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Image: Casey Abrams
Michael Becker  /  Fox
On March 24, Casey Abrams was eliminated from "American Idol," but the judges opted to save him, which stunned the singer.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 5/24/2011 11:33:07 AM ET 2011-05-24T15:33:07
Opinion

The 10th season of “American Idol” has had enough memorable moments to revitalize the Fox franchise at a crucial time in its history. New judges, a talented group of finalists and unpredictable outcomes have made this one of the most entertaining seasons in its decade-long run. Here are 10 of the highlights heading into the finale.

1. Welcome to ‘Idol,’ Steven Tyler!
The Aerosmith frontman was the incoming judge who raised a lot of eyebrows before the season even began. Nobody really knew what he had to offer or how he would react when evaluating contestants. But he didn’t take long to show what he’d contribute: a generally positive and rarely filtered irreverence that marked a huge change from the ultra-serious foursome of judges a year ago.

When he greeted Scotty McCreery’s audition with “Hellfire, save matches, f--- a duck and see what hatches,” it made no sense and caused everyone — including the other judges — to get that “what in the heck just happened?” expression. It was also humorous, supportive and fun, which accurately describes what Tyler has been all season — Paula Abdul with messier hair, a fouler mouth and a more colorful wardrobe.

Story: 'Idol' finale live chat with Craig Berman
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2. ‘Baby lock the door ...’
If there’s one song that McCreery is known for, it’s Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” but it’s mostly just the one phrase. “Baby lock the door and turn the lights down low” was our introduction to the McCreery baritone at his first audition, and he’s been turning his voice down low ever since.

Now we’ve heard him sing those lyrics about a thousand times, thanks to the ubiquitous footage of that audition and his use of it again in Hollywood. Though it did not impress Jordan Dorsey when McCreery was looking for friends on group-sing day, the unexpected sound of that voice coming out of that face is a big reason why McCreery is in the finale.

Randy's 'Idol' pick: Scotty has slight edge

3. Meeting Lauren Alaina
The 16-year-old was a beneficiary of the decision to lower the age limit for auditioners to 15, and the first impression she offered was one of precocious confidence. The judges brought her family in to watch her sing, and she belted out “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” Then she threw it to Steven Tyler, who took the baton ... and liked what he had heard.

“I think we found the one today, We found it. Oh yes we did,” Tyler said after those Nashville auditions.

We’ll soon find out if he was correct.

4. Burying Thia Megia — or not
We’ve seen hints of the exasperating tasks of the “Idol” vocal coaches in the past, but by and large they’ve been portrayed as gentle helpers. Peggi Blu, on the other hand, showed the motivational stylings of Cobra Kai sensei John Kreese when she was unhappy at Thia Megia’s preparation for her performance in Las Vegas.

Story: Drama! 'Idol' is unpredictably shocking this year

“Guess what. You’re gonna die on stage in front of all those people,” Blu told the 15-year-old. “I’m going to be laying in my bed watching you just croak.

“Bury her a-- onstage. Stomp right down on her tongue,” Blu then told a dumbfounded Melinda Ademi, who was sharing the stage with Megia. “I think you (Megia) 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.”

Megia made the final 13. No word on how that crow tasted.

Vote: Who will win 'American Idol'?

5. The unkindest cut
Chris Medina was one of the inspirational audition stories that “American Idol” finds every year. His fiancée Juliana Ramos suffered brain damage in a car accident and is confined to a wheelchair, but Medina cares for her and says she is his inspiration. The judges met her at his audition, which made an impression on both them and her.

“If you ask (Juliana) 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,” Medina said while awaiting his semifinal verdict.

Unfortunately, that verdict wasn’t good. Medina did not make the final 24, and Jennifer Lopez broke down in tears after giving him the news and watching him leave the room. “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 anymore.” But clearly she did want to keep doing it, since she’s still filling that seat in the finale.

6. The Hulkster takes the stage
Professional wrestling, and in particular the legendary Hulk Hogan, had a following in the “Idol” house this season. James Durbin was a particularly big fan, with Paul McDonald another aficionado.

