Judges disagree with two of ‘Idol’ finalists

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/ Source: msnbc.com contributor
By By Craig Berman

Warning: This story reveals who was voted off on the March 8 "American Idol" episode. Don't read if you don't want to know.

As anyone who follows politics knows, strange things sometimes happen when Americans vote. And in the case of “American Idol,” the judges would like a partial recount.

Thursday’s results show revealed — and the four voted off. It also unveiled a charity effort where “Idol” looks to fight poverty both in Africa and the United States, which regrettably will take the form of a special performance by the remaining Idols and a star-studded musical ensemble rather than simply having people pay to see the judges and Ryan attack each other with whatever weapons show sponsors would pay to have handy.

Two of the four singers ousted were relatively unsurprising. It was a kindness to send Antonella Barba home — the 20-year-old has been through enough already, given all the buzz over the that appeared all over the Internet. The whole hullabaloo undoubtedly mortified her, embarrassed the show, and once again caused Rosie O’Donnell to inject herself into the reality TV landscape for no apparent reason other than the fact that more people watch “Idol” than “The View.”

Apart from the titillation of teenage boys hoping that more real or made-up pictures would surface if she stuck around longer, there was no reason to keep Barba around. Nor was there a strong argument to vote for Jared Cotter, the first of the two men eliminated. He never was able to come through with a standout performance, and fell further behind the leaders each week. It wasn’t hard to guess that he was in serious trouble.

But the final two to exit the show were stunners. Sanjaya Malakar once again made it through despite not being very good, with Sundance Head going home instead. And Haley Scarnato somehow stood out enough to stay instead of Sabrina Sloan, who had been considered by the judges to be among the favorites to win the competition entirely.

The bland and the beautifulThe vote was most shocking because in the latter two cases, blandness won out over entertainment value.

Head was sometimes very good and sometimes awful, but it was always fun to watch him perform. He clearly wanted the opportunity very badly, and seemed to be emerging from a funk that saw him struggle both in Hollywood and the first semifinal heat. While he wasn’t a threat to win it all, it wasn’t hard to envision a scenario where he built up a Taylor Hicks-like following and stuck around for awhile.

As for Sloan, she becomes the most talented contestant ever voted off before the finals. Simon had anointed her as one of the four favorites, along with Melinda Doolittle, LaKisha Jones, and Stephanie Edwards.

But he also likened her effort on Wednesday’s show to a hotel resort performance, and the judges’ tepid praise helped cost her a spot in the final 12. She also had a hard time separating herself stylistically from Doolittle, Jones, and Edwards.

And finally, there’s that quota system. Sloan left because two women had to go – that’s the rules. It’s hard to see where she’d have been in danger if she’d been competing against the guys, and her star potential is much greater than all but perhaps a couple of the six men remaining. But that’s not how the show works.

For almost everyone else, the suspense was lifted early. Nine of the 12 finalists knew their fate before the show was barely halfway over.

As has become custom, the 16 semifinalists began on one side of the stage, with 12 empty chairs on the other. This time around, host Ryan Seacrest didn’t waste a whole lot of time making people wait.

LaKisha Jones and Blake Lewis were the first two sent over to the safe side. Then came Chris Sligh, Jordin Sparks and Phil Stacey.

Cotter got his bad news, but then it was back to the winners. Melinda Doolittle and Brandon Rogers officially went from backup singers to headliners. Gina Glocksen and Chris Richardson sailed to safety. Just like that, nine of the 12 spots were filled, and only one person was kicked out.

That left six remaining semifinalists for the three spots, and “Idol” did a nice job of keeping everyone guessing. Each of the three others selected to the final 12 looked shocked.

Stephanie Edwards was paired onstage with Barba, and had an annoyed look on her face, probably figuring that even though she was the more talented of the two, she couldn’t match Barba’s buzz. Yet she stayed, and Barba, the "Idol" who's been in the news the most this year went home.

Haley Scarnato is still waiting for her first kind word from Simon, and seemed resigned to being voted off when she was paired with Sloan for the final spot among the women. Instead, she got to cry tears of joy instead, while Sloan pursed her lips in disgust.

Sanjaya Malakar is a pro at this already. Every week he lands in the final two, as though the show is trying to make everyone feel guilty that he’s still around: “See America! We have him and this other guy left, and you voted to keep HIM and send the talented person home instead. You should be ashamed of yourselves!”

But it’s the television viewers, not the judges, who make the decisions. And if they decide they like torturing Malakar by keeping him around to get more abuse from the judges, Simon can't do anything to stop it.