The first three of the 12 “American Idol” season eight finalists were named Wednesday, and for once the judges had nothing to complain about. Their two favorites from Tuesday night made it through, and the third had a feel-good story and was someone Simon Cowell had said deserved a second chance. Of course, that also meant saying goodbye to the drama queen and Anoop Dog, at least for another three weeks until the wild-card round.
First in the fold: Alexis Grace became the first singer to make the final 12, but even though she wowed the judges on Tuesday she was nervous. Casey Carlson and Stephen Fowler had been casually tossed aside a few moments earlier, but Grace became the first to get good news and was appropriately giddy. “This is awesome. Thank you so much!” she gushed. Not quite the edginess that the judges seemed to be asking for in the auditions, but maybe she got that out of her system on Tuesday.
Goodbye, oil rig: Michael Sarver didn’t stand out with the vocals on Tuesday, but he’s been one of the more likable contestants of the early going. That personality moved him into the final 12 in a squeaker over Anoop Desai. Overwhelmed by the honor, the oil rig roughneck had a line ready when Ryan Seacrest asked what his co-workers were thinking watching him tear up. “They’re either making fun of me for being a sissy … or they’re proud.”
The thrill of victory …: Danny Gokey was the least surprising of the three finalists named Wednesday, but he had to wait the longest to hear the news. When he got the nod, one of his people in the friends and family area backstage held up a little photo of his late wife. Now that he’s in the final 12, expect that story to come up several million more times.
…and the agony of defeat: The only person who looked surprised by Gokey’s berth in the finals was Tatiana Del Toro. All-drama Tatiana was scared to the point of silence while awaiting the news, and broke down when she learned she wasn’t picked. While Gokey sang “Hero” in jubilation, Del Toro hid behind fellow eliminated contestant Stevie Wright and wept.
In need of absentee ballots: Anoop Desai came agonizingly close to being one of the first three finalists. He fell 20,000 votes short of Sarver, which in an election with 24 million ballots cast is the equivalent of losing due to hanging chads. He can only hope that he gets another chance to get out the vote if he makes the wild-card round.
Ex-contestant sighting: Season seven also-rans Michael Johns and Carly Smithson came back to the “Idol” stage to sing “The Letter” on Wednesday. Why? Was anyone in the audience saying, “I wish that the singers who came in eighth place and sixth place last season could come back and sing for us!” All it did was kill five minutes of airtime and remind everyone why they lost.
Remember me? It wouldn’t be “Idol” without in-show promos, and the debut of The American Idol Experience attraction at Disney World got some quality airtime. All seven former champs appeared together for the first time at that event, according to Ryan. Six of them got along right away, and the seventh had to walk up to everyone and say, “I'm Taylor Hicks. I won season five. Remember?”
Don’t bother to get up: It can’t have been a surprise to Brent Keith, Ann Marie Boskovich or Stevie Wright that they didn’t make the top 12. After all, by the time their names were called, Grace and Sarver had already been named, and favorites Gokey and Del Toro still hadn’t come up. But they didn’t even get a last turn on the stage, getting the boot while standing up on the benches.
Just tell us already: When Danny Gokey and Tatiana Del Toro were onstage at the finish and Ryan asked them what was going through their minds, Del Toro gave a rambling answer that made no sense. Gokey simply said, “I just want to find out.” After an hour that featured five minutes of drama and 55 minutes of commercials and shameless padding, so did everyone else.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.