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Photos: American Idol - Season 8

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  1. The final 2

    Adam Lambert and Kris Allen will square off in the season 8 finale of "American Idol" on Tuesday, May 19. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, May 20. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Goodbye Gokey

    Danny Gokey, who never finished among the bottom three vote-getters all season, was sent home on Wednesday, May 13. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. One last hug

    Danny Gokey, left, receives a hug from Kris Allen and applause from Adam Lambert after learning he had been eliminated on Wednesday, May 13. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 'Waking Up' the crowd

    Katy Perry was the headliner among the guest performers on Wednesday, May 13, and she did an excellent job playing to the young male portion of the fan base. To perform "Waking Up in Vegas," she showed up in an Elvis cape with "Adam Lambert" embroidered on the back, and not much else. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Awaiting their fate

    The final 3 contestants, Danny Gokey, left, Kris Allen, center, and Adam Lambert gather together to hear who will advance to the "American Idol" final. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Shooting Sparks

    Season 6 winner Jordin Sparks returned to "American Idol" on Wednesday, May 13, and performed "Battlefield." (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Future 'Idol'

    Singer Alicia Keys and Rwandan singer Noah Mushimiyimana appear together onstage on Wednesday, May 13. As part of "Idol Gives Back" and the show's charity efforts in Africa, Keys asked for $5 contributions and Noah performed for the crowd. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Making his pitch

    Milwaukee local Danny Gokey throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Chicago Cubs-Milwaukee Brewers baseball game on Friday, May 8, in Milwaukee. Gokey and the remaining "Idol" finalists visited their hometowns in advance of the May 12 show. (Darren Hauck / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A brave performance

    Danny Gokey sings the national anthem before the Chicago Cubs-Milwaukee Brewers baseball game on Friday, May 8, in Milwaukee. (Darren Hauck / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Hometown love

    Fans of "American Idol" finalist Kris Allen listen as he performs in Little Rock, Ark., on Friday, May 8. Allen is from Conway, Ark. (Mike Wintroath / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Talking to his peeps

    Kris Allen speaks to a crowd of fans during his performance on Friday, May 8, in Little Rock, Ark. (Mike Wintroath / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. High school reunion

    Finalist Adam Lambert waves to fans during a visit to his alma mater, Mt. Carmel High School, in San Diego on Friday, May 8. (Sandy Huffaker / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Sing it, Adam

    Adam Lambert performs for fans during a visit to his alma mater, Mt. Carmel High School, in San Diego on Friday, May 8. (Sandy Huffaker / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Final 3

    Kris Allen (from left), Danny Gokey and Adam Lambert are the last "Idol" contestants standing after Allison Iraheta was sent home on Wednesday, May 6. (M Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. One final song

    Allison Iraheta performs for the final time on "American Idol" on Wednesday, May 6. (M Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. It's Paula!

    Paula Abdul performed her new single, "I'm Just Here for the Music," on Wednesday, May 6. The "Idol" judge, a former dancer, had some good moves, but her lip synching was a bit rusty. (R Mickshaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. More than just a girl

    Gwen Stefani and her band No Doubt performed their hit "I'm Just a Girl" on "American Idol" on Wednesday, May 6. Stefani changed some of the words of the song to "I'm just a girl on 'American Idol'." (R Mickshaw / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Daughtry!

    Former "American Idol" contestant Chris Daughtry returned to the show with his band on Wednesday, May 6 to perform "No Surprise," the first single from his new album. (R Mickshaw / Getty Images for Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Group rock-out

    Contestants Kris Allen, left, and Allison Iraheta, second from left, Danny Gokey, second from right, and Adam Lambert, right, perform with guitarist, and this week's mentor, Slash on Wednesday, May 6. (M Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. These four are tops

    "American Idol" contestants, from left, Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, Danny Gokey and Allison Iraheta are seen backstage after the elimination show on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 in Los Angeles. (M Becker / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Golden moment

    Natalie Cole performs "Something's Gotta Give" on "American Idol" on Wednesday, April 29. (F Micelotta / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Soul is back on patrol

    Season five "Idol" champion Taylor Hicks performs on the show on Wednesday, April 29, in Los Angeles. He offered advice for the final five, saying, “Right now it’s about song choices, and also making the right moves on stage.” (F Micelotta / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Taking 'Blame'

    Singer/actor Jamie Foxx performs his song "Blame It" on Wednesday, April 29. The guest-mentor said, “I saw five of the most talented people I’ve seen in the last 10 years," and he begged the “Idol” audience to support the finalists even after the show ends. (F Micelotta / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Out of luck

    "Idol" contestants Matt Giraud, left, and Adam Lambert stand in the bottom two on the Wednesday, April 29, elimination show. “I’ll remember being the cat with nine lives here,” said Giraud, who received the only judges' save this season. But he finally ran out of luck and was sent home. (F Micelotta / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Five still alive

