"Probably the night before [I was eliminated], after I got done performing I was like, 'It's over,'" Mercado told reporters during a Thursday conference call.
"I got too many bad comments from the judges to keep me there. At this point in the game, you couldn't have that many bad comments and still be there. So I expected what was, and I moved on. I made peace with it. I couldn't be happier right now. I don't feel defeated, I don't feel like I failed. There's only that greatness that can come from here on out."
The 21-year-old Miami, FL resident was ousted from Idol's seventh season after 56 million home viewer votes were cast immediately following Tuesday night's live performance broadcast that saw the Top 3 finalists each sing three songs -- judge's choice, contestant's choice and producers' choice.
"Success is different for every person, and for me, this was very successful -- making it to Top 3," Mercado told reporters. "I made it in my eyes. I set a goal and I got there and I'm very, very, very happy. I'm at peace. I feel like I've made it and only great things can come from here on out."
While Mercado's first performance on Tuesday night -- "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keys -- received positive feedback from the judges, her rendition of "Fever" by Peggy Lee did not.
Both Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul thought it was an odd choice for Mercado to make, and Simon Cowell commented she would "probably regret that decision" and called it "quite a lame cabaret performance."
"I wanted to do a song that was performance-driven," explained Mercado, who used a chair as a prop during the performance. "I mean I had other choices in mind, but I couldn't do them. Maybe if I had a chance to do them, I wouldn't have gotten that comment. But you go with the flow. If you can't do something, you do something else. So I did that song and I have no regrets. It worked out the way it was supposed to work out."
For her third Tuesday night performance, Mercado sang "Hit Me Up" by Gia Farrell, which was chosen by the Idol producers and panned by the judges -- with Abdul commenting she was unsure "if it's going to be good enough to get into the finals ofAmerican Idol."
Mercado said the only reason she had heard the song before is because it's from the Happy Feet soundtrack and her nieces and nephews watch the movie "over and over and over again."
"It's not like I could change it, so I had to try to make the best of it," she told reporters of the producer's song selection for her. "I'm very optimistic and positive, and whenever something comes in my way like, 'Oh my gosh that's horrible! It's not going to work!' I block it all out. I'm like, 'What can I do to turn this into something positive.' I tried to do my very best."
Mercado found herself among the bottom vote getters five times before she was eventually eliminated, but she told reporters she never let that deter her.
"Every week is new, and I never packed my bags," she said. "They told us, 'Go pack your bags.' I'm like, 'I'm not packing my bags. I don't want to go home yet. I'm not ready.' Every week I set a goal, and I just wasn't ready to go home. I didn't pack my bags because I wasn't ready."
The wishful thinking worked until Mercado was cut on the cusp of the finals, which will be the first time two guys have faced off since Idol's second season, in which Ruben Studdard defeated Clay Aiken by a razor-thin voting margin.
While home viewers have seemed to favor this year's male finalists -- a point previously oustedIdol seventh-season finalist Carly Smithson made to reporters during her exit interview -- Mercado said she didn't let the voting trend bother her.
"I'm never focused on what everybody wants because what everybody wants is going to be obvious in the end, so what's the point of pointing it out or assuming," she explained. "It is what it is and whoever wins, that's who's supposed to win. I never focused on that. I just was proud of myself of making this far and being the last girl standing. I'm honored to have a great opportunity like this."
Check back with Reality TV World on Friday for more from Mercado's exit interview, including what she credits her weekly improvements to; what both Archuleta and Cook individually bring to the table; how Idol compares to her stint on ABC's The One reality competition series; and what she hopes to do with her career as a performer.