She gave Mariah Carey chills, held on far longer than anyone expected and even sold her prized horse to pay her way to the Philadelphia "American Idol" audition. But someone had to go, and when her number came up Wednesday night, just about all Kristy Lee Cook could say was "Can I go ride my horse now?"
(See what our four soldiers in Iraq had to say about Kristy Lee and the rest of the gang's performances, in the Newsroom blog.)
Always on the lookout for new ways to mess with the contestants' heads, host Ryan Seacrest separated finalists into two groups on either sides of the stage, without explaining which was which, instead of sending them to the bottom-three stools or the safe couch.
The gamesmanship went on for nearly the entire hour, as Seacrest added to the torture by not calling the name of front-runner David Archuleta until more than 45 minutes into the results show. After saying he's never been happier in his life than during his "Idol" run, a relieved-looking Archuleta was told he was safe.
The toying continued, though, as Seacrest directed David Cook to leave his group and trade places with Syesha Mercado, then asked Archuleta to join the group he thought might be safe — the one made up of Mercado, Kristy Lee Cook and Brooke White, or the other with David Cook, Jason Castro and Carly Smithson. A mortified Archuleta asked if he could plead the fifth and sat down on the stage in protest. Seacrest then hinted that he slide over to the Cook, Castro and Smithson clan, who were safe.
That left the three female roommates to ponder their fate, with Mercado getting the pass back to the finalist couch first. After Cowell said it was likely her time to go, Cook, 24, quipped, "Hey, I made it past the top 10." But, after 36 million votes, she would make it no further.
In a bit of classic "Idol" song-choice irony, the horse-training tomboy in lipstick and designer dresses was done in by what was arguably one of her better performances: a rendition of Carey's lesser-known "Forever." Despite Carey saying she got goose bumps from Cook's turn through the tune, judge Randy Jackson said Tuesday night that the cover was uneven.
Cowell had a harsher assessment, telling Cook, "You probably weren't jumping for joy, were you, when you heard it was Mariah Carey week?" Cook shot back that she was just happy to give Carey chills. "Well, you didn't give me chills," Cowell responded. "I think you managed with what you could. It was a bit whiny at times. ... It just wasn't great."
With White shedding more tears than the night's castoff during their final hug goodbye, a very composed Cook said, "Thank you, America, for voting for me. And it never would have come true if it wasn't for all the fans." She also took one last shot at begging the man to whom she sold her favorite barrel horse to please sell it back to her. Looking like a pro, Cook began her final song perched on the judges' desk, leaning in to serenade a somewhat embarrassed-looking Cowell with the lines "Our time is through/ Still I burn on and on/ All of my life/ Only for you."
The result was not nearly as shocking as last week's bait-and-switch ousting of Australian rocker Michael Johns, but the show still had a few tense moments. With his older brother, who is battling cancer, in the audience for a second night, David Cook told Seacrest that it wasn't hard to sing his sandpaper version of "Always Be My Baby" Tuesday night, but that "there were a lot of things that happened this week ... and they just all came to a head right at that moment." Cook, who cried following a performance that garnered a standing ovation and rave reviews from the judges, added, "I put a lot of myself into that song this week, and the fact that it went over as well as it did just got a little overwhelming."
In keeping with her increasing frankness onstage, Smithson had plenty to say about Cowell's Tuesday-night comment that she appeared to be holding back during her rendition of Carey's cover of Badfinger's "Without You." After thanking Jackson and Paula Abdul for their support during the finals, the tattooed bartender smiled and told the acerbic judge Wednesday night that he, however, had been a bit harsh on her all season. "You know why I am?" Cowell responded to the former major-label pop singer. "Because I think you're potentially great, and I just want to give you that extra push sometimes."
But it wasn't all tears and regret over horse trades gone wrong, as season-five third-place finisher Elliott Yamin took the stage to sing his single "Free," performing for the first time since the passing of his #1 fan and mother, Claudette Yamin, who died two weeks ago. The show also featured a song from Carey, who sashayed out in one of her signature barely there micro-dresses to sing her homage to lost ones, "Bye Bye."
With the finalist pool now down to six, the competition could take an interesting turn next week when the guest mentor is show-tune Andrew Lloyd Webber.
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Not only is it Mariah week on "Idol," she's MTV's Artist of the Week! Also, be sure to check out our our story on R. Kelly's brand-new remix of Mariah's "Touch My Body."