    After the April 22 elimination show, Danny Gokey (from left), Adam Lambert, Alison Iraheta, Kris Allen and Matt Giraud remained standing on "American Idol." (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Going to Carolina

    Having been in the bottom three more often than not all season, Anoop Desai had to figure he would be sent home sooner or later. “I’m still really disappointed,” the University of North Carolina student said, “but now I have to look at the bright side — I’m going back to Chapel Hill.” (M Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Everything's Archie

    Last season's runner-up David Archuleta returned to the stage on Wednesday, April 22 to sing “Touch My Hand” before heading out to the United Kingdom for a concert tour. (M Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. From 7 to 5

    The “American Idol” field was reduced to five on Wednesday, April 22 as Lil Rounds and Anoop Desai (center) were sent home. That marked the end of the road for one early favorite and for one singer who spent weeks barely hanging on. (M Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Disco queen

    As disco week came to a close, singer Thelma Houston performed "Don't Leave Me This Way" live on "American Idol" on Wednesday, April 22. (M Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Let's dance

    Disco week brought a special dance routine for the group sing on Wednesday, April 22, and Paula Abdul choreographed the number. "I’ve never had any group work harder,” she said afterwards. (M Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Shakin' his booty

    KC and the Sunshine Band performed "Get Down Tonight" on "American Idol" on Wednesday, April 22. (M Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Working on their moves

    Contestants (from left) Adam Lambert, Danny Gokey and Kris Allen rehearse for the group number before the show on Wednesday, April 22. (R Mickshaw/american Idol 2009 / Getty Images Contributor) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Still a lucky seven

    "American Idol" contestants, from left, Danny Gokey, Allison Iraheta, Anoop Desai, Matt Giraud, Kris Allen, Adam Lambert and Lil Rounds take time for a group hug after the elimination show in Los Angeles on Wednesday, April 15. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Stayin' alive

    Matt Giraud stays alive after receiving the first-ever Judges' Save to avoid elimination on "Idol" on Wednesday, April 15. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Cracking the Save

    The crowd was chanting "Save! Save! Save" behind the "Idol" judges, from left, Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell, on Wednesday, April 15. The foursome will have a tougher job next week when two contestants will be eliminated and the Save won't be available. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Teen queen

    Miley Cyrus performs her new hit, "The Climb" on the Wednesday, April 15, episode of "American Idol." (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. The view from below

    The bottom three, from left, Anoop Desai, Lil Rounds and Matt Giraud join host Ryan Seacrest to see who will be going home on Wednesday, April 15. Msnbc.com's Craig Berman said Rounds heard the worst feedback of anyone after her performance this week. And this was Desai's third week in a row in the bottom three. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Triumphant return

    Jennifer Hudson made her first appearance on "American Idol" since being booted off in season three. Despite her lack of success on the show, she's the only "Idol" finalist to ever win an Oscar. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Goodbye, Scott

    Allison Iraheta gives Scott MacIntyre a hug as the other contestants look on after the visually-impaired singer performed his swan song on "American Idol" on Wednesday, April 8. (F Micelotta  / Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. She's baaaack

    One-time "Idol" contestant Kellie Pickler was back to her minx-like ways on Wednesday, April 8, flirting with Simon and Randy as she sang her new single "Best Days of Your Life." (F Micelotta  / Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. The bottom two

    Anoop Desai, left, and Scott MacIntyre, center, listen as host Ryan Seacrest announces who will be going home on Wednesday, April 8. Alas, it was bad news for Scott. (F Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Frankie, if you will

    Frankie Avalon made a guest appearance and performed his 1959 hit "Venus" on "American Idol" on Wednesday, April 8. (Frank Micelotta / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Flo Rida in the house

    Hip-hop star Flo Rida performed his No. 1 hit "Right Round" on Wednesday, April 8. Critics have plenty to say about where this season of "Idol" stands in relation to those that have come before, but it's clearly done better this year at booking current acts to show up to play the results show. (Frank Micelotta / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. 8 left standing

    The top eight contestants of season eight of "American Idol," from left, Lil Rounds, Anoop Desai, Scott MacIntyre, Allison Iraheta, Adam Lambert, Danny Gokey, Matt Giraud and Kris Allen are seen backstage at the elimination show on Wednesday, April 1, in Los Angeles. (F Micelotta  / Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Going Gaga

    Lady Gaga performs her new No. 1 single, "Poker Face," on "American Idol" at the elimination show on Wednesday, April 1. (Frank Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Joy-less program

    Contestant Megan Joy Corkrey was the latest to be eliminated from the show on Wednesday, April 1. As msnbc.com's Craig Berman wrote, the font designer seemed to know she was on her way out, and flapped and cawed her way to her seat in the bottom three. (Frank Micelotta / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Comeback performance

    Season seven winner David Cook performed his single "Come Back to Me" at the season eight elimination show on Wednesday, April 1. (M Becker / Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Go go power singers

    The season eight finalists performed live during the elimination show on Wednesday, April 1. (M Becker / Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Go go power singers

    The season eight finalists performed live during the elimination show on Wednesday, April 1. (M Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 3/17/2009 2:12:22 PM ET 2009-03-17T18:12:22

After “American Idol” finalist Kris Allen first stepped onto the stage of the Fox singing competition, the 23-year-old college student later confided in his pastor that feeling the warm stage lights and seeing the eager audience looking up at him reminded him of only one thing: going to church.

