photo: FoxThis week, seeming fan favorite Colton Dixon went home in seventh place, and all the blogosphere and Twitterverse was instantly abuzz. But of course, this was hardly the first shocker elimination in "Idol" history. Each "American Idol" season has featured at least one unceremonious ousting of a former frontrunner, a singer who seemed untouchable, invincible, virtually guaranteed a golden ticket straight through to the Hollywood finale. For some of these prematurely ejected rejects, it was the end of an era--but for others, it was just the beginning of a fabulous new career.
It remains to be if Colton will become an A-lister despite his early exit, or if he will just be performing "Idol"-themed, family-fare showcases at Disneyworld in the near future. But in honor of this latest "Idol" outrage, I'm taking a look back at past "Idol" rejects, many of whom weren't fortunate enough to even have a chance of taking advantage of such a thing as a "Judges' Save." So here, in ascending order of overall shockingness, are the seven biggest (non-Colton) surprise eliminations in "Idol" history.
7) Michael Johns, Season 7 - The ousting of this hunky Australian rocker--who was an early favorite the moment he eerily invoked the spirit of Jim Morrison during his "Light My Fire" cover--sent shockwaves across the Interweb in 2008. Servers were practically melting and megaherting under the pressure of all the angry messageboard stampedes, especially after Ryan Seacrest's cruel fakeout in which he implied Michael would be benevelently spared during "Idol Gives Back" week before he then delivered the crushing news. Michael, whose career had already stalled with the signed-and-then-dropped bands Film and the Rising, didn't exactly skyrocket as a solo artist after leaving the show, but his solo album Hold Back My Heart and co-headling tour with former castmate Brooke White both received positive reviews. And he's lent his guest vocals to everything from Shaun White's DVD documentary to, um, an Air Supply album. So things could be worse.
6) Constantine Maroulis, Season 4 - With his David Cassidy-ish teen-dream appeal, theatrical flourishes, and bedroom-eyed manner of romancing the camera, Greek god Constantine made all the girlies swoon. Unfortunately, there was one week when he didn't make them vote, so he was shockingly sent packing--this despite the fact that (just like Colton this year) he'd never previously even been in the bottom three. Making matters worse was the fact that Constantine lost out to charisma-free, socially awkward Scotty "The Body" Savol, Vote For The Worst's Season 4 poster boy and an accused domestic abuser to boot. Yes, this was the evening when it became clear just how much influence Vote For The Worst could wield over the disgruntled, speed-dialing masses. Constantine did okay for himself, however, even snagging a Tony Award nomination for his leading role in Broadway's Rock Of Ages.
5) Josiah Leming, Season 7 - This was far and away the most shocking cut NOT decided by a public vote (yes, even more so than Chris Medina last year). The judges' puzzling decision to not include Britpop-loving homeless ragamuffin Josiah--one of the most favored hopefuls in the earlier audition episodes, at least in terms of screen time--in the top 24 spurned countless outraged protest posts across "American Idol" messageboards. Petitions to reinstate Josiah via the Wild Card policy were politely ignored by 19 Entertainment and Fox, but a star-making guest appearance on Ellen DeGeneres's show, more Yahoo! Search queries for "Josiah Leming" than for any of the actual 24 finalists at the time, and a contract with Warner Bros. Records nevertheless followed. Sadly, Josiah has since been dropped by Warner, but he continues to release awesome music on his own.
4) Jennifer Hudson, Season 3 - On one of "Idol's" most controversial nights, future Academy Award-winner J.Hud was unbelievably joined in the bottom three by the season's other two African-American divas, vocal powerhouse LaToya London and eventual champion Fantasia Barrino. Meanwhile, lesser contestants like redheaded (read: Caucasian) Sinatra impressionist John Stevens were safe that evening, causing some protesters (including Elton John) to cry racism. But obviously Jennifer got her revenge, when she channeled all her hurt over this very public rejection into her Effie role in Dreamgirls. Oscars, Golden Globes, Grammys, and one very extreme makeover followed.
3) Pia Toscano, Season 10 - Casey Abrams narrowly avoided an 11th-place elimination thanks to the controversial Judges' Save, and everyone rejoiced at the time. But the downside of this was, after the judges' snap decision, the contestants were working without a safety net--since the Save could only be utilized once per season. This meant that when America flabbergastingly booted Pia just two weeks later, the decision was final. It wasn't long before Pia signed a deal with Jimmy Iovine's Interscope Records anyway, but her first single, "This Time," failed to ignire the charts. Her debut album is due out this year.
2) Tamyra Gray, Season 1- From the moment then-unknown Tamyra auditioned on the then-unknown "Idol" show, she seemed like the clear one to beat. And week after week, her octave-straddling performances like "A House Is Not A Home" left Paula Abdul in tears and the rest of America in awe. So naturally, on the elimination episode when it came down to Tamyra and dark (or pink?) horse Nikki McKibbin, no one for a nanosecond believed that Nikki would be the one who'd stay; even Nikki herself looked utterly dumbfounded when the results were read. Not since the "hanging chad" 2000 Presidential election scandal two years earlier had the public so vehemently cried out for a vote recount...but the fact is, people just didn't realize back then how crucial the voting process was to this show. This was the first real elimination shocker in "Idol" history, and in this case Vote For The Worst, which did not exist back then, was not to blame.
1) Chris Daughtry, Season 5 - Chris was another clear frontrunner from his very first audition, and in Season 5, it looked like a rocker was finally set to win "Idol." In fact, no one could have predicted that it'd be silver-haired, purple-blazered, drunk-dancing Taylor Hicks, and not the more polished and traditionally commercial Chris, who'd walk away with that season's top honors. The easily YouTubed clip of Chris receiving the stunning news of his early exit (via Ryan Seacrest's blunt and almost downright nasty delivery) was once described as a "snuff film for people who enjoy watching others' disappointment," and millions of viewers' hearts immediately went out to the rejected rocker. And millions of their dollars later went out to him as well, when Daughtry's first album became the fastest-selling debut in SoundScan history and one of the overall top sellers of 2007. (This made him one of the four top-sellings Idols of all time, along with Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, and Clay Aiken).