And Then There Were Three

The remaining four finalists on the television show "American Idol," clockwise from top left, Kelly Clarkson, Justin Guarini, Tamyra Gray and Nikki McKibbin are seen in this undated handout photo. Producers of the hit Fox show "American Idol" say the talent contest is being slammed by "power dialers" trying to influence the results by making as many as 10,000 votes a night from a single phone line.
AP
Millions of viewers of Fox's "American Idol" were shocked to discover that fans' and critics' favorite, Tamyra Gray, was ousted off the show.

Gray had been one of the judges' favorites, but she and Nikki McKibbin drew the fewest number of telephone votes this week.

The judges admitted they didn't see this coming. Paula Abdul says she was shocked. Simon Cowell warned the three remaining contestants that it means any one of them could go next. Judge Randy Jackson says Tamyra will still be a big star.

American Idol went with a '80s classic theme on Tuesday that got good reviews. Gray, 23, from Tacoma Park, Md., first sang a shaky rendition of Patti LaBelle's ''New Attitutde'' and then followed that with a stronger performance of ''Feel the Fire."

"America should be really proud 'cause you are world class," Cowell announced to Gray after she heard the vote decision.

The other favorite to win the contest, Kelly Clarkson, 20, sang a sultry Celine Dion song, she was able to gain a real respect from the judges.

The voice of this native of Burleson, Texas, seemed strained during the interview section of the show.

"No one realizes how stressed your vocals are this week. The fact that you are even able to talk is a miracle," judge Simon Cowell told Clarkson during the Tuesday show.

Justin Guarini's first performance, "Get Here" was a hit. It was one of the original songs that landed him in the finals of the competition. But the 23-year-old Doylestown, Pa., native's rendition of Michael Jackson's "P.Y.T." incited an argument among the judges.

Judge Paula Abdul's said of the other judge's critique: "I think after tonight it's confirmed that Simon would critique a suicide letter." Cowell responded, "Ok, I'd also like to add: Paula — you have a comedy writer — sue him."

It was the usual show within the show that had judges verbally jousting over Cowell's sometimes-venomous statements.

Contestant Nikki McKibbin's first song, "Mary Jane" was a hit, but it was the second, "I'm the Only One," that proved she wasn't going down without a fight. The 23-year-old of Grand Prairie, Texas, was able silence most critics who questioned that she had lasted as long as she had on the show.

"Finally, in my estimation that was the perfect song for you," said Randy Jackson of McKibbin's perfomance.

The three remaining contestants now know that nothing is guranteed in the show. More than 15 million viewers watch Wednesday's American Idol and more may tune in next week to see how the remaining singers fair after the shocking twist. After next Wednesday, only two will be left standing for the series finale on Sept. 4.

The winner will be rewarded a recording contract and record a single for RCA.