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"American Idol" is in its final stretch, and while much of America is excited about this week's showdown between Phillip Phillips and Jessica Sanchez, I think there are a few other also-rans who really got robbed this season, contestants I would have at least liked to see get a shot at the finale. Season 11 was packed with talent, so much so that many awesome contestants--many of them, oddly, in the awesome Vegas group Groove Sauce!-- were sadly left on the sidelines this year.
Here are my picks for the 11 most-robbed contestants of "Idol" Season 11. Let's hope some of these singers get record deals anyway, or at least end up on "The Voice" or "The X Factor" in the future...
11) David Leathers Jr.
This boy wonder narrowly lost his spot in the original top 24 to Bieber lookalike Eben Franckewitz. Then, it was suspensefully announced that one bonus boy would be brought back for the live semifinals, and this announcement was followed by collage of familiar Season 11 faces--David's among them. Many viewers hoped David would be that mystery man...but instead, on the live top 13 boys' show, out came Jermaine Jones instead. The fact that Jermaine was disqualified only two weeks later, after all that hoopla, made David's near-miss all the more bittersweet. Why do I suspect "Idol" will be inviting "Mr. Steal-Your-Girl" back for Season 12?
10) Jessica Phillips
Ironically, her name was an amalgam of this season's top two finalists, but Jessica disappointingly only made it to Vegas before being cut. Jessica seemed to have everything an "Idol" frontrunner needed: a heartstring-tugging backstory (she's the caretaker for her stroke-victim boyfriend), good looks, personality, and performance skills up the wazoo. She could have been the first breakout female R&B Idol in many years, and if she'd been selected for the top 25, there may have been a different "Jessica" or "Phillips" in this season's finale.
9) Angie Zeiderman
A goofy Gaga fangirl that kind of reminded me of Frenchie from Grease, this Broadway baby brazenly busted in declaring, "It is time for a vintage glitter queen on 'American Idol'!" Truer words had never been spoken. She started off belting out a showtune, "When You've Got It, Flaunt It" from The Producers, that was one of Season 11's most entertaining auditions, and she sang it like it was her theme song--she flaunted her stuff indeed. It was a novelty act for sure, but when she pulled it together and performed a more serious audition of the Roy Orbison/Linda Ronstadt classic "Blue Bayou," Angie proved she actually could sing, too. I am sad that Miss Z didn't make past Vegas; I was kind of hoping she'd one day get to sing a duet with Creighton Fraker (more on him later). But hey, at least she attracted the attention of Broadway veteran Betty Buckley!
8) Aaron Marcellus
Aaron was one of this year's many returning contestants, a veteran of both Seasons 7 and 10. It looked like the third time was going be the charm for him, when he was finally selected for this year's top 25. I think he could have been the Raphael Saadiq of Season 11...but then again, considering that few "Idol" viewers probably know who Raphael Saadiq is, I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised that America didn't vote Aaron through to the top 13. What a shame.
7) Jen Hirsh
This top 25 semifinalist was just the type of girl-next-door powerhouse singer that often goes far on "Idol," and I had high hopes for her. I was a little surprised when she didn't get enough votes to make the top 13--presumably because she covered the same Adele song, "One And Only," that Elise Testone did even better that week--but I was even more surprised that, after having Jen belt out "Oh! Darling" for the Wild Card round, the judges passed her over in favor of, um, Jeremy Rosado. After all, Randy Jackson had just told her, "I think you're one of the greatest singers in this competition this year. " But Randy tends to have a short-term memory that way.
6) Elise Testone
Elise was my favorite girl this season (I am still a card-carrying "Elite"), but sadly, it seemed like much of America didn't really get her. She delivered some of the best, most rawkin' performances of the season, yet she found herself in the bottom three time and time again, before finally going home in sixth place. I'm not sure what it was about Elise that never fully connected with viewers. Was it her age? Much ado had been made all season about Elise being (gasp!) 28,--which is not old in the real world, of course, but on a youth-obsessed show like "Idol," she almost seemed ancient next to petite teens like Jessica Sanchez and Hollie Cavanagh. Maybe all those block-voting tween girl viewers just couldn't relate to Elise. One thing is is certain, however: This lady did NOT go home due to a lack of talent.
