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'American Idol' picks the top 12 ... or 13?

March 3, 2011 |  8:06 pm

MB1_7540 After the last wild-card candidate sang and before the judges hashed out their decision on who they'd rescue from the beyond to continue in the next round, judge Randy Jackson said: "This is the toughest night ever."

Earlier, Jennifer Lopez announced she was full-on trembling -- more nervous than when she herself performs.

And, OK, sure, "American Idol" is all about dramatic hyperbole, but no doubt about it, this was one intense night of "Idol."

First, one by one, host Ryan Seacrest introduced us to our final 10, selected based on 40 million votes collected over the last two nights.

They were …

The men: Scotty McCreery, James Durbin, Paul McDonald, Casey Abrams and Jacob Lusk.

The women: Pia Toscano, Lauren Alaina, Karen Rodriguez, Thia Megia and Haley Reinhart.

Fine picks, America!

But then things got really exciting in the wild-card round.

Here's how it worked: The judges could pick as many of the 14 contestants the voters had left behind to give them a chance to sing for their survival. Cue a whole flurry of "it's all on the line" pronouncements, and for once, the do-or-die hype seemed justified.

The judges selected three men -- Stefano Langone, Jovany Barreto and Robbie Rosen -- and three women -- Ashton Jones, Kendra Chantelle and Naima Adedapo -- to reprise any song they'd already sung in competition. And pretty much every single one of the hopefuls sang as if he or she was scrambling for the last life raft on the Titanic.

Ashton attacked "And I Am Telling You" from "Dreamgirls." Stefano sang a pure, sweet "I Need You Now." Kendra gave her all to "Georgia on My Mind." Jovany begged for mercy with "Angel." Naima sang "For All We Know" with a devotion that left her in tears. And Robbie reminded us why "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word."

For a moment there, it seemed as if the judges might never make a decision -- and as we sat through Jennifer Lopez's new video, the tension built. Finally, two names were called out ... and then another.

The last three singers to swim to safety and end up gasping and relieved on the finalists side of the stage were Ashton (OK!), Stefano (Hooray!) and Naima (Thank goodness -- I was so worried she'd have to go back to cleaning toilets!).

And there you have it: the lucky 13.

Were your favorites among them? Were you shocked? Relieved? What did you think of Thursday night's show? The comments section and I await your input.


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-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Paul McDonald, selected by "American Idol" voters as one of this season's top finalists, performs on "Idol" on March 1. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox