On "Idol Gives Back" week, the voters showed no charity toward one of the stronger men in the competition. The audience didn't just send in more than $60 million in donations to worthy causes, they also sent Michael Johns home in the first shocker of the season.
Johns sang Aerosmith's "Dream On" on Tuesday, and it wasn't his strongest performance. Nevertheless, it was good enough that it was a bit of a surprise that he was in the bottom three, alongside usual suspects Syesha Mercado and Carly Smithson.
It was even more surprising when host Ryan Seacrest called all three onstage and didn't immediately send one to safety. Instead, after the usual dramatic recap of the judges' comments, he told both Mercado and Smithson that they'd survived, leaving a stunned Johns and a booing crowd to process the information.
The Australian-born performer wasn't the favorite to win, and his future probably lies with a band instead of as a solo act anyway. But after a slow start, he seemed to find himself in recent weeks, moving from the danger zone to become a dark horse in the competition.
Dreams don't come true Surprises happen every year on "Idol," and this week lent itself to something unexpected. Two singers who had been struggling came through with strong performances, as Kristy Lee Cook and Jason Castro bought themselves another week of safety.
David Archuleta gave his usual strong effort, which meant the other five singers were in danger. Since nobody sang poorly enough to get slammed by the judges, it was a question of which average effort would be viewed less favorably than the rest.
David Cook didn't sing as well as Johns this week, but he's been better throughout the competition and has built a fan base big enough to carry him through. Brooke White was also uninspiring, but after an unexpected trip to the bottom three a week ago, her fans were motivated to call and keep her in the competition.
Smithson and Mercado, however, have been in and out of trouble for a month. Neither has built up enough of a following to feel secure, and either would have been an unsurprising choice to leave. Mercado somehow decided that taking on a Fantasia song was a good idea, while Smithson was told again by Simon Cowell that she looks angry when she sings. Both are usually grounds for dismissal.
However, their very vulnerability may have saved them. At this point, anyone who feels strongly about either singer knows that they need to vote early and often each week to keep the two in the competition. No recording the show to watch later, or getting sidetracked by "Hell's Kitchen."
Johns' fans may have been lulled into a sense of security, and it didn't help that he opened the show on Tuesday. Ultimately, the fact that his performance wasn't memorable did him in. Unlike last season, when charity week was a freebie and nobody was eliminated, the "Idol" hearts didn't have enough room to keep the lowest vote-getter around.
"I'm going to miss you. You're a very good singer, and a very, very nice guy," Simon said.
That may be, but Johns' "Idol" dream won't come true.