So when Ryan Seacrest called the two singers onstage during the elimination episode and told them they were both in trouble only to have Hogan emerge, the instant 180-degree change of expression on Durbin’s face was priceless. And not only did Durbin get Hogan’s ripped shirt as a souvenir, the audience got to watch the Hulkster shove Ryan into the crowd.

Story: The secrets behind 'American Idol's' incredible comeback

Well, “shove.” This was, after all, both pro wrestling and “American Idol.”

7. Spending the save early
The judges’ save is always memorable, but it was particularly notable in season 10 because of how early they used it and the scene that ensued.

Casey Abrams was the biggest personality on “Idol” this season, as well as its most unique voice and irreverent character. Oh, and he also had health issues early in the competition that sent him to the hospital twice. So when the judges used their save on him three weeks into the finals and he collapsed in relief and shock onstage, there was the added drama of wondering whether paramedics would have to be called.

Abrams was shocked, he said, because he never expected the save to be used so early. That use would prove to be significant a couple of weeks later.

8. The stunning exit of Pia Toscano
Pia Toscano was one of the early favorites, with the only minor criticism from the judges focusing on her reliance on ballads. She went up-tempo one time, singing “River Deep, Mountain High,” and the voters showed they disagreed with the judges by sending her home. And those judges were not happy. “I’m shocked. I’m angry. I don’t even know what to say,” J.Lo fumed.

“I’m with Jennifer. We’re all in shock. I’m gutted. You’re one of the best singers in this. I’m never upset on this show, but this makes me mad. Really mad,” Randy chimed in.

That’s what happens when you blow the save in March. But considering the buzz that surrounded Toscano following her exit, odds are good it won’t end her chance at stardom.

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9. Reinhart loses her cool
Criticism was usually hard to find this season, but Haley Reinhart got negative feedback more than most. And on April 28, she finally lost patience.

On that results episode, Jimmy Iovine offered his impression of each of the contestants. For Reinhart, his opinion was, “As an artist, Haley’s problem is that she really doesn’t know who she is yet. My prediction is that the audience is getting wind tonight. And if she goes home tonight it will be because of that.”

To which the exasperated Reinhart responded with an expletive that put the Fox censors to work. And then she went on to stick around. She knows what she is now — this season’s third-place finisher.

10. So much for the metal revival
Durbin was one of the livelier performers to take the stage this season, and when he exited in early May to finish in fourth place, the show was a little bit duller because of his absence.

“I did so much stuff that’s never been done on this show before,” Durbin said as he exited. “In my mind, I did what I came here to do and that is to give metal a chance.”

Consider the lack of metal on the airwaves these days. The fact that he finished in fourth with that kind of strategy says a lot about both his talent and fan appeal.

Craig Berman is a frequent contributor to TODAY.com. Follow him on Twitter @CraigBerman  as he live tweets each episode. Also, join him on May 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET to chat about the finale results.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

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Photos: Top 13

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  1. 'American Idol' season 10

    The final two

    16-year-old Lauren Alaina, left, and Scotty McCreery, 17, will compete for the "American Idol" crown on Tuesday, May 24. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Getting the bad news

    A stunned Haley Reinhart, center, learns from Ryan Seacrest, right, that her "American Idol" run is over on Thursday, May 19. Lauren Alaina, left, advances to the final. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Si!

    Italian singing sensation Il Volo perform on "American Idol" on Thursday, May 19. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. One more time

    Haley Reinhart sings her farewell song, "Bennie and the Jets," after being eliminated on Thursday, May 19. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Unlikely duo

    Nicole Scherzinger performs her new single, “Right There,” with 50 Cent on the show Thursday, May 19. Scherzinger will be one of the hosts on Simon Cowell's new show, "X Factor." (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Hometown girl

    Lauren Alaina appears at an AT&T superstore in Chattanooga, Tenn., during the homecoming celebration for "American Idol" finalist on Saturday, May 14. (Chris Mckay / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Smile, smile, smile

    Lauren Alaina waves to her many friends, fans and supporters as she rides by in a red convertible during a parade in Rossville, Ga., on Saturday, May 14. (Jenna Walker / Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. She holds the key

    Finalist Haley Reinhart was given the key to the city of Wheeling, Ill., during her homecoming celebration on Saturday, May 14. (Timothy Hiatt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Center of attention

    "American Idol" finalist Haley Reinhart is welcomed by her hometown with a parade and ceremony during Haley Reinhart Day in Wheeling, Ill., on Saturday, May 14. (Paul Beaty / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Get to work!

