But from the moment Pia Toscano hit the bottom three for the first time to the jaw-dropping realization that she was going home in ninth place, Thursday night's elimination felt like an "Idol"-quake of possibly historic proportions.
The contestants seemed stunned, Randy Jackson held his head and said "no, no" and then appeared to mouth an expletive, and Jennifer Lopez was brought to tears at the realization that one of the most viable female contestants in recent "Idol" history was gone and that the judges appeared to have squandered their save on commercially suspect Casey Abrams.
"I'm really bummed about this. It just sucks," said longtime "Idol" watcher and TVLine.com "Idol" recapper Michael Slezak. "One of the main factors is the judges. There's been a complete absence of any kind of guidance from the judging panel, which opens up the prospect of 'vote for your favorite.' And if you pick your favorite early on, you stick with them and vote 500 times a night no matter how they perform."
Slezak faulted the show for pushing viewers to vote for their favorites rather than the best performances, and he said while this might not be the most shocking "Idol" elimination of all time, it is definitely the most disappointing in the show's history. Yes, in retrospect, it was a bummer that now-successful rocker Chris Daughtry went out in fourth place ahead of eventual winner Taylor Hicks and that veteran backup singer Melinda Doolittle left in third place behind runner-up beatboxer Blake Lewis in season six. And nobody can ever forget (or forgive) the seventh-place finish of eventual Oscar and Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson in season three.
But Slezak said Toscano's ouster is perhaps the most troubling for what it says about the 10th season of "Idol." After seemingly getting on a roll with the fresh energy of new judges Lopez and Steven Tyler and a ratings boost and some buzz, he said the show has slid into dangerous territory over the past few weeks that may put it on a road to ruin. "At least with Tamyra [Gray] and Daughtry, they finished fourth, so there were five more weeks of performances, and you could see the full scope of what they could do," he said. "We were still finding out who Pia was. and she could have grown more, and now we'll never see that." He said after a good start and a rebound from a terrible season nine, this sets "Idol" back 20 paces because Pia felt like someone who could really sell albums, as opposed to a "cute guy" who voters will text in their support for 500 times but probably never buy an album from. Also disappointed was "Idol" blogger MJ Santilli, who said, for her, it was definitely one of the most shocking eliminations ever on the show.
"It's easy to forget what a terrible contestant Jennifer Hudson was in light of her recent successes," she said of Hudson's up-and-down run on "Idol." "Daughtry's boot came toward the end of the contest, when pretty much anything can happen. Plus, by top four, it was pretty clear that Taylor Hicks was kicking his ass. I would say the same for Tamyra. Her ouster came close to the end of the competition. Kelly Clarkson had already gained momentum," she said of the other singers whose early boots have set the shock standard for the show.
Santilli said Pia seemed destined for a Gray-esque boot in fourth or fifth place, because, like Gray, she was a technically proficient singer who didn't excite viewers. "But the idea of so many of Pia's fellow Idols outlasting her was unfathomable," she said.
Slezak said one thing that is clear after Thursday's result is that the judges have "Pia's blood" on their hands. "For Randy to sit there slack-jawed and J.Lo to force out tears ... after the last two weeks, the idea of giving actual critiques went out the window," he said. "The last two weeks, everyone gets a gold star. When you give everyone the same gold star, it's confusing. There are nine performances in 90 minutes and a lot happens, and it's their job to give voters a sense of direction ... who is working and who might be a viable recording artist. Otherwise, why have them up there if they say everyone is great?"
In other words, after lots of talk about how nobody was missing meanie go-to judge Simon Cowell this season, it seems viewers are, indeed, in need of his strong, guiding hand.
Another potential problem, Slezak noted, is that after 10 seasons, the newness of voting has worn off and perhaps some voters are thinking, "Why should I vote for Pia 20 times when some teenager in her bedroom is going to text 400 times" for the cute guy?
Do you think Pia's elimination is the most shocking in "Idol" history? Let us know in comment below.
Get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.