No matter who was eliminated on "American Idol" Thursday night, it would have felt like a shocker. All three finalists -- Joshua Ledet, Jessica Sanchez and Phillip Phillips -- were in solid contention for the win. But heading into the finale, one of them had to go home, and that person was … Joshua Ledet.
Of course, the judges gave him one last standing ovation.
How many had they given him over the previous weeks? It was nearly impossible to keep count -- though, at least for a while, his fellow contestants apparently had. It may be that all of that judge enthusiasm had cost Ledet the win -- turning voters off or luring his fans into believing he was safe and therefore not in need of their votes. Or the judges' high praise may have been a key factor in his staying as long as he had.
We'll never know. But going out in third place ain't bad. And Ledet will likely forge a perfectly respectable – yes, Randy Jackson, perhaps even "ginormous" – career in music from here.
In any event, Ledet could hardly have taken the news better. At the show's outset, he told Ryan Seacrest he felt they were "all winners" to have made it as far as they had, and that if he was not able to continue to the finale, he'd be voting for the two remaining contestants, both his friends, because they were "amazing."
He'd also shown admirable humility and gratitude after mentor Jimmy Iovine assessed the performances he'd given the previous night. Iovine said Ledet had had a "good night," though not his best, and said the judges had been "very generous" to him on his first song, Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind." Iovine was no fan of Ledet's take on John Lennon's "Imagine," either, feeling that his "exciting showman" talents were wasted on the song, and that he'd overcompensated for the song's simplicity with "riffs and runs." It was, Iovine said, "kind of like putting a Ferrari in a racetrack and leaving it in first gear."
Iovine had kinder words for Ledet when it came to his own song choice, Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama," on which he felt he'd hampered the singer with "a song that didn't have enough melody." "Joshua needs melody," the veteran producer said, adding that the fact that Ledet did as well with the song as he had was testament to his talent. "Does Joshua belong in this finale? 100 percent. He should be in anyone's finale," Iovine said.
"I listen to everything Jimmy says," Ledet said afterward, noting that Iovine had been in the business "for so long." "I look up to him and he's always right," he said.
But if Iovine's praise for Ledet was a finale prediction, it turned out to be one time he was not right at all.
After Adam Lambert and Lisa Marie Presley had both sung their songs, the Season 11 top three were gathered to hear the results of the audience vote.
Sanchez, who had not had a strong night Wednesday and had been saved from elimination earlier in the season, was the first contestant to learn she'd made it to the finale.
Even she looked stunned by the good news.
That left Ledet and Phillips -- and Phillips had been credited with having the biggest "moment" on the show the previous night. (Iovine said that with his version of Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight," Phillips had "won the night.")
If only for that reason (and not, say, because Phillips, as an attractive white guy, resembles other recent "Idol" winners), it wasn't a total shock to hear that, of the two, Ledet was the one who'd been sent home.
Ledet finished his "Idol" run with "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." During his performance, he hugged the two singers who'd bested him for the finale and the "Idol" judges who'd often deemed him the best, and never missed a beat. Then Ledet brought his mom onstage, a very sweet tribute that made his final moment not just a "moment" but, perhaps, a "moment-moment" or even a "moment-moment-moment."
For that gesture, and for a season of passion and dedication, Ledet deserves, yes, a standing O as he departs the "Idol" stage.
Are you sad to see him go?
More than 300,000 reader votes have been cast in The Times' agnostic poll on the talent on the Fox and NBC singing competitions. Even before the results Thursday, San Diego native Sanchez had the most so far, with Phillips in second place and Ledet in third. Juliet Sims has the most votes for any "Voice" contender.
The poll below includes the top 15 reader vote-getters. Vote for your favorites and check back to see Friday to see who tops the chart and where our experts stand on the talent after watching all season.
— Amy Reiter
Photo: Joshua Ledet performs on "American Idol," airing Wednesday, May 16, on Fox. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox