'American Idol' reveals the eighth season's first three Top 12 finalists
By John Bracchitta, 02/19/2009
American Idol determined its first three eighth-season finalists last night, with Wednesday night's live results show revealing that Alexis Grace, Michael Sarver and Danny Gokey had advanced to the Top 12 finals after receiving the most home viewer votes for their performances during Tuesday night's broadcast of the season's first semifinals group.
Unlike American Idol's seventh-season semifinals rounds which began with 24 semifinalists and determined the season's Top 12 finalists by cutting the two male and two female semifinalists that had received the fewest home viewer votes after each of the semifinals' three performance rounds, Idol's eighth season is dividing the season's 36 semifinalists into three performance groups and advancing each group's top male vote-getter, top female vote-getter, and the next-highest vote-getter to the season's Top 12 finals.
American Idol host Ryan Seacrest revealed each semifinalist's fate during an hour-long results show that also included a Group 1 semifinalists group performance of "I'm Yours" and a duet of "The Letter" by Idol seventh-season alums Michael Johns and Carly Smithson.
According to Seacrest, over 24 million home-viewer votes were cast after Tuesday night's broadcast -- almost 10 million more votes than last year's first seventh-season semifinals performance show.
"I hate this part... watching it on TV is even tough," Grace, a 21-year-old from Memphis, TN, told Seacrest after coming onstage to learn her fate. After learning she had made it through to the Top 12, Grace began crying.
"Oh my gosh this is awesome." she exclaimed. "Thank you so much!"
Grace had wowed the judges on Tuesday with her performance of Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)."
"You've found the dirt, you've found the soul," judge Randy Jackson told her. "People usually say to sing the blues you've got to find some pain and live through some pain. Yo man, you worked it out. I'm loving you right now!"
New Idol judge Kara DioGuardi agreed, and added that she had already become a "new girl" since her first audition.
"You released something inside, and it has been a pleasure to watch you come out of your shell," she told Grace.
"What people don't expect is at your young, tender age of 21 that you have the ability to present so much soul, so much passion, so much confidence," Paula Abdul added. "It's strange to look at how cute and petite you are and what's inside of you is so large. It's fantastic. You have that quiet confidence that I love."
Simon Cowell had called Grace a "dark horse" in the competition and compared his initial impression of her to the one he had of first-season Idol champion Kelly Clarkson.
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"You actually do have soul. You make the point... which is if you have self-belief and you have confidence, then it starts to become comfortable to us," he said.
Upon coming onstage with Desai to find out his fate, Sarver did not hesitate to reveal that he was feeling nervous about the decision.
"My heart is pounding out of my chest, and all that goes through my head is tomorrow's another day if not, and tomorrow really another day if I am," he told Seacrest.
After being revealed as the second semifinalist to make the Top 12, Sarver a 27-year-old from Jasper, TX, joked that his co-workers at the oil rig he worked at were either proud of him or a little tickled by the situation.
"Well, they're either making fun of me for being a sissy or they're proud," he said with a laugh.
Seacrest added that only 20,000 home-viewer votes had separated Sarver from Desai.
Sarver's Tuesday night performance of Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Wanna Be" had received a lukewarm reception from the judges.
"The good parts about it is you've definitely got an instrument, you can definitely sing," Jackson told him. "But it started out a little rough pitch-wise, the first verse was a little weird. I remember you doing the whole soul thing, I might like you a little better on the soul thing."
"That's a great crowd-pleaser song. Everybody loves to dance to it. But the thing is I don't think that was your best performance. You've got more in you," DioGuardi added. "What I like about it is you're singing something that is true to you. That's what's really great about you, you're likable because you are who you are -- you connect with the audience. But that wasn't the best. I've seen you do better."
Abdul, had given the most unusual review of Sarver's performance, only taking issue with the fact that he had switched the hand he was holding his microphone in during the performance.
"Bo Bice sang that song, Elliott Yamin sang that song, Chris Richardson sang that song -- it shows you it's a great song. Gavin DeGraw's a great artist, he's a fan of the show, and I'm sure you did him proud," she told him.
Cowell said it was "tricky" to judge Sarver's performance because of his intense likability. However, he maintained that his performance had not been strong.
"I'm not going to lie to you and say this was the best vocal I've ever heard because it wasn't. We've heard a lot worse tonight having said that. So I think if you get through, it's because people like you," he said.
Gokey, a 28-year-old from Milwaukee, WI, came onstage with Del Toro and to find out his fate and was a man of few words when asked how he was feeling by Seacrest.
"I just wanna find out," he said.
Upon hearing that he had made it through. Gokey threw his arms up in excitement as Del Toro broke into tears.
Gokey sang Mariah Carey's "Hero" on Tuesday's show and earned rave reviews from the judges.
"The redeemer of the night right here! That was blazing hot!" Jackson told him.
"Danny, you are the hero man! That was incredible," added an excited DioGuardi. "You give us all hope, you were great! Great!"
"Danny, you are stellar," Abdul said. "I have two words, with a hyphen: 'sold-out arenas.'"
Cowell was slightly less impressed with Gokey's performance, but still was complimentary enough to keep a smile on Gokey's face.
"I thought it was good. It wasn't fantastic, it was good. The end part was great, the beginning was okay," Cowell told him. "The arrangement was a bit heavy-handed. You are a very, very good singer. I like you, I'm just not buying the hype right now."