As "American Idol" prepared to unveil its top 12 finalists, host Ryan Seacrest warned viewers, "We could be in for a surprise or two." He should have said three or four.
Lilly Scott, Alex Lambert, Katelyn Epperly and Todrick Hall were the contestants eliminated on Thursday night (Mar. 11), in a tearful series of announcements that left nearly all the "Idol" hopefuls stunned and the judges visibly disappointed. Some, like Lilly Scott, were considered to be among the strongest contestants of the season, while others were just beginning to hit their stride.
The first contestant eliminated was Katelyn Epperly, who had impressed the judges in prior weeks with strong vocals, but struggled on Tuesday night with a performance of Carole King's "I Feel the Earth Move" that felt a little too carefree. "It was definitly a great experience, and I've learned a ton," said Epperly, "and I'm not stopping now."
The first male to hear bad news was Todrick Hall, a musical theater alum who'd been criticized for overinterpreting his songs in past weeks. Hall had appeared to put himself back in the running on Wednesday, though, when he delivered a straightforward rendition of Queen's "Somebody to Love" that the judges celebrated. "I'm just really grateful," said Hall. "This has been an awesome experience. I came here to prove that I'm not just a dancer, I can also sing. And I think that I've done that."
After a lively piano duet by season 8 finalists Scott MacIntyre and Matt Giraud, the next contestant cut was Alex Lambert, who'd been fighting nerves all season long but was steadily improving. "I wish I would've like, not been so nervous onstage, because there's a lot of things that America hadn't seen me do yet," said a tearful Lambert. "I wish I could've just broken out of my shell."
"You're so good," Ellen DeGeneres told Lambert. "You just need to have more experience -- you need to believe in yourself, and that only comes from time and getting knocked down and getting back up again."
Seacrest saved the biggest surprise elimination for the end, though, when Lilly Scott was sent home over 17-year-old Katie Stevens, prompting judge Kara DioGuardi to shake her head at the news. "I thought that I was appealing to a lot of people," said Scott. "It's surprising, a lot of incredible talent is going home tonight. I don't know what America wants to hear, I don't. I just know that there's an audience out there for me."
The top 12 American Idols will move to the Kodak Theatre for Tuesday night's (Mar. 16) live show, which will feature the music of the Rolling Stones.
Here is the "American Idol" top 12 of season 9: