For the second year in a row, it's down to just the boys on "American Idol." After 64 million votes were cast following Tuesday's rock night, 17-year-old, flame-haired blues belter Allison Iraheta drew the short straw Wednesday night (May 6) and was sent home.
That means that "Idol" will be visiting the hometowns of Danny Gokey (Milwaukee), Adam Lambert (San Diego) and Kris Allen (Conway, Arkansas) later this week as season eight steams to its May 20 conclusion.
Iraheta, whose gutsy, weathered, blues-mama voice belied her years, went out with a bang, beginning with the night's group sing-along to Alice Cooper's "School's Out." This week's mentor, Slash, helped out on guitar on the raucous track, and the microphones were definitely live, as they fed back during what was surely the edgiest, most L.A. Sunset Strip-esque number in the show's history. There was black leather and Marshall stacks as far as the eye could see, and Iraheta and Lambert even got to briefly reprise their winning harmonies from Tuesday night's show, which featured the series' first-ever duets among finalists.
But well before she found out her fate, the first of the night's three guest performers took the stage: none other than judge Paula Abdul. The former Laker Girl and renowned 1980s pop star and choreographer performed on the show for the first time, debuting her new single, "I'm Just Here for the Music." Showing off some of her signature dance moves, a heavily Auto-Tuned Abdul worked her way down the steps, while a half-dozen male dancers in suits lifted and spun her around the smoke-filled stage as she appeared to lip-synch the slinky, Britney-like dance tune.
Next up were reunited ska-rockers No Doubt, who dusted off one of their biggest hits, "Just a Girl." Gwen Stefani changed gears from the club pop of her solo career back into a more rocking mode and traded couture for black boots, black pants, a white tank top and a studded leather belt. By song's end, the mother of two appeared out of breath after bounding off the stage, doing pushups near the judge's table and pushing her way back through the crowd.
The night's final performance was from season-five fourth-place finisher Chris Daughtry, who debuted the first single from his band's second album, the melodic, midtempo rocker "No Surprise."
Finally, a half-hour in, Ryan Seacrest began to give some results, promising to reveal the top three finalists in random order. Despite being on the wrong end of a cryptic insult from Simon Cowell that his take on the Beatles' "Come Together" was like eating ice for lunch, Allen was the first one to make it to safety. The ecstatic singer hugged his cohorts and appeared stunned as he stood alone amid the top three finishers' stools.
With fewer than six minutes left in the show, Seacrest waved Lambert to the top three. The flamboyant rocker got all thumbs-up for his bombastic take on Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" the night before. The final stool was filled by Gokey, who made it to the top three even after his cover of Aerosmith's "Dream On" got mostly poor comments, including Simon's quip that the final, off-key note was like "watching a horror movie."
That left Iraheta as the odd girl out, even after Cowell said her duet with Lambert on Foghat's "Slow Ride" might just have saved her. She took the news like a pro, though, laughing a bit, shedding a few tears, pumping her fist and soaking in her final few moments on the "Idol" stage. She left with another gritty, soulful run through Janis Joplin's "Cry Baby," stopping to give Abdul a hug and work the crowd one more time as she stood defiantly with her back to the judges and poured her heart into the final, thundering notes.
Next week, each finalist will sing two songs, one a judge's pick and the other their personal choice. Katy Perry and Jordin Sparks are slated to perform on Wednesday night's show.
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