Two weeks into the finals, and religion is playing a big role for Allen and many other singers this season on the popular show. More than half of the remaining 11 finalists have regularly performed at places of worship. Three of those six contestants — including Allen — have worked as worship leaders at their respective churches back home.

“Kristopher was in a position where he was singing on a weekly basis in front of a large number of people,” said Brandon Shatswell, executive worship pastor at the New Life Church in Allen’s hometown of Conway, Ark. “I had him learning new songs quickly, things that he might not readily choose for himself, so I do think working here helped him be more comfortable in the competition.”

Not only has regularly performing in churches prepared many singers for the big “Idol” stage, religion may also be providing some contestants with a built-in voting bloc. Joanne Brokaw, who blogs about “Idol” and Christian music at BeliefNet.com, believes many Christian viewers have been rallying for this season’s Christian contestants.

“I think Christian music fans really like to get behind the Christian contestants,” says Brokaw, who has been writing about the eighth season on the Gospel Soundcheck blog. “It starts before the top 12 with individual churches. I think word spreads, and there’s chatter on the Internet. I think it really says something about the viewership of ‘American Idol.”’

At its core, “Idol” is a singing contest, but finalists’ popularity has always seemed to play a big role in who moves forward. This season’s most prominent Christian contestant has been Danny Gokey, the bespectacled recent widower who has worked for eight years at Faith Builders International in Milwaukee and at its sister congregation in Beloit, Wis.

Gokey’s pastor, Jeff Pruitt, says the 28-year-old church music director’s faith — as much as his talent — has propelled him to succeed in the competition after his wife died four weeks before he auditioned for the show in Kansas City, Mo. Pruitt says how far the husky voiced singer goes in the competition isn’t really up to the viewers.

Simon says“Honestly, we believe it’s in God’s hands, and that God is in control of all of our lives,” Pruitt says. “Danny is in a place in his life that he is trusting the Lord with everything that’s placed in front of him because he never dreamed any of these things — good or bad — would happen. He prays. He says, ‘Lord, I will go as far as you want me to go.”’

A modified weekday service at Faith Builders International includes tuning into “Idol” after prayer. Pruitt says he’s been encouraging the congregation to vote for Gokey to keep him in the competition.

Like Allen and Gokey, many contestants throughout the past seven seasons of “Idol” have been Christian and either overtly or subtly showcased their faith. Several finalists, including second season winner Ruben Studdard, have gone on to release gospel music albums. Brokaw believes the increased emergence is part of the evolution of Christian music.

“Look at Jordin Sparks, the Jonas Brothers and Flyleaf, who’ve blown up in the mainstream,” she says. “I think the fact that the line between Christian music and the mainstream is becoming more blurred makes it OK for people who are involved in worship to audition for a show like this and not feel like they are selling out or will be criticized.”

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Christian music itself sporadically finds its way into the show. Besides countless renditions of “Amazing Grace,” a few hopefuls, such as this season’s Nathaniel Marshall, have auditioned with evangelical Christian tunes. Fifth season finalist Mandisa Hundley sang “Shackles (Praise You)” by Christian duo Mary Mary during the seventh week of competition.

The involvement isn’t limited to crooners. The winners of the first “Idol” songwriting contest were Christian music singer-songwriter Scott Krippayne and his pastor, Jeff Peabody. Their winning ditty, the non-denominational ballad “This Is My Now,” was selected by viewer votes and performed by Blake Lewis and Jordin Sparks during the sixth season finale.

Possibly the largest demonstration of Christian faith occurred during last season’s “Idol Gives Back” fundraiser when the top eight finalists sang Darlene Zschech’s “Shout to the Lord.” The performance left some viewers miffed because the phrase “my Jesus” in the lyrics was replaced with “my shepherd” when the tune was first performed by the contestants.

Despite a prevalence of Christian contestants, “Idol” has not become a religious experience in the vein of “Gospel Dream,” the Gospel Music Channel’s “Idol”-like competition. Allen, for example, has spent all his screentime singing Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson tunes. Unlike Gokey, he’s not mentioned his religious background on the show.

Shatswell, who first met Allen during a church mission trip to Spain and has known him for about five years, says he understands the moral balance Allen must strike on “Idol,” especially after Paula Abdul gushed last week that Allen was “adorable/sexy,” and Simon Cowell teased the smiley newlywed for introducing “the wife” so early in the competition.

“I know he’s a good-looking guy,” says Shatswell. “Obviously, I was aware people were going to notice that — and they have. If it gains him votes and favor, then I’m all for it.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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