5) Reed Grimm
I am still getting over the shock that this cute cut-up was not picked for a Wild Card spot (after failing to snag the public vote in the top 25 semifinals). Reed was one of the most creative and unique contestants to appear on "Idol" in a long time, whether he was covering "Family Matters" and "Willy Wonka" theme songs or playing standup drums on a jazzed-up Maroon 5 tune. His spazzy, class-clown personality was a bit much for some viewers to take--and I imagine some viewers mistook his wacky attitude as a sign that he wasn't taking the competition seriously--but there was no doubt that Reed was one of this season's early standouts. I still think Season 11 would have been much more interesting if he'd stuck around.
4) Skylar Laine
Skylar was a girl that I'd always predicted could actually win this whole thing. The amazing little country-crooning pistol fired off one great performance after another, week after week...and yet, she often landed in the bottom two or three. Why? I thought country music was hugely popular among "Idol" viewers, judging from how last year's finale panned out. So where were all the viewers who voted for Season 10's Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina, when Skylar really needed them this year? Skylar, in my opinion, is better than both of 'em--and I think she could still have a huge career in Nashville.
3) Creighton Fraker
Along with Heejun Han and Reed Grimm, this eccentric street busker was Season 11's maverick. AND HIS DAD WAS IN FLOTSAM & JETSAM! (Creighton should have won based on that alone; even James Durbin couldn't claim that sort of awesome metal pedigree.) The adopted son of a preacherman and the biological son of an '80s headbanger, Creighton was, as Randy might say, the total package. A crazy, rainbow-striped package. With lineage like that, of course he turned out so flamboyant and bizarre and wonderful and rad. But somehow, this wild showman wasn't even considered for a Wild Card. Le sigh. I still sometimes imagine an alternate-universe Creighton/Reed finale, and wonder what might have been.
2) Joshua Ledet
The only reason Joshua isn't number one on this list is because he did make it all the way to third place, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. But then again, it is a bit ludicrous to realize that a singer that Steven Tyler once said was "one of the top two Idols of all time" didn't even make it to the top two of this season. Randy declared Joshua "one of the best singers ever on this show," and Jennifer Lopez even called him "one of the best singers of the past 50 years." And of course, Joshua received no less than sixteen standing ovations throughout the season. Perhaps it was all that overpraise that did him in; the judges did lay it on a little too thick at times when commenting on Joshua's performances. But there were some nights when such gushing truly was deserved.
1) Colton Dixon
Ironically, this is the second time that Colton has appeared on one of my "most-robbed" lists; last year, when he auditioned and made it all the way to the top 40 before getting passed over, I was outraged. But that was nothing compared to how I reacted when Colton went home in seventh place this year. Colton was one of this season's most talented and original contestants, and I thought he'd at least make the top four, and possibly the top two. His exit was literally one of the biggest shockers in "Idol" history. If only the Judges' Save hadn't already been used (on the also very worthy Jessica Sanchez), Colton might have been saved instead, and then we may have had a very different end result this season. Either way, the past few weeks of Season 11 sure were a lot less exciting without Colton's piano-hopping, hair-color-swapping, jaw-dropping performances.
SUPERBONUS CLIP: Magic Cyclops
In a season surprisingly short on "wacky" auditions, Magic Cyclops thankfully brought the comedy. And the awesomeness. This air-guitaring rock 'n' roll messiah was like the "Idol" version of Andrew WK, and he came to party hard indeed. Everything that came out of this dude's mouth--other than his singing, of course--was pure television gold. The guy practically out-Tylered Steven Tyler, he was so nutty! Cyclops could have been this year's Norman Gentle, but incredibly, the producers opted not to invite him back for the Season 11 finale. Such a missed opportunity! But at least Magic Cyclops got his wish and had his exit soundtracked by the "Incredible Hulk" TV theme. Best. Idol. Audition. Exit. Ever.