Even on karaoke night at some seamy watering hole, bungling the lyrics to a Stevie Wonder classic is unforgivable. So flubbing those same lyrics twice — once, within earshot of the iconic musician who'd penned them, and then again, with about 30 million captive Americans as eyewitnesses — is an offense of near-epic proportions. And on Wednesday night, "American Idol" viewers' punishment was meted out, as 21-year-old Tampa, Florida, native Melissa McGhee was given the heave-ho.
With "American Idol" hitting its homestretch this week, McGhee became the first pop-star aspirant cut from the finals despite delivering what ornery judge Simon Cowell deemed an "edgy" and "strong" performance as part of Tuesday theme night (see "'American Idol' Recap: Taylor's 'Drunk Dad' Act Flies, Kellie Needs To Bring It"). During this week's sing-off, the final dozen belted out selections from Wonder's beloved catalogue. Wednesday night, "Idol" devotees were treated to a show from Wonder himself, who performed "My Love Is on Fire," the next single off of his A Time to Love LP.
More than 32.5 million votes were cast this week, with the smoky-voiced McGhee, who narrowly escaped the chopping block during the previous week's elimination, receiving the lowest tally. When McGhee learned she'd been cut, she was rendered speechless. Still, when host Ryan Seacrest asked if she'd been expecting the news, she nodded, saying, "Yeah."
Before McGhee received the news, it appeared that there could be a bolt-from-the-blue ending to end the half-hour elimination episode. The studio audience responded with gasps and boos as the names of heartthrob Ace Young and lovable Lisa Tucker were called to the middle of the "Idol" stage, ranking among the week's lowest vote-getters. But the 25-year-old from Denver and the 16-year-old from Anaheim, California, escaped ouster from the televised talent contest and will sing another week.
Both Young and Tucker seemed stupefied by the bottom-three designations, as did the "Idol" judges. Young stood onstage next to Seacrest, eyes wide, staring out into America's living rooms, like a deer caught in some very unexpected headlights.
"I don't get it," Paula Abdul said, adding that Ace the Face was the total package for her. Las Vegas bookmakers have even settled on Young as a lock for the whole kit and caboodle. Cowell — who'd characterized Young's performance of "Do I Do" as "manic" the night before — was also "a little surprised," and advised the contestant to heed the "wakeup call" from America by stepping up his performances and spending more time contemplating his song selections as the contest continues.
With McGhee heading home, 11 would-be "Idols" now vie for the title crown. The "American Idol" finale has been scheduled for May 24.