And then there were 12.
It was a dramatic round of musical chairs for the 16 "American Idol" contestants hoping to make it into the coveted group of 12 finalists. Four more 'Idol' wannabes were sent home Wednesday, including one whose departure shocked even his fellow contestants. Here's what the eliminated contestants had to say on their way out:
He may have been a favorite among the ladies, but Tucker's rendition of Bobby Brown's "Every Little Step" failed to make a believer out of Simon Cowell, who compared the 22-year-old's performance to a theme-park street act. At least he can beatbox, dawg.
MTV: You had some mixed comments from the judges this week. Paula called you a unique performer, but Randy and Simon weren't quite so kind. What did you think about their comments?
Travis Tucker: I think they were legit. I know I bit it hard on Monday. The nerves really got the best of me out there, and I really felt it going in. With that first line I sang, I was like, "Oh, boy ..." I knew I was in for it, but I tried to make the most out of it when I got up there and [the judges] called it as it was. I can't argue with them. At this point in the game, you can't come with anything less than your best and expect to survive. You know, I've done better than that, and for that I'm kind of sorry I didn't go out saying, "Hey, man, I did everything I could." That's kind of sour, but it's been a great run, and you just have to remember that everything happens for a reason.
MTV: People have said that this is the year for the guys to win and take the title of "American Idol" again. Do you agree?
Tucker: The guys are strong. The guys are very strong, but it's not that the girls are weak, either. It's just a really hot season this year. And it's not just about the performance. [The 12 finalists] are cool people, and once America sees that, it's going to be a whole new ballgame. If you thought the cameras were in your face before, they're going to be all over the place now.
MTV: What's next for you?
Tucker: Oh, anything and everything. I actually went to school at NYU for a year for acting, so I wouldn't mind getting into TV, movies, commercials, modeling, whatever. I'd definitely like to stay in this business for a while.
Smith's performance of "Georgia on My Mind" brought rave reviews from the judges: Randy called his rendition of Ray Charles' hit brilliant. Paula even gave the 22-year-old her blessing, saying, "I can't imagine the top 12 without you in it." The unexpected departure of this Missouri native left many wondering: What happened?
MTV: I think a lot of people were surprised to see you leave last night. What do you think happened?
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MTV: There was a poll recently on the official "American Idol" Web site that asked the people which eliminated contestant they wanted to see back, and so far you're winning. What do you think about that reaction?
Smith: Oh! It's very flattering that they want to see me back on the show. It's a good thing. ... We got so much exposure since so many millions of people watch the show. And I'm not gonna stop doing music, and hopefully somebody will pick me up or something.
MTV: It seems to be all about the boys this season. Do you think a guy will take the title of "American Idol" this season?
Smith: Definitely the guys are really, really strong this season, but don't sleep on the girls. They're gonna bring the heat too. It's anybody's competition right now.
As one of the youngest females on the show, this brazen 17-year-old stood her ground against contestants 10 years her senior. However, Castine's performance of Selena's "Dreaming of You" left the judges less than satisfied and had Simon telling the Georgia peach to start packing.
MTV: The judges have seemed to come down hard on your performances the past couple of weeks, especially Simon, who said you were too young to be in this competition. How do you feel about those comments, especially those regarding your age?
Janay Castine: You know, those are the judges' opinions. I believe that I can do it, and I still know that I can do it. I still believe I can succeed in this business. As far as Simon, he's one in 30 or 40 million. I respect what he has to say, but I knew what I was getting into. I know that he can be cruel at times, but that's OK because he's still a human being and he has his opinions.
MTV: You and Mikalah Gordon were the two youngest performers on the show. With the age limit being raised this season, do you think it's fair for a 17-year-old like yourself to go up against a 29-year-old who may have more experience performing?
Castine: I don't know. I believe that we're all the same. I was good enough to make it to the top 16. As far as being with people 11 or 12 years my senior, it really didn't scare me. I felt like we were all there because we were good. So you know, if I was good enough to compete against them, then I'm proud of that.
MTV: The ladies have gotten a lot of flack this season for failing to live up to the guys' performances. Do you think the girls will be able to step it up and give the guys a run for their money?
Castine: I believe so. I hope so. It just so happens that every time the boys perform, they get a lot of good comments and a lot of positive criticism. But with the girls, it's like, "You were a little pitchy. I don't know what you were trying to do." But I do think the girls who are in the top 12 all deserve to be there.
MTV: What's the most important thing you've learned from being a part of this process?
Castine: Really, the show must go on, regardless of what happens. A lot of things happen that you guys didn't see, and no matter what happens, if this is what you want to do, you have to keep pressin' because America doesn't like to see you sweat. I want to be a singer and I want to be a performer. I'm just going to continue because like I said, the show must go on. This is just the beginning.
Simon was a fan of her looks but not necessarily her voice. Her rendition of "River Deep, Mountain High" struck a shallow chord with viewers, but this 23-year-old from Las Vegas won't let this loss ruin her dreams of stardom.
MTV: How do you feel about the comparisons the judges made about your performance and failing to live up to Tina Turner?
Amanda Avila: I was sad that they compared me to Tina, just because there is no comparison. I didn't even try to do it the way she would have done it, because I can't. There's no way. I tried to put my own spin on it, and I think I did a good job. Unfortunately, they chose to use that comparison and I think that did hurt me in the end. But I really liked my performance and I think it was one of the better performances I had.
MTV: A lot of people were surprised to see Nikko go last night. How did you feel about his elimination?
Avila: I was shocked. I mean, I was shocked by the whole thing, of course. I didn't want to go, but to see who else went too — Travis was a really good performer, and Nikko was just so cool. You know, so cool and so handsome. I thought he would have been perfect.
MTV: You've had a lot of emphasis placed on your looks this season, like with Simon's comments about wanting to come back in another life as your microphone. Do you think any of that attention was detrimental to you in this competition?
Avila: Definitely. I think more of the focus was put on what I look like, rather than how I sang, and it's unfortunate. But also, that is what I look like and it's nice that people were complimenting me. If America thinks I'm pretty, then I'll take the compliment, thank you very much.
MTV: Other than music, do you want to branch out into other areas of entertainment as well?
Avila: I would love to act. Now that I've gotten a taste of the television bug, I don't want to stop. I think I'd make a great villain on a soap opera. Any opportunity that will arise, I'll take it. I'd love to do it all, and I'm not giving it up yet.