BEVERLY HILLS, California — Someone warn Constantine Maroulis about the choreographed group songs.
"I've never seen the show, so I don't know what's ahead of me," the 29-year-old singer for a New York rock band admitted Wednesday, shortly after being voted one of the 12 finalists for the fourth season of "American Idol." "We'll see what happens."
We most certainly will. After all but being told he was going home (oh, that Ryan Seacrest is tricky), Maroulis advanced to the finals, adding more flavor to a diverse talent pool that looks nothing like it did in years past.
Fellow "rocker" (as the pair has been permanently labeled) Bo Bice, country sweetheart Carrie Underwood and tough-guy-with-a-velvet-voice Scott Savol are also among the finalists.
"Some people think I should be on 'Nashville Star,' but you know, it's 'American Idol,' not 'Pop Idol,' not 'Rap Idol,' so you can do what you want," Underwood, a 22-year-old college senior from Checotah, Oklahoma, declared at a party at the Pacific Design Center thrown in honor of the final 12. (Click for photos from the red carpet.)
"Simon kinda had different plans for me, but once it got to a certain point, the people came into play and evidently I delivered," added still-in-shock 28-year-old Savol from Shaker Heights, Ohio.
Bice, who like Maroulis is one of the oldest contestants at age 29, could only smile about the strange new world he's entered, where the paparazzi were already screaming for rock poses. "If you told me when I was sleeping on the floor of the Orlando Convention Center with 10,000 other people that I would be here, I would have laughed at you," said Bice, a Helena, Alabama, native and a favorite of the judges.
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Wednesday's party was the last time the finalists were allowed to speak to the press until they're eliminated, so 17-year-old Las Vegas high school junior Mikalah Gordon turned the event into her coming-out-of-her-shell party, or "re-coming out," to be more accurate.
"I'm so shy and so sad," she joked, a reference to comments made by the judges in recent weeks about her evolution from firecracker to a Barbra Streisand wannabe. "Mikalah went on vacation, but she's back now. It's all about the fun again."
Anwar Robinson, a 25-year-old middle school music teacher from Elizabeth, New Jersey, had a similar attitude. "I've gotten through the technical side of the whole thing, now I'm just trying to let loose and have fun, put some life into this thing," he said.
Like Bice, Robinson has also made fans out of Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell (all party no-shows), who have certainly been more fond of the men this season, a sentiment that hasn't gone unnoticed by the contestants.
"This is the season to watch, especially with the guys," 27-year-old New Yorker Mario Vazquez said, as the Ukrainian-born Anthony Fedorov, 19, of Trevose, Pennsylvania, nearly echoed him nearby. "The guys are really on point."
While the women haven't fared as well, two that felt confident heading into Wednesday were 28-year-old Miami bartender Nadia Turner and 19-year-old student Jessica Sierra, from nearby Tampa. Both predictably advanced.
"It's not just about the song, it's about totally bringing it and embracing your audience and that's been my goal from day one," said Turner, shivering in the night breeze.
It was a different story for Lindsey Cardinale, 20, from Ponchatoula, Louisiana. "It was very nerve-racking, because my last three performances, they haven't liked my songs, but I can't let that get me down, 'cause I'm in the top 12!" she exclaimed.
Twenty-year-old Vonzell Solomon of Fort Myers, Florida, has taken some slack from Simon, but she had a hunch she would survive because of a comparison she's received to a past contestant.
"Even before this season, people would stop me and say, 'Fantasia, I love you,' " Solomon said. "I get compared to her all the time. And my dad and I were talking last night about how Simon picked on her in the beginning and look what happened."
And while Maroulis claims to have never watched "Idol," he too channeled the spirit of a former finalist. Under his sport coat he wore a Justin Guarini T-shirt.
"I don't know what happened with that, I must have gotten dressed in the dark or something," he said with a smile. "He was on the show before, right?"
With the final 12 set, that meant the end for Amanda Avila, Janay Castine, Nikko Smith and Travis Tucker.
The "American Idol" finals start Tuesday with the show returning to twice-weekly episodes. The finale is scheduled for May 24 and 25 in Hollywood.