    "American Idol" finalist Scotty McCreery bags groceries at Lowes Food Store in Garner, N.C., on Saturday, May 14. (Steve Exum / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Any requests?

    Scotty McCreery performs at an outdoor concert for local fans at his homecoming celebration at Buffaloe Park in Garner, N.C., on Saturday, May 14. (Steve Exum / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The final 3

    After the Thursday, May 12 elimination on "American Idol," Haley Reinhart, left, Scotty McCreery, center, and Lauren Alaina remain in the competition. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The bad news

    Ryan Seacrest, right, tells James Durbin, left, that he has been eliminated, as Scotty McCreery learns that he is safe for another week. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Last song

    Following his elimination on Thursday, May 12, James Durbin sang the Paul McCartney song, "Maybe I'm Amazed," which he sang during the second week of the live finals. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Enrique Iglesias

    Enrique Iglesias performs his new single, "Dirty Dancer," from the "American Idol" stage on Thursday, May 12. The singer announced his new tour, in support of his album, "Euphoria." (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Jordin Sparks

    Former winner Jordin Sparks performed her single, "No Air," on "American Idol" on Thursday, May 13. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The final four contestants on season 10 of "American Idol," from left, Haley Reinhart, Scotty McCreery, James Durbin and Lauren Alaina. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Out of Lusk

    Jacob Lusk hugs judge Jennifer Lopez onstage after being eliminated on "American Idol" on Thursday, April 5. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Look who's 'On the Floor'

    Jennifer Lopez shows the hopefuls how it's done as she performs her single "On the Floor" on Thursday, April 5. Her new album "Love?" debuted this week. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Time to go

    Jacob Lusk sings his farewell song after being eliminated. CTODAY.com's Craig Berman says, as Mentor Jimmy Iovine saw it, Lusk looked and sounded nervous, and "when you lose confidence, everybody knows it." (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Lady night

    Country trio Lady Antebellum performs the new single "Just a Kiss" on "American Idol" on Thursday, April 5. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. High five

    The final five contestants on season 10 of "American Idol," clockwise from top left, James Durbin, Lauren Alaina, Jacob Lusk, Scotty McCreery and Hayley Reinhart. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Leave 'em wanting more

    Casey Abrams, left, gets the word from Ryan Seacrest that he's been eliminated from "American Idol" on Thursday, April 28. The recipient of the only judges' save this season, Abrams went out in style with a rendition of "I Put a Spell on You" that ranks as the best exit number ever, says TODAY.com's Craig Berman. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Knock their Sox off

    Season nine runner-up Crystal Bowersox performs her new single "Riding With Radio" on "American Idol" on Thursday, April 28. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Let's get 'Lazy'

    Singer Bruno Mars performs "Lazy Song" on 'Idol" on Thursday, April 28. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Six shooting for the top

    The final six contestants on season 10 of "American Idol," from left: Haley Reinhart, Scotty McCreery, James Durbin, Lauren Alaina, Casey Abrams and Jacob Lusk. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Last of the wild cards

    Stefano Langone sings his final song after being eliminated on "American Idol" on Thursday, April 21. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. What planet ... ?

    Kanye West, right, joins Katy Perry for her single "E.T." on "Idol" on Thursday, April 21. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Hello, it's 'Goodbye'

    Season seven winner David Cook performs his new song "The Last Goodbye." (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Lucky 7

    The final seven contestants on season 10 of "American Idol," clockwise from left: Haley Reinhart, James Durbin, Stefano Langone, Jacob Lusk, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina and Casey Abrams. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. First guy to go

    Paul McDonald, center, waves goodbye as he is eliminated on "American Idol," marking the first time this season that a man was voted off the program. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. 'California' dreamin'

    Sporting long red locks again, Rihanna performs her new single "California King Bed" on "Idol" Thursday night. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. The champ is back

    Season one "Idol' winner Kelly Clarkson performs the duet "Don’t You Wanna Stay" with Jason Aldean. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Is this eight enough?

