American Idol's journey ended for the first of the ninth season's 24 semifinalists last night, with Tuesday and Wednesday's initial live performance shows culminating in a Thursday night results show that eliminated the two male and two female semifinalists who had received the fewest votes from home viewers.

Ashley Rodriguez and Janell Wheeler were eliminated from the season's female semifinalists group while Joe Munoz and Tyler Grady were cut from the male semifinalists, leaving 20 singers to compete in next week's second semifinals round.

Wheeler, a 24-year-old wine sales representative from Tampa, FL, was the first semifinalist to learn her American Idol fate.  She had sung Heart's "What About Love" during Tuesday night's female performance show

However American Idol's judges had been largely unimpressed, with Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi saying it was a "huge song" that was "way too big" for her and Simon Cowell remarking that Wheeler had probably only "delivered about 65%."

"I had a feeling.  [It was] definitely the wrong song choice.  I messed up in Hollywood Week.  I really wanted a chance to play my guitar and do what I do best one more time but I'm just so grateful to be here among such talent," Wheeler told American Idol host Ryan Seacrest following her ouster.  "These girls are just fantastic and I love the guys.  It's been amazing."

"So is it going to be a girl or a guy [winner] this year?" Seacrest asked.

"I'm going to stick with my girls!" Wheeler replied.

Rodriguez, a 22-year-old college student from Chelsea, MA, was the second ninth-season semifinalist to see their American Idol journey end.

Like Wheeler, Rodriguez had also sung what the judges deemed a "big song" --  Leona Lewis' "Happy."  And similar to Wheeler, the judges had largely panned it, with Jackson and DioGuardi noting it was a difficult "diva" song with a "great big vocal" that she didn't completely nail and new American Idol judge Ellen DeGeneres calling it "safe" and "predictable."

"This isn't going particularly well for you, is it?" Cowell had noted before calling the performance "clumsy" and predicting Rodriguez could be in danger of being sent home on Thursday night.

"I want to say thank you to everyone who has supported me from Day 1.  To my mom, my dad, my family.  I love you guys," Rodriguez said after Cowell's prediction proved true.

Munoz, a 20-year-old from Huntington Park, CA, was the next semifinalist to be eliminated. 

He learned his fate while standing alongside last-minute replacement semifinalist Timothy "Tim" Urban -- whose eyes burst open in disbelief upon discovering he was advancing to the next round while Munoz was going home.
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"America votes, so I wasn't expecting anything, I was just waiting for things to happen," Munoz told Seacrest when asked whether he was surprised to have been eliminated.

Munoz had performed Jason Mraz's "You and I Both" to mostly good reviews during Wednesday night's male performance show.  Jackson and DeGeneres had both described the performance "good," while DioGuardi had called it "the best" of the six performances the judges had heard to date. 

However Cowell had called it "okay, safe, [and] forgettable" and warned that it would be long forgotten by the time the broadcast ended and the show's voting lines opened.

Grady -- a 20-year-old from Nazareth, PA who had seemed to draw more attention for 1970's rocker look and wardrobe than his singing during the competition's prior audition phases -- was the last semifinalist to be eliminated. 

He had sung The Guess Who's "American Woman" on Wednesday night, however the all four judges had criticized it as style over substance.

"You come [across] a lot as somebody who has gone to 'Pretend to Be a Rock Star' school.  It's all a bit cliqued, it doesn't feel natural.  It is a singing competition and I don't think you're spending enough time concentrating on your vocals," Cowell had said.

"Yeah, I feel similar to Simon.  It's like Jim Morrison is all up in your room, all over the walls or something.  There's an obsession kind of with the 70's," DioGuardi added.

"It definitely was style over substance and I think you've done this every time we've seen you," Jackson said.

Even the thus-far typicallly less critical DeGeneres had joined in.

"I feel like you've got the poses and you're copying those poses but you're lacking the charisma and your lacking that kind of excitement.  You're kind of just going through all of the motions without really being that person," she said.

Grady voiced his frustration about the matter after his elimination was announced on Thursday.

"I really like all the judges.  I've really had a great time with them," he told Seacrest. "But I feel like I didn't really get much constructive criticism during Hollywood Week, and I feel like what they told me was a little bit too late.  But, you know... hindsight is 20/20."

"Good point," Cowell was shown silently remarking as he nodded.

Similar to Urban's reaction, Grady's ouster came as a shock to Alex Lambert, the other semifinalist who was still in danger of elimination before Grady's exit was revealed.

"Yes!  Oh my god," the 19-year-old high school student from North Richland Hills, TX yelled as he clutched his head before the broadcast's audio appeared to be briefly censored as he hugged Grady.

Two more semifinals rounds will determine American Idol's Top 12 ninth-season finalists.

Next Tuesday, the ten remaining female semifinalists -- Didi Benami, Crystal Bowersox, Lacey Brown, Michelle Delamor, Katelyn Epperly, Siobhan Magnus, Paige Miles, Lilly Scott, Katie Stevens, and Haeley Vaughn -- will once again sing live in a special two-hour American Idol broadcast on Tuesday, March 2 at 8PM ET/PT.

Then it's once again guy's night, with the ten remaining male semifinalists -- Lee Dewyze, Andrew Garcia, Todrick Hall, Casey James, Aaron Kelly, Lambert, Michael Lynche, John Park, Jermaine Sellers, and Urban --  performing live in a special two-hour American Idol broadcast on Wednesday, March 3  at 8PM ET/PT.

After that, another two more men and two more women will be eliminated on American Idol's special live results show on Thursday, March 4 at 8PM ET/PT.

(Photo credit Frank Micelotta / FOX) About The Author: Steven Rogers
Steven Rogers is a senior entertainment reporter for Reality TV World and been covering the reality TV genre for two decades.