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Image: American Idol
Ray Mickshaw  /  Fox
Contestants Julie Zorrilla and Tim Halperin performed on the Cirque du Soleil "Love" stage at the Mirage in Las Vegas.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 2/24/2011 12:09:22 AM ET 2011-02-24T05:09:22
Recap

We’re at the point of “American Idol” where the cuts are a lot harder. Everyone in the final 61 presumably has a great voice, superior stage presence, a compelling backstory sure to garner fan support or a combination of the above. Particularly after the Vegas performances and the trimming of the roster to 40, it’s all splitting hairs.

Ten singers found out their semifinal fates on Wednesday’s episode, but the one everyone is talking about is Chris Medina. Medina got a lot of attention during his audition when he told the story of how he's standing by his fiancée after a car accident left her with brain damage and confined to a wheelchair, but he was one of the five cut on Wednesday’s episode.

“I’m just really happy that you guys met her,” Medina said before hearing the verdict. “If you ask her now what was the best time in your life, she’ll tell you Steven Tyler kissed me on the cheek, and I got to shake J.Lo’s hand and I got to meet Randy Jackson.”

Report: 'Idol' contestant hospitalized

That made the judges feel even worse when they let him go. “It honestly breaks my heart to say this, but you did not make it into the top 24,” J.Lo said. Medina took the news calmly. The superstar, as seen in the previews, had a breakdown once he left the room.

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“It was hard for me to tell him,” she said.

“You did it the best way possible,” Randy said.

“I just don’t feel like I told him in the right way ... I felt so bad,” she said. “I don’t want to do this any more.”

Next scene was host Ryan Seacrest’s voice-over asking, “Will Jennifer find the strength to continue?” Here’s betting the answer is yes.

As for Medina, he seems like a great guy. He’d have been a good bet to go a long way once the fans started voting, so I’m guessing the judges just didn’t think his vocals were close to being among the best. Perhaps they were afraid his story would carry him farther than his talent would indicate.

More bad news
Also getting sent home just before the semifinals were Hollie Cavanagh, LaKeisha Lewis, Alex Ryan and DeAndre Brackensick.

Cavanagh, however, got some very encouraging feedback on her way out, particularly from J.Lo.

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“I was outvoted here. I wanted to put you through,” she said. “I honestly think you have one of the best voices, and you belong in the top 24. In a year or two, honestly, Hollie, I feel like you could come back and win.”

She also had kind words for Brackensick: “I hate to see you go. You have a great, great chance to be a recording artist right now.”

Clearly, the judges are confident that Simon Cowell’s “X Factor” won’t steal the “Idol” spotlight, since they are planning the finalists for future seasons along with this one.

The first five in
The news was a lot better for five other hopefuls who made the seemingly endless walk to the judges’ station.

Naima Adedapo, Haley Reinhart and Ashton Jones were the first three women to make it, while Clint Jun Gamboa and the quirky but very talented Paul McDonald also got the nod.

During the final verdict, Randy again brought up the incident in which fellow contestant Jacee Badeaux was kicked out of Gamboa’s group in Hollywood. That very likely means Badeaux is going to make it as well. Otherwise, they would have been a natural pairing for the traditional last singer picked. We’ll find out for sure on Thursday.

Story: Vegas show should be a good bet for 'Idol'

Waking up in Vegas
The first hour was devoted to the Vegas performances, which featured some interesting numbers.

For the first time all season, Scottie McCreery showed he could go up an octave. J.Lo said he preferred the lower tone, but it was nice to see that he could learn another song style, and the performance with Lauren Alaina and Denise Jackson was fun to watch as they ran around a phone booth singing “Hello Goodbye.”

Pia Toscano and Holly Rodriguez went to the same New York high school and were in a group together there, so it was no shock that they looked smooth doing “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Tim Halperin and Julie Zorrilla did a nice duet that started on the keyboards and then moseyed to center stage. All in all, it was a surprisingly good series of efforts, given the lack of time to prepare.

Blu’s blue language
I’m guessing that vocal coach Peggi Blu was not consulted about lowering the age limit for the show, based on her reaction to 15-year-old Thia Megia and 16-year-old Melinda Ademi’s giggling in rehearsal.

“Guess what. You’re gonna die onstage in front of all those people,” Blu said. “I’m going to be laying in my bed watching you just croak.”

“Bury (Megia's) a-- onstage. Stomp right down on her tongue,” the crabby one then said to Ademi.  “I think you don’t know what you’re doing. Make me a liar. Show me that you know, and I will eat crow. Happily. I will put salt on it and swallow it.”

Clearly, Blu graduated from the Matt Foley School of Motivational Speaking, held in his van down by the river. But considering Megia made it to the next round and Ademi did not, here’s hoping she found a nice Vegas restaurant to put the crow on the grill for her.

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From married to eliminated
“Emotional time bomb” Ashley Sullivan was eliminated in Las Vegas, but true to form, she went out in style.

Some would argue that getting married hours before the most important musical performance of your life would be a needless distraction, but that’s not the way Sullivan rolls. She was thrilled to have the chance to get married in Vegas, and made sure her betrothed didn’t back out along the way.

“Now if you have cold feet, I don’t care. You’re going through with it. Or I’ll kill you in your sleep,” she said.

Because who doesn’t dream of getting hitched in the same chapel as Britney Spears, with the “Idol” camera guy as the witness?

The resulting performance wasn’t her best, but Sullivan had no regrets. “I got married in Vegas. How can I say ‘I wish I got more from this’?” she said.

Anyone care to bet against her reappearing at some point in the season finale?  

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington. Follow him @craigberman, where he live tweets each "Idol" show. Want to get the latest Entertainment news? Follow TODAYshow.com Entertainment on Twitter.

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