Shock. Total shock. That was the reaction in the audience when “American Idol” finalist Chris Daughtry — predicted by many to be the last singer standing — was booted off in Wednesday's voting.
In the most competitive “Idol” race yet, Daughtry's exit narrowed the contestants to three. The winner will be named May 24.
“Surprised?” Host Ryan Seacrest asked an unsmiling Daughtry, visibly caught off guard.
The 26-year-old rocker, drowned out by loud boos and screams of “No!” replied: “Yes.”
The other “Idols” stood speechless, mouths agape. Even the judges — usually unflappable — didn't foresee Daughtry's ouster: Simon Cowell's jaw fell slack; Paula Abdul's eyes filled with tears.
And she still hasn't recovered.
The next day, on Ryan's radio show, Chris spoke about why he thought he got the boot.
“I think possibly people thought it was a shoe-in and that they didn't have to vote,” Chris told Ryan. “I'm just hoping some big things will happen in the future and nobody forgets about me after the show, you know.”
Access' own Nancy O'Dell also had a live one-on-one radio chat with Ryan about America's most talked about ousting.
“We’ve got to talk about this Chris thing. Chris Daughtry because I think we are all, all wearing black today in honor of Chris,” Ryan said. “We are mourning.”
“I got to the studio a couple of hours before the show went live,” Ryan said. “Went into an office, shut the door, I was told that he was leaving. I was shocked. I was stunned I couldn't believe it.”
But did Ryan go too far?
“You know that I think,” Nancy told Ryan. “You are one of the most incredible broadcasters anywhere.”
“Make sure you use that,” Ryan joked to the cameras. “Don't cut that out.”
“But we've got to discuss the way that it was revealed that he was going,” Nancy said. “It was a little abrupt. It was cold.”
“I was shocked when I was told,” Ryan explained. “I wanted it to resonate on the air. I really did. I wanted the audience at home to be shocked that he was leaving.”
“Paula was crying in the audience,” Nancy said. “I just want to know if she was crying backstage.”
“She was really upset,” Ryan said. “You saw on the show where she did a head dive into her own lap?”
But who's left for America to love?
“I love Taylor, but everybody else is saying, will he really sell albums?” Nancy asked.
“I think he will sell albums,” Ryan said. “You got 30 million people watching a television show. He's got a following.”
The contestants sang Elvis Presley classics — two songs each — in Tuesday night's program. Chris' cover of The King's “Suspicious Minds” drew rave reviews from judges, including Abdul, who said “See ya in the finals.”
Simon called his second performance — a rendition of “A Little Less Conversation” -- “flat” and “not as good as the first.”
Katharine McPhee, 21, had the next-lowest vote total.
Katharine, considered one of the best singers in the talent contest, stumbled with some of the lyrics in her “Hound Dog/All Shook Up” medley on Tuesday's program. Simon derided the performance as “shrieky,” comparing it to a “desperate, manic audition.”
“It hasn't been one of your best nights,” he told her.
Nearly four years since its debut, “Idol” continues to rule the ratings. It has attracted 25 million to 33 million viewers each telecast this season.
So, with the front-runner gone, what does it mean for the three remaining "Idols?"
Will it be Taylor, Elliot or Katharine?
“All the way, it's a boys' year,” Randy Jackson told Access. “The boys will win this year.”