One of the favored finalists in this year's "American Idol" final 12, Mario Vazquez, abruptly took himself out of the running over the weekend with little explanation, FOX announced Sunday.
Vazquez, whose signature hat, smooth dance steps and bright smile made him a favorite of fans and judge Paula Abdul, cited "personal reasons" for his departure but did not elaborate on the specifics.
Confused fans immediately took to the "American Idol" message boards, speculating about Vazquez's reason, which seemed shadier after he told TV Guide on Sunday it was for "family reasons" — but then New York's FOX affiliate contacted the singer's mother and she was unaware that her son had left the show.
Vazquez, however, appeared Monday morning on "Good Day New York," on New York's FOX 5, and squashed rumors of a feud with "American Idol" producers or any of his competitors.
" 'American Idol' was only positive. They were only wonderful to me, from the beginning through the middle, to the end," he told the show. "It had nothing to do with the contract or anything at all. I just needed to take care of some things in my life that needed to be focused on."
Vazquez said he wanted to surprise his mother but the media beat him to the punch. "I wanted to tell her face to face and let her know it was OK," he said.
As for his "personal reasons," Vazquez declined to elaborate.
"I know I disappointed many fans, but it's all for the best, it really is, and I hope they know and understand and respect my privacy with that as well," he said. "It was a very, very hard decision, just thinking about everyone in the competition, who are my friends first, before competitors. It was a lot to think about, but my intuition told me I need to focus on personal things in my life. That meant I couldn't continue in the competition."
Vazquez did let it slip to the FOX affiliate that he "had some feelings, thinking about the process," and that "it wasn't right for me."
The singer, who will continue to make press rounds Monday in New York, said his fellow contestants were devastated when he told them the news. "We all made good friends, especially with Nadia [Turner], Anwar [Robinson], Mikalah [Gordon], everybody," Vazquez said. "People are speculating, but there wasn't a catfight at all. ... I didn't want to put a damper on the show. It's such a great opportunity. ... I told them to go for it."
Once Vazquez "takes care of his business," he said he would continue pursuing his passion for music. "This isn't the last you've heard from Mario Vazquez," he promised. (Do you think we'll be hearing from Mario again? Vote in our poll.)
Vazquez is still under contract with 19 Entertainment, although spokespeople for the show were not immediately able to reveal details of the contract. Past contestants have said the contract forbids them from signing with another manager or record label unless they are released from 19.
On Wednesday, Vazquez admitted to MTV News that he had not seen much of "American Idol" before (see "The 'American Idol' Final-12 Party: Nerves, Shock And ... Justin Guarini?"). "To be totally honest, I saw bits and pieces, usually the finales," he said.
Vazquez was second to Carrie Underwood on MTVNews.com's poll of which singer was projected to win "American Idol," and his voice had been widely praised. "It comes out naturally, and I'm glad that people are liking it," he responded last week. "It's just making me believe they really, really like me. So it's all good."
The departure of Vazquez paved the way for one of the men dismissed last week, Nikko Smith (see "Shocker Shakes Up 'Idol' As Final 12 Are Chosen"), to jump back into the competition. Smith was ousted along with Travis Tucker, but because he received more votes than Tucker, he was the judges' pick to return.
The competition has been whittled down to six men and six women, with the finalists going head-to-head for the first time this season on Tuesday night. The results show will air on Wednesday.
Vazquez told FOX 5 he will be rooting for Robinson and Turner. "Anwar has an amazing voice, and Nadia, every time she performed, she had me out of my seat," he said.
While Vazquez is the first finalist to voluntarily remove himself from the show, the competition has seen the early exit of several performers in the past, most due to background issues that were not revealed in the early vetting process.
One of season two's 32 finalists, Jaered Andrews, was charged with assault in connection with a bar fight and disqualified from the show; he was subsequently acquitted of the charges. That same season, Corey Clark made it into the top 10 only to be eliminated when producers found out about a past assault allegation (see " 'Idol' Dismisses Corey Clark After Battery Charges Surface"), and another top contender, Frenchie Davis, was booted after it was discovered she had posed topless on an adult Web site (see " 'American Idol' Steps Up Screening Process For Contestants"). Last year, Donnie Williams was disqualified following an arrest on suspicion of drunk driving.