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'Idol': Eliminated Contestant Not 'Surprised'

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May 18, 2012 | 4:38am EDT

ALTAnd then there were two! Only a week shy of the American Idol finale, the audience at CBS Television City was privy to must-see TV when Ryan Seacrest announced that soul singer Joshua Ledet would not be returning to the competition. That’s right, fan girl favorite, Phillip Phillips, and the one the judges saved, Jessica Sanchez, are your Top 2. Stunned?

The audience and Idol staff certainly was. From my seat inside the theater, I can tell you this was the most emotional elimination of the season, bar none. From grown women sobbing in the row behind me to stage manager, Debbie Williams, wiping away her own tears, it’s a wonder that Joshua could even make it through, much less nail, his final performance of “It’s A Man’s World.” With his swan sang, Joshua not only received one last standing ovation from the judges but also seemed to leave an indelible impression on everyone in the room.

After the cameras stopped rolling, Phillip grabbed the mike and proclaimed, “If that’s not singing, I don’t know what is.” And the audience couldn’t have agreed more as they cheered loudly throughout the performance. While receiving hugs from Jessica, Phillip, and the judges, Joshua finally succumbed to the emotion of the night. He was crying as executive producer Nigel Lythgoe patted his back and told him, “Chin up, chin up!”

Backstage, a collected Joshua told me that his tears weren’t about his Idol demise. "I don't think I was upset about [my elimination] because I was super happy for Jessica and Phillip," he said. "I was definitely not upset. I felt relieved. A lot of the pressure was off of me and I feel really good. I'm not going to say I was surprised because Jessica and Phillip are amazing and have huge fan bases and they deserve it. I don't think I would have cried, but when people come up to you and try to comfort you and are hugging you then the tears start coming."

While the audience seemed shocked by Joshua’s elimination, they were equally thrilled to see Phillip and Jessica as the Top 2. As soon as Jessica was sent to safety — and, thus, the finals — the audience erupted in cheers and quickly rose to their feet. And to no one’s surprise, the judge that saved her, J. Lo, excitedly clapped. While Phillip also received a standing ovation, no one was more excited than the teenage girls surrounding me in the theater.

The fandom for Phillip and Jessica (and even Joshua) was clear from the beginning of the night. The audience cheered in agreement when Jimmy Iovine said Jessica belonged at the Grammys. (Randy Jackson and J. Lo also seemed tickled by the comment.) Even Jessica’s fellow contestants were fans as she received a few high fives and hugs from Phillip throughout the night and constantly counted on Joshua for more hugs and hand grabs.

For the second night in row, it was Phillip that sent the audience into hysterics. From screaming, “We Love You, Phillip!” to taking personal offense to his performance critiques (could you hear all the boos on TV?), his teen supporters clearly felt the contestant could do no wrong. In fact, during one commercial, Phillip joined Cory Almeida, the warm-up comic, in throwing out prizes and I spotted two girls literally fighting over a light stick just because he touched it.

It’s unusual for the eliminated contestant to get one of the loudest cheers of the night, but that is exactly what happened when Joshua took the stage to hear his feedback from last night’s performances. As the package played back, Joshua and the judges looked genuinely surprised when Jimmy admitted that he wouldn’t have given him a standing ovation, but the audience screamed like they were hearing Joshua’s songs live.

And let’s not forget the live performances, starting with the Top 3 singing The Beatles hit, “Got To Get You Into My Life.” The trio didn’t even have to sing to get the crowd’s approval — the theater gave them a standing ovation from the first note. But Idol fans are a nostalgic bunch, so there was no greater joy than seeing Season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert return to the show to sing his new song, “Never Close Our Eyes.” During his psychedelic performance, Joshua was swaying to the music as Jennifer and Randy nodded their heads to the song.

While Lisa Marie Presley’s performance of “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” looked impressive, the crowd was less than thrilled. After all, it was pre-taped. The audience went from loud cheers to virtual silence as the playback started. Live or not, the judges still loved it and the crowd did at least politely clap at the end.

It’s likely CBS Television City will be far more enthusiastic next week, when Jessica and Phillip face off in the finals. (Time for me to by earplugs!) Were you shocked that Joshua didn’t make it to the finale? Come back next week for one more week of behind-the-scenes idol intel!

[Image Credit: FOX]

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