, touching hands with audience members and putting into his voice the emotion that might have saved him if he'd turned it up the night before.
On Tuesday, judge Randy Jackson said his performance of the song from the year of his birth "went back to a very old-school ... it wasn't hip and cool," and was just kind of boring. Simon Cowell agreed with Jackson, saying that Chikezie sang the song well, but that his performance was another word that rhymed with his name, which was, unfortunately, "cheesy." More than playing to the audience, Cowell said, "You have to show originality, and I didn't see anything original, other than someone trying to copy the original."
Chikezie, 22, was the first to land in the bottom three Wednesday night. Appearing to sense his fate, he pointed to the silver stools of doom with his head as Ryan Seacrest confirmed his worst fears. Joining Chikezie in the bottom three was Mercado, 21, whose version of Stephanie Mills' "If I Were Your Woman" got mostly positive comments from the judges, but less love from voters. Making his debut in the potential washout pool was dreadlocked Jason Castro, whose funky bilingual take on Sting's "Fragile" didn't impress the judges, who said it felt phoned in.
"I knew because I've never been out this late, it was going to be a big shocker," a smiling Castro said about making the bottom three, only to be told a few seconds later that he was safe.
After refuting preshow rumors that she was pregnant, Carly Smithson, 24, dodged the elimination bullet, but admitted that one of the reasons she may have looked uncomfortable singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" Tuesday night was because she was wearing slimming undergarments called "Spanx" in order to make herself look thinner onstage. "Apparently I'm pregnant," she said. "But I'm not, no, I'm not."
Elsewhere, David Cook learned that ex-Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell told Seacrest that he loved Cook's take on Cornell's own cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." Apparently, Lee Greenwood also called to say he loved Kristy Lee Cook's version of "God Bless the U.S.A.," which helped save her from yet another week in the bottom three.
But before the latest elimination ... the remaining contestants had to shimmy through a cheese-tastic group sing of Maxine Nightingale's 1976 hit "Right Back Where We Started From," and perform in an extended, not so thinly veiled iTunes ad that doubled as a sneak peek at how the contestants record their weekly performances for the download site. There was also another installment of this year's newest time-waster segment, in which fans call in and ask the finalists questions like "Are you single?" (Chikezie is, by the way) and "Why'd you pick that song, David Archuleta?"
For the record, Archuleta said he chose the obscure "You're the Voice" because he, like, totally loves Australian singer John Farnham. "It's one of my all-time favorite songs," he said. "Everything about it is just so great — the words and the music. I love it so much. So I thought it would be great to sing it." Archuleta added that despite Simon's protestations, he did pick the song himself.
Then there was the way-back performance from season-two third-place finisher Kimberley Locke, who caught us up on her life as a singer/restaurateur and sang her sappy ballad, "Fall."
So, we are now down to nine: David Archuleta, Jason Castro, David Cook, Michael Johns, Ramiele Malubay, Carly Smithson, Kristy Lee Cook, Syesha Mercado and Brooke White. They will be back next Tuesday to perform songs by special guest/ coach Dolly Parton, who will return Wednesday night to perform her new single, "Jesus & Gravity." Also performing live next week will be the Clark Brothers, winners of the ratings-challenged "Idol" spin-off show "The Next Great American Band."
On Thursday (March 27), an "Idol" press release announced a new slate of celebrity guests for the upcoming "Idol Gives Back" charity show on April 9. Among the new stars pitching in for the second edition of the fundraising event are Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Elliott Yamin, Fantasia, Amy Adams, Dane Cook, Robin Williams, Celine Dion, Forest Whitaker, Billy Crystal, Kiefer Sutherland and Jennifer Connolly. They join a list of expected participants that includes Bono, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Miley Cyrus, Mariah Carey, Eli and Peyton Manning, Fergie, Chris Daughtry, Carrie Underwood, Annie Lennox, John Legend, Snoop Dogg, Maroon 5, Heart and Gloria Estefan. Funds raised this year will benefit the Children's Defense Fund; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria ; Make It Right; Malaria No More; Save the Children; and the Children's Health Fund.
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