Kristy Lee Cook survived on "American Idol" much longer than most expected when the finals began. So it's ironic that the week she was eliminated was one in which she spent most of the night looking like she was safe.
With seven finalists remaining entering the results show, host Ryan Seacrest continued the recent "Idol" tradition of having three contestants line up to his right and three others to his left. Kristy Lee Cook was accompanied by David Cook and Brooke White, while the other side featured Jason Castro, Carly Smithson and Syesha Mercado. David Archuleta remained backstage.
It was obvious that one side of the stage represented safety, and the other danger. Of those six finalists, David Cook was the one singer who stood out with a strong performance on Tuesday night, and he hasn't been in the bottom three yet this season. Particularly notable was that he performed with his brother, who is critically ill with cancer, in the audience, though when Ryan mentioned how emotional Cook was after his Tuesday performance, he again eschewed the chance to ask for sympathy votes.
"There were a lot of things that happened this week that just came to a head at this moment," Cook said simply.
Standing on his side had to feel good, since it was unlikely that viewers would have picked this week to turn on him. Ryan called out Archuleta to tell him the obvious news that he was safe and then have him guess which side he should walk to, much like happens every year at this time. But before that could happen, Ryan pulled a switcheroo, flipping David Cook and Mercado.
That left the David Cook-Smithson-Castro side of the stage the overwhelming bet to advance, and though Archuleta pulled the now time-honored trick of sitting onstage and refusing to guess, Ryan quickly ended the suspense and told him which way to go. When he still wouldn't budge, David Cook sat down next to him, as a joyful Smithson and mellow Castro followed.
It was a good day for Smithson all around. She called out Simon for being unusually harsh when commenting on her singing, and Simon replied that the tough love had a purpose. "I think you're potentially great, and I just want to give you that extra push sometimes," Simon said.
No surprises That left a very unsurprising group in the bottom three. Mercado and Kristy Lee Cook have been there often enough to claim the sad side of the stage as their legal residence for tax purposes, while White was among the lowest vote-getters a week ago.
Mercado was the first to be sent back to the good side, which left Cook and White standing forlornly onstage. Cook has been the better performer of the two over the past few weeks, and she was certainly the better singer on Tuesday.
But while she's been better lately, White was stronger over the first few weeks and produced a number of memorable performances during that period. Perhaps because of that, Simon speculated that Kristy Lee would be the one going home, prompting her to offer a sad smile and note "I made it past the top 10."
White, looking like she was about to throw up from the tension, interrupted to remind everyone that Ryan actually hadn't announced the results yet. But a minute later, it was official, and White learned that she hadn't skipped her sister's wedding in vain. She'll be back next week.
If nothing else, Kristy Lee Cook leaves with a little help from the "Idol" crowd on a key issue. In the viewer question and answer session, someone asked her if she'd been able to buy back the horse she famously sold to buy the ticket to her "Idol" audition. Cook replied that sadly, the man who purchased it wasn't willing to sell it back.
That brought a round of boos from the crowd, and Ryan tried to make one final pitch as he closed the show. "And to that guy … can she get her horse back?" he asked. It's the least he could do, since Kristy Lee Cook now has a little extra time to ride it.