    The final eight contestants on season 10 of "American Idol," clockwise from left, Jacob Lusk, Haley Reinhart, Paul McDonald, Srefano Langone, Casey Abrams, Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina and James Durbin. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. One for the judges

    Pia Toscano sings after being eliminated on "American Idol" on Thursday, April 7.

    The judges didn't take the cut from fans well. “I’m shocked. I’m angry. I don’t even know what to say,” J.Lo ranted.

    "I’m gutted. You’re one of the best singers in this. I’m never upset on this show, but this makes me mad. Really mad,” Randy Jackson told the tearful Toscano.

    "A mistake is one thing, but lack of passion is unforgivable. They’re wrong. She’s beautiful when she sings -- she’s a bird,” Steven Tyler added. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Something off his chest

    Iggy Pop struts his stuff in front of the judges' table while performing on "Idol" on Thursday, April 7. (Michael Becker / FOX) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Nine alive

    The final nine contestants on season 10 of "American Idol," clockwise from bottom right: Haley Reinhart, James Durbin, Pia Toscano, Casey Abrams, Jacob Lusk, Stefano Langone, Paul McDonald, Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Two not for the show

    Naima Adedapo, left, and Thia Megia bid farewell after being eliminated on Thursday, March 31. The first four singers eliminated this season have been women, thanks to the judges’ use of the save on Casey Abrams last week. (Michael Becker  / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Diva style

    Fantasia returned to "Idol" stage and "took it back old school" for a performance of "Collard Greens and Cornbread" on Thursday, March 31. (Michael Becker  / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. 2 of out 3 ain't bad

    Thia Megia, left, Haley Reinhart, center, and Pia Toscano perform on "Idol" on Thursday, March 31. (Michael Becker  / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Oh, 'Rio'

    Jamie Foxx and will.i.am perform "Hot Wings," a song of the soundtrack to the movie "Rio." (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Strike up the band

    "Idol" contestants, from left, James Durbin, Paul McDonald, Casey Abrams and Stefano Langone perform on Thursday, March 31. MacDonald was among the lowest three vote-getters this week. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Final 10 plus one

    Usually only the top 10 Idol contestants go on to perform on "American Idol's" Live tour, but this year there will be 11. The singers are (clockwise from top left): James Durbin, Paul McDonald, Pia Toscano, Scotty McCreery, Jacob Lusk, Stefano Langone, Lauren Alaina, Casey Abrams, Naima Adedapo, Haley Reinhart and Thia Megia. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A Hulk-ing announcement

    Pro-wrestler Hulk Hogan makes a surprise appearance on "American Idol" to reveal the fates of James Durbin and Paul McDonald, who were both safe and going on tour. Hogan also gave Ryan Seacreast a pro-wrestling punch to the head, hurling him into the audience. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Jennifer Hudson returns

    Jennifer Hudson was back on the stage that made her famous to perform her new song, "Where You At?" "It feels good to be home!" she exclaimed. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Nail-biting time

    Ryan Seacrest reveals to Casey Abrams, left, and Stefano Langone who must "sing for their life." (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Saved by the judges

    Casey Abrams, who was voted off "American Idol" Thursday, reacts after being saved by judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Sugarland

    "Sugarland" took to the stage to sing “Stuck Like Glue.” (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Happy birthday, Steven

    Stevie Wonder sings to help celebrate Steven Tyler's 63rd birthday. “I’m speechless,” Tyler says. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. Eleven sent

    The final 11 contestants on "American Idol," clockwise from top left: Pia Toscano, Stefano Langone, Lauren Alaina, Paul McDonald, James Durbin, Scotty McCreery, Naima Adedapo, Jacob Lusk, Casey Abrams, Haley Reinhart and Thia Megia. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. No save tonight

    Karen Rodriguez gets the word, alongside host Ryan Seacrest, that she has been eliminated from season 10 of "American Idol" on Thursday, March 17. She did well enough in her last-chance performance to have judge Jennifer Lopez lobby the other judges for her, but not enough to earn the save. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Have a seat

    Fergie and will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas perform on "American Idol." (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. DeWyze man said ...

