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/ Source: The Associated Press

Jackie Ray watched from behind the bar at Melito’s restaurant as Elliott Yamin was bounced off “American Idol” on Wednesday night. It was a close vote.

Ray, a bartender at the restaurant where Yamin worked as a busboy and dishwasher as a teen, was among those gathered around the TV as Yamin’s exit on the Fox talent competition cleared the path for a showdown between Taylor Hicks and Katharine McPhee. The winner will be crowned May 24.

Yamin, 27, a resident of Richmond, is 90 percent deaf in his right ear and has juvenile diabetes. The blue-eyed soul singer was judge Paula Abdul’s favorite finalist.

His cousin, Chuck Lessin, said Yamin’s family, though disappointed, knew going into the competition there were no guarantees. “But, what is a guarantee is that he has started a very promising and exciting career.

“... It’s really clear to me that Elliott’s music and his voice move people in a way that is very different than anything I’ve ever seen.”

Mia Gomes, 28, who was among those at Melito’s on Wednesday, thought of her 11-year-old daughter Cierra, who, like Yamin, has Type I diabetes.

“He’s had an amazing run and he’ll do well no matter what,” Gomes said. “I think he made it this far because he has such an incredible voice, an original voice.”

Yamin moved to Richmond when he was 10. He honed his talent by making the rounds doing karaoke at local restaurants before his August audition in Boston. Some — including tough-to-please judge Simon Cowell — called Yamin the show’s best male singer, but questioned his stage persona and star quality.

Yamin is featured on the “American Idol: Season 5 Encores” album, due out May 23. He will perform on the 41-city “American Idols” tour, which will be in Richmond on July 29.