Michael Slezak
March 26, 2008 AT 04:00 PM EDT

What a difference two weeks makes. In the first round of the American Idol season 7 finals, Chikezie was the unexpected star, bouncing around the stage with manic energy after the judges praised his delightful, bluegrass-tinged cover of the Beatles’ ”She’s a Woman.” Cut to the early part of tonight’s results show, and you saw a much different contestant: A somber Chikezie moped onto the stage, hands folded in front of his face, eyes cast downward, almost as if he knew his fate even before Ryan Seacrest sent him to the Uncomfortable Space-Age Stools of Doom.

And unfortunately, the Artist Formerly Known as Eze was right, as he received the lowest number of votes on a night where Syesha Mercado, who’s been among the top four or five vocalists the past two weeks, and Jason Castro, the spacey onetime front-runner, landed in the bottom three, while the oft-maligned Kristy Lee Cook and Ramiele Malubay skated to safety.

In other words, America, what were you thinking?

Okay, yeah, so Chikezie definitely made a misstep choosing the sleepy, not terribly popular ballad ”If Only for One Night.” And to be fair, his arrangement was only relevant if you happen to love a night out at a high-end hotel lounge where the lighting is moody, the cocktails are strong, and most of the audience is just passing through.

But it’s a shame that Chikezie got the boot at this early stage of the competition, since his was one of the strongest, most soulful voices of the season — and, by virtue of his chameleonic performance style and boundless enthusiasm, he was a contestant I always looked forward to, even if he didn’t always live up to his promise.

As a TV Watch reader named Goofball argued, ”Chikezie has more raw vocal talent and personality than any of the contestants. If he didn’t have such a soft spot for syrupy, old-fashioned ballads, I think he’d be riding a wave. I hope he sticks around awhile, but either way I’ll be looking forward to his album of funky bluegrass covers.”

Still, for every Chikezie fan on our message boards, you could also find a detractor. David said that Chikezie put him to sleep last night, and didn’t stack up to Idol‘s most recent top-notch R&B man: ”Remember Elliott Yamin? He sings with more soul than Chikezie and any other singer in season 7. I think Chikezie should go.”

And some readers never warmed to the way this week’s bootee sassed back to the judges. ”I didn’t care for Chikezie’s snarky apology for singing to the crowd,” said Darren72. ”I just don’t like this kid’s personality. His nice-guy appeal is cloying and I’m ready to see him leave.”

Interestingly enough, Syesha’s near disaster this week also seemed more attributable to her chilly personality than actual singing ability. To me, her renditions the last two weeks of ”If I Was Your Woman” and ”Yesterday” were more powerfully sung than any of her female competitors’ performances, and yet, for some reason, I still haven’t found myself getting excited by Ms. Mercado. There’s something off-putting about her interview clips, the way she’s constantly flashing that stage smile whenever the cameras zoom in on her. And I’m not alone in my ambivalence.

”Syesha’s personality is fake,” wrote ANTM Freak. ”I mean, she IS an actress after all. Her vocal last night was very good, but I couldn’t look up from my laptop for more than a few seconds at a time. She just doesn’t have IT.”

”I can’t deny that Syesha can sing, but I still can’t stand her,” wrote Kerri. ”Her interviews are awful….She must know it too; otherwise why bring out the creepy ‘baby cry’ thing again? Ugh. I enjoyed her performance, but all good vibes went out the window once I saw her reaction to the judges’ comments. ‘What?! You thought it was bad? How can you possibly not enjoy my singing? I am the greatest singer in the wooorld!’ Get over yourself.”

In fact, several other readers decried the fact that Syesha once again trotted out her imitation of a colicky infant. ”Please send Syesha home so that I never in my life have to hear that ‘baby’ crying again,” said All. And Carlos agreed, adding, ”If I have to hear that hideous baby cry from Syesha one more time, I will vote 1,000 times for every other contestant just so she gets the boot.”

As for Jason’s brief dalliance with elimination, well, let’s just say it all played out a little peculiarly Wednesday night. First of all, Jason’s whole stream-of-consciousness admission that he had thought he might be in the bottom three, as well as his mumbled comment about a ”shocker,” could’ve been interpreted as the Dreadlocked One being cocky and acknowledging his popularity among most Idol polls and prognosticators, but I just can’t quite bring myself to view him that way, not given his generally bemused/befuddled demeanor. Unfortunately, Ryan interrupted Jason, sending him back to safety, before he had a chance to finish his rambling remarks.

(Side note: Jason’s limb-swinging display of choreography during this week’s awesomely bad group performance of ”Right Back Where We Started From” — discuss!)

NEXT: The hands aren’t helping

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