    Season nine winner Lee DeWyze performs on "Idol" on Thursday, March 17. Seacrest introduced him by noting that he’d gone from “salesman to superstar overnight.” (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Dozen done good

    The final 12 contestants on season 10 of "American Idol." Top row, from left: Pia Toscano (holding a Casey Abrams mask), James Durbin, Paul McDonald, Jacob Lusk and Scotty McCreery. Bottom from left: Haley Reinhart, Karen Rodriguez, Stefano Langone, Naima Adedapo, Thia Megia and Laurn Alaina. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Glow in the 'Aftermath'

    Former "American Idol" runner-up Adam Lambert performs "Aftermath" on the show on Thursday, March 10. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. A little Diddy

    Diddy-Dirty Money featuring Skylar Grey took the stage to perform "Coming Home" on Thursday night. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. First to go

    Ashton Jones, with Seacrest, is elimintaed on "Idol" on Thursday, March 10. Joining her in the bottom three were Karen Rodriguez and Haley Reinhart. (Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. The finalists

    "American Idol's" Top 13 are (bottom row from left) Paul McDonald, Ashthon Jones, Pia Toscano, Casey Abrams, Haley Reinhart and Scott McCreery. (Top row from left) James Durbin, Naima Adedapo, Jacob Lusk, Thia Megia, Karen Rodriguez, Stefano Langone and Lauren Alaina. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Casey Abrams

    Casey, a 20-year-old from Idyllwild, Calif., has fought every step of the way to continue in the competition. He was nearly eliminated during semifinals week when he had to be hospitalized for a stomach ailment two days before taping. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Thia Megia

    Thia, a 16-year-old from Mountain House, Calif., is one of the competition’s youngest hopefuls. During the semifinals, judge Steven Tyler said that her “pitch can be so perfect that it doesn’t matter what song” she sings. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. James Durbin

    James, a 22-year-old from Santa Cruz, Calif., is the only rocker in this season’s competition. His penchant for screams and his big stage personality have drawn comparisons to season eight runner-up Adam Lambert. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. Pia Toscano

    Pia, a 22-year-old from Howard Beach, N.Y., got a standing ovation during the semifinals for her performance of “I’ll Stand By You.” (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Lauren Alaina

    Lauren, a 16-year-old from Rossville, Ga., brought the crowd to its feet with Reba McEntire’s “Turn on the Radio” during the semifinal round. She first ingrained herself in America’s memory by singing Aerosmith -- with Steven Tyler -- for her initial audition. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. Jacob Lusk

    Jacob, a 23-year-old from Compton, Calif., has a smooth, soothing voice that judge Jennifer Lopez compared to crooner Luther Vandross’s. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Haley Reinhart

    Haley, a 20-year-old from Wheeling, Ill., sang “Fallin’” well, but J.Lo thought she was too stuck in her head. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  66. Paul McDonald

    Paul, a 26-year-old from Nashville, won high praise from the judges for his version of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” Judge Steven Tyler loved his style (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  67. Karen Rodriguez

    Karen, a 21-year-old from New York, gave judge Jennifer Lopez goose bumps with her Spanish version of Mariah Carey’s “Hero.” It was a move that won America’s votes during the semifinals. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  68. Scott McCreery

    Scott, a 17-year-old country crooner from Garner, N.C., was the first of the guys to become a finalist. He performed “Letters From Home” during the semifinals to clinch his spot. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  69. Ashthon Jones

    Ashthon, a 24-year-old from Nashville, was one of the judges’ wild-card picks. She performed “I Am Telling You” to win them over one more time. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  70. Stefano Langon

    Stefano, a 21-year-old from Kent, Wash., was the only male singer the judges picked for a wild-card spot. He performed “I Need You Now” for his last-chance performance, and Steven Tyler declared that the young singer “gilded the lily of your own passion.” (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  71. Naima Adedapo

    Naima, a 26-year-old Milwaukee native, was the last of the judges’ wild-card picks. Steven Tyler said she was the new Ella Fitzgerald after she performed “Summertime” during the semifinals. (Michael Becker / Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
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