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Forget about it, Melissa

‘Idol’ contestant proves it’s important to remember all the words
/ Source: contributor

It's every singer's nightmare to forget the lyrics in the middle of a song. For Melissa McGhee, that bad dream became her reality Tuesday night, and thus her stay in the "American Idol" finals was a short one.

McGhee entered the week with the least margin for error. She received the fewest number of votes of the six women in the finals, and hasn't had the screen time to build up a fanbase.  It didn't serve her well to be reminiscent of that girl from karaoke night who always gets up onstage without remembering what song she picked.

Unfortunately for McGhee, the lyrics flub was the first thing Randy Jackson mentioned in his comments, with her vocals themselves an afterthought. And while the judges praised her, and Simon Cowell even said it was her best performance on the show, it wasn't enough to win her any new fans. It was no great shock that she became the first of the 12 finalists eliminated.

The surprises were the singers who joined her in the bottom three vote-getters: Ace Young and Lisa Tucker. That even seemed to stun McGhee, who stood there onstage flanked by her rivals with an "I'm going home and I know it" look on her face.

Ace Young hasn't been great so far, but he wasn't one of the worst performers Tuesday night. His problem may have been his placement in the program — singing first of the 12 performers, two hours before anyone could actually vote. He needed to be more memorable to overcome that and he wasn't, which was a neat trick considering that "Do I Do" is a lively song that offers ample opportunity to entertain.

However, he has a shot at redemption next week because he'll sing later in the program. It's also a good sign for him that the judges seemed to treat his bottom-three status as an aberration, telling him to treat it as a wake-up call and pick better songs. Of course, since "pick better songs," is the vague and not terribly useful criticism that Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul offer every week, perhaps a little more constructive feedback would have helped.

The one who needs to worry is Lisa Tucker, who wound up onstage with McGhee once Young was sent back to safety. Tucker had a hard time getting started Tuesday night, but once she did, she seemed to have the audience on their feet. If she's in the bottom two after that performance, it's a sign that she doesn't have much of a fanbase — she'll need to remedy that in a hurry.

That's not going to be easy to do. She can develop a Southern accent, a propensity to mispronounce words and a sympathetic backstory, but Kellie Pickler's already got that covered. Paris Bennett is the happy-go-lucky teen; Katharine McPhee has the bubbly personality with the strong voice; and Mandisa is the veteran performer with the gravitas to look like she's a headliner rather than a talent-show competitor. Tucker needs to find a niche of her own in the next couple of weeks to avoid an early exit.

A night of firsts
The first "Idol" results show of the final round brought a number of other firsts to the program. It featured the first dumb product-placement video of the season (thanks Ford!), the first appearance in the studio audience of actors from another Fox series (don't lose too much of that "Idol" lead-in, "The Loop"), and the first studio performance from someone who makes you want to vote off all the finalists. Can Stevie Wonder somehow become an "Idol" contestant so he can sing every week?

It also was the shortest "Idol" of the season, at half an hour. The abbreviated timeframe kept host Ryan Seacrest on his toes — he didn't have as much time to torture the contestants, since all 12 had to be dealt with in the 20 minutes remaining after Wonder's performance. It's the exact opposite of most episodes, where Seacrest spends a good portion of his night filling the time.

Because Seacrest couldn't drag out the process, he manufactured tension by placing six contestants in pairs and telling them one was in the bottom three and one was safe. While the show doesn't announce the overall voting order, it did look a lot like he was singling out the bottom six rather than the bottom three, since Paris Bennett, Kellie Pickler, Taylor Hicks, Chris Daughtry, Mandisa and Katharine McPhee were told they were safe with no fuss at all.

The first pairing was Young and Kevin Covais. Covais was in the bottom three of his second semifinal heat, so it's a major upset that he's still around at all, much less that he's apparently among the top nine vote-getters.

It may be because he's become more combative in recent weeks, or because some Web campaigns to vote for the "worst" have targeted Covais, but either way it makes his fate a lot less predictable. Fox can't object too much, because he sparred with Simon this week and that always makes for good TV.

McGhee and Elliott Yamin were the next pair. McGhee was the obvious pick, but Yamin has had a hard time getting much of a fanbase so far. Paula Abdul may think he'll be around for a long time, but she also thinks every contestant in the history of the program has a future in music, so she isn't exactly Nostradamus. He needs to be strong each week to stay in the competition.

The final pairing was Tucker and Bucky Covington. That was also the most surprising result; Covington was the lowest vote-getter among the six men in the final 12, and while he did fine singing "Superstition," Tucker outsang him with "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours." It's hard to see where Covington's votes are coming from, but he'll be back next week.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.