Gary Susman
May 15, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Kimberley Locke’s big number the other night was ”Inseparable,” but she learned on Wednesday’s show that she was hardly inseparable from the other two finalists, Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. After several weeks of finishing near the bottom despite praise from the judges, Locke was finally voted off the show.

Some 19 million viewers voted, and Locke’s margin of defeat was only 4 percent in a close race among the three finalists, who judges and fans agreed were clearly the most talented of this year’s contestants. As Locke, a 24-year-old student from Nashville, left the stage on Wednesday, she sang ”Inseparable” again and watched a montage of her makeover into a more polished-looking performer over the course of the season. While Ruben and Clay are now poised to compete for the top prize in next week’s finale, Kimberley is all but a Locke to earn a recording contract on her own merits.

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