2016: The Year In Music

Sarina-Joi Crowe Exits 'American Idol': 'I Woke Up Thinking It Might Be the End'

Michael Becker/Fox
American Idol finalist Sarina Joi Crowe

The season 14 finalist tells Billboard she "wanted to go out in style."

American Idol introduced a new effect Thursday night, turning the red lights on the top 12 contestants' chairs green when Ryan Seacrest announced they had made it into the top 11. By the end of the two hours, the only finalist sitting in a chair with red lights shining was 19-year-old Sarina-Joi Crowe of Columbia, Tenn., who had to sing for the judges' save. Her performance of Demi Lovato's "Neon Lights" wowed the studio audience but when Jennifer Lopez announced the judges' decision, it was a no-go for Crowe.

"I woke up this morning thinking it might be the end," Crowe told Billboard shortly after her elimination. "I was bummed. But when I got to the studio, Tyanna Jones' mom gave me a big hug and said, 'If this is the end, why do you want to spend the next five hours moping?' And I thought that was good advice. So I got all glammed up. They curled my hair super-big; it's the best hairstyle I've ever had in my life. During the live show, I enjoyed every performance. That's why you saw me up every time. I didn't want to look back and say, 'I moped.' I wanted to go out in style."

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Crowe wasn't the only one thinking elimination was in the cards. "Daniel thought he was going home tonight," Crowe revealed. "I told him, 'Listen to me. You're not. So stop it.' I gave him a hug and he said, 'Thanks, I needed this.' That kid is destined for greatness. They all are. They all stepped up and they're going to continue to step up every week. It's going to be hard for America. This was just the first elimination. There are going to be 10 more that are going to be even harder."

With 10 of the 12 contestants safe for next week, Crowe and Nick Fradiani were the last two to learn their fates. "I love Nick dearly," said Crowe. "He's a very good friend. We fight like cats and dogs in a brother-and-sister sort of way. He's immensely talented. Honestly, I would have picked Nick over me because I felt like Nick deserved it."

Before Crowe returned to the studio for her interview, Fradiani spoke her praises to Billboard. "She's one of the most talented singers in the show. Power-wise, she could out-sing anybody here. It's unfortunate. She is like the mother of the group. We all really care about her. She's only 19 but I always think she's older because she's so mature."

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Other contestants also noted Crowe's maternal instincts. "Seriously, she made me shower," said Jax.

"She was like our mom," said Quentin Alexander. "She made sure we were all emotionally OK even when she wasn't. She tried to look out for everybody. I wish she could still be here."

"I think they made a mistake," offered Daniel Seavey. "She's by far the best singer."

Joey Cook had a different bond with Crowe. "She's been my roommate throughout this. I've spent every night with her. She has given me more advice than anybody in this competition because she has been doing this for so long. Everybody is wonderful and talented but that girl deserved this more than anybody here. She's grown up on this show."

"She's like my big sister," said 16-year-old Tyanna Jones. "I don't have my family around so you make a group of people like your family and when they're being taken from you one by oneā€¦" Jones couldn't finish the sentence as she choked back tears. Regaining her composure, she concluded, "Greater things are there for her."

"I've looked up to her since the first time I heard her sing," added Adanna Duru. "When I saw her at Hollywood Week I said, 'Who is that? I want to sound like her!' Then I met her and she was the sweetest, most humble person, always cheering on her friends. She was the best vocalist here. I thought she was going to win the whole thing."

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"She's a blessing," Qaasim Middleton professed. "I expect Grammys for this girl. She's going to do such a great job with her career. We get so emotional because we're around each other so much. All we see is each other. So when we know we're not going to see this person tomorrow, it's very sad."

As for Crowe, she has some immediate plans. "I'm going to get some sleep and me and my mom are going to chill in Los Angeles a little bit. Then I'm going to go home to the most supportive hometown in the country. Columbia has been standing behind me ridiculously hard. I can't wait to see everybody. Somebody texted me and said, 'You're going to have a hard time going to Walmart now. Because you're kind of a thing here.'" Then, with a big smile, Crowe confidently told Billboard. "This is not the end for me."