Somewhere out there, "American Idol" producers, and judge Simon Cowell, are hoisting frosty ones and heaving huge sighs of relief.
After an inexplicably long run that was full of flash, goofy haircuts, gleaming smiles and more showmanship than all of the other finalists combined, phenom "Idol" underdog Sanjaya Malakar finally ran out of gas Wednesday night.
Following a painfully flat rendition of Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About" on Tuesday night's country-themed show (see " 'Idol' Recap: 'I'm Officially Over Sanjaya'; Phil Actually Pulls Off Country Night "), Malakar was sent home to the grinning satisfaction of Cowell, who hinted before the elimination that he suspected the jig was up.
The night began with a somber Cowell again saying that he would "never, ever, ever" disrespect the families of the slain students at Virginia Tech, explaining his misinterpreted eye roll Tuesday night during Chris Richardson's comments about Monday's campus shootings (see "Simon Cowell Says Eye-Rolling Reaction To VT Comments Was Misinterpreted"). A split-screen demonstration was rolled out to show that Cowell had not heard Richardson's comments because the judge was too busy slamming the singer's "nasally" crooning.
But after that, it was the usual 45 minutes of filler until the verdict: host Ryan Seacrest asking people on the street what they thought about Tuesday's show, a guest performance from Fergie, a painfully long plug for the "Shrek the Third" movie and a performance from guest judge Martina McBride.
Seacrest used a tactic from past seasons that makes the bottom-three reveal even tougher on contestants, announcing that he would split the singers into a group of four that was safe and a group of three that was not. After splitting six contestants into two groups, he asked "safe" finalist Melinda Doolittle to choose which three she thought she belonged with. The savvy singer refused to choose and simply sat down center stage, which brought a smile to judge Randy Jackson's face.
Melinda eventually joined her group, leaving Sanjaya standing in the low-vote trio with first-time bottom-dwellers LaKisha Jones and Blake Lewis. A nervous-looking Sanjaya — dressed in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt that read "Life Is Beautiful" — stood awkwardly apart from Jones and Lewis, who were gripping each other's hand tightly.
When Seacrest asked the judges for their comments on the bottom three, Cowell, who had labeled Sanjaya's Tuesday performance as "utterly horrendous," said with a Cheshire cat grin, "I'm beginning to sense something here."
After what he said was a record top-seven vote of 38 million, Seacrest told Lewis to rejoin the rest of the gang and then informed Sanjaya that he'd reached the end of the road.
As the results were revealed by Seacrest, a group of Malakar's supporters were gathered inside friend Maya Kozioo's Seattle home. With hands pressed together in prayer, the cluster — including cousins Camila and Giuseppe Reicci — screamed, "No!" in unison as Seacrest muttered, "Sanjaya, you are going home tonight." Still, they couldn't help but note that, while it was over, it was one heck of a ride. They all grimaced and fought back tears as Malakar's eyes started to well.
"He did really good," Kozioo said. "He tried, and he brought it every week, and every week, people paid attention to him. I just feel really bad he's going home. But like everybody's saying, we get to see him now — he's coming home, and he's going to be with us. Things aren't going to go back to normal yet, but he brought his best. He could have gone far, but America just didn't see it this week. We love Sanjaya, and he'll be a star to us always. He doesn't need the show anymore."
Friend Jenna Wasser said she was surprised Malakar was relegated to the bottom three and feels bad his run on "Idol" has been cut short. "But I still feel like he has a career ahead of him," she said. "Sure, it's painful and it's sad, but I think he's going to go far anyway."
Wasser sees her pal continuing with music in the future, or maybe trying his hand at modeling. "He will go far no matter what. The show has made him known, but he has his path paved for him," she continued. "You really amaze me, Sanjaya, and all of Seattle is talking about you, and loves you, and supports you. Good job!"
The 17-year-old singer, who had become an Internet phenomenon and had given the show tremendous buzz during a season that many have said contains the weakest crop of singers to date (see "Is Howard Stern Behind Sanjaya Malakar's Staying Power On 'Idol'?"), flashed another of his signature ear-to-ear smiles and gave Jones an extended hug.
"I'm fine," he told Seacrest. "It was an amazing experience." As he watched his going-away montage, Sanjaya broke into tears, ending his improbable run with another warbly rendition of the Raitt song.
But in the classic Sanjaya fashion fans came to love, the camera-savvy finalist overcame his weak vocals by giving people one last thing to talk about. In a tip of the hat to the fascination with his ever-changing hairdos, Sanjaya ad-libbed a line and sang, "Let's give them something to talk about ... other than hair."
"I can promise you: We won't soon forget you," Seacrest said.
[This story was originally published at 07:06 a.m. ET on 04.19.2007.]