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February 19, 2009
'American Idol': A chat with first three singers to crack Top 12


Last night's results show on "American Idol" wasn't a crazy surprise: Alexis Grace and Danny Gokey are through. Tatiana Del Toro seemed poised to take her "act" to the next level. But then Michael Sarver won over fans' hearts -- and more importantly votes.

More than 24 million votes were cast -- 10 million more than last year at this time. (And that pretty much mirrors the average number of viewers.)

We got a little reunion with Season 7 contestants Michael Johns (always pleasant to look at) and Carly Smithson. They performed "The Letter."

But, by far, Tatiana and Danny as the final two left me stumped. When she realized she hadn't made it through, the impact got the best of her. The show went off the air with her visibly distraught. Keep in mind: The judges can put her back in as a wild card after nine contestants get through.

As for the lucky three, "Idol" reporters got to speak with them today -- individually. And the one question each of them was asked was: Of your group, who do you think deserves another shot at making the Top 12?

Gracious as only newly hatched contestants can be (the cynicism will come), they each thought all of the singers could have been Top 12. Really!! Casey Carlson? Stephen Fowler?

But there were other opportunities to find out more about Alexis, Michael and Danny. Here's a sampling of what they had to say:

Alexis, 21, is from Memphis, Tenn.
Q: With the three-week elimination process, do you think it's an advantage or disadvantage going first? And what will the three of you be doing while the rest of the Top 12 is determined?
A: It could go either way. Everyone knows there's a lot of pressure to get through. The most important thing is to have fun. During the next few weeks we'll keep busy. They ("Idol" producers) haven't said specifically what's happening, but I know you'll see more of us.

Q: Since your audition in Louisville, when the judges (in particular Randy Jackson) said to "dirty up your look," what have you changed style-wise? Would you say you identify with artists like Duffy or Amy Winehouse?
A: I like the '60s soul, cocktail kind of vibe. I have a lot of input on hair, makeup and clothes. And my girlfriends help me shop. I'm definitely trying to form my look because it's very important in this business. As for comparisons (to Duffy or Amy), I identify with their style of clothing, not necessarily their music.

Q: What did you think when Simon Cowell compared you to (Season 1 winner) Kelly Clarkson?
A: It's more than flattering. It shook my world - in a good way. It also pushes me to do better. I have to step up my game.

Q: Are there any mentors you'd love to work with this season?
A: Definitely. Aretha Franklin, Fleetwood Mac or Bruce Springsteen.

Michael, 27, is from Jasper, Texas
Q: You've watched previous "Idol" seasons. How do you think it's been having a fourth judge -- Kara DioGuardi? Were you intimidated?
A: Not at all. She adds more flavor and intellect. It benefits us as contestants. Kara brings an incredible mind for music to the table. And her comments are easy to understand.

Q: Were you told you were the top male vote-getter -- over Danny?
A: Ryan (Seacrest) said 20,000 votes separated me and Anoop (Desai), who stood next to me. I've heard some Fox outlets reporting it was me, but the important thing is we're both here. It's done. The three of us have a chance to sit back and watch the process and soak it in. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Q: What do you think of the wild card format?
A: The wild card means last night is not the end. I can't imagine the disappointment for the other nine in my group. But it gives them hope. Clay Aiken (Season 2) was a wild card. Good things come out of wild things!

Q: After you sang on Tuesday, Simon said he hoped America would give you another shot. Do you think that helped?
A: Him making a plea on my behalf I don't take lightly. Singing is nice, but so is character. I can acknowledge that the hard-working American thing is an appeal. Real-life people can relate to me, especially with the economy. My life isn't bad, but it's been tough.

Danny, 28, is from Milwaukee
Q: You're obviously an early fan favorite, even with the judges. How does that feel? And what do you think of the elimination process so far?
A: I'm honored that people want me to succeed. It's never been harder to get into the Top 12. Also never easier. We don't have to go from 24 to 12; it's 36, one shot and then to 12. But it makes it gut-wrenching. Some amazing talent is being sent home.

Q: Speaking of which, do you miss your friend Jamar Rogers, who didn't make it out of Hollywood Week? And, what was it like being up against Tatiana last night?
A: I was mad. I expected Jamar to go through because I was confident he showed his ability. He's received such recognition, I know he'll do well. Tatiana is a great person. You could see the desire and passion, which might have hurt her on TV. As for me, I felt like a wreck on the inside. I prepared myself mentally to go out gracefully.

Q: Going forward, are there aspects of your performance you believe you can improve?
A: I want to clean up my vocals. I notice I'm hitting a flat or sharp here and there. I like taking risks. But if I jump off a bridge, I want to land on my feet. I plan to loosen up a little bit and not be so nervous.

Q: How will you balance the background story about your wife's death and your journey on this show?
A: Some will think it's too much. It's only been seven months. But I don't think I've thrown it in people's faces. It weighs on my mind a lot, and it's shaping my life. But now I have a mission. There's a fun side to me that will come out. She's still in my heart. No one can take that away.

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