'American Idol' Final Four Leaves Behind Stacey, Richardson

( [email protected] ) May 03, 2007 06:24 AM EDT

One of this year’s Gospel Music Association (GMA)-backed contestants was finally cut from this season of American Idol as the program kicked off two contestants on this Wednesday’s vote-off show.

Phil Stacey, music minister at First Coast Christian in Jacksonville, Fla., alongside Chris Richardson, 22, said goodbye to America after treading on thin ice for weeks. His departure now leaves only two GMA favorites among the remaining four contestants.

Despite his exit from the show, Stacey was grateful to be on the show, and gave his love out to his family.

"My entire involvement with American Idol is for my children... absolutely," concluded the 29-year-old vocalist. Coincidentally, while Stacey was auditioning in Memphis for the program, his wife had given birth to their second child.

The fate of Stacey was not completely shocking this week nor was it expected either.

Stacey had been among the lowest vote-getters four times already this season, only barely dodging elimination each time. Three of those poor weeks were consecutive.

The Florida native, who also happened to attend the Christian college Liberty University, had been having some strong recent weeks, however, and seemed to be drawing himself away from his slow start in the competition.

"Yo man. You know what? I'm happy for you for a lot of reasons tonight,” expressed Idol judge Randy Jackson after this week’s performance, where Stacey sang “Blaze of Glory.” “I think other than country week, this is your best performance ever on this show. That was the bomb!...I love it! I love it!"

The program’s harshest judge, Simon Cowell, had not been as enthusiastic, however.

"I thought it was okay,” critiqued Cowell. “I didn't hear any authenticity. I thought in the middle, you were like a bad actor playing a role. I did…And I don't think you've done enough to last next week.”

Stacey was also put up as this week’s “worst” contestant by the website VotefortheWorst.com. He replaced Sanjaya who previously held that title.

Still among the final competitors are two of the show’s strongest vocalists, who also happen to have deep roots to the GMA.

Jordin Sparks, 17, former Overall Spotlight Winner at the 2004 GMA Academy, has been listed as one of the top candidates by judges, who are surprised every week by her talent despite her young age. She received some of her worst critiques this week, however.

"Okay, let's just cue the boos in advance,” noted Cowell after her performance of “Living on a Prayer.” [Your] singing Jordin, I mean it was just out of control. It was verging on shrieking at times. You know, you absolutely completely lost control.

“Although I do agree with Paula, you know, you've been given guys' rock songs to sing so you're at a massive disadvantage,” consoled the blunt judge. “But it was terrible to be honest with you."

Melinda Doolittle, 29, former Nashville backup singer, has shown herself to be this season’s person to beat. In all of her performances, she has only received one negative comment, which judges admit was not that terrible.

"I don't know if it's your best performance but it's definitely a great performance again from Melinda Doolittle,” explained Jackson about her performance of “Have a Nice Day.” “I like that you had a little Tina Turner attitude in there. That was hot baby; that was hot."

With the removal of two contestants, the field has now been reduced down to four finalists who will again sing next Tuesday night with former Bee Gee Barry Gibb as their mentor. Another person will then be cut on the following Wednesday.

Over the past two weeks, over 135 million votes were cast to see who would make the final four. This week’s unprecedented double vote-off was the result of last week’s Idol Gives Back special, in which no contestants were voted off in the spirit of charity.

The two-night charity special last week used the TV show’s popularity to raise more than $60 million for organizations funding relief programs for America and Africa. More than 70 million votes were cast, a record for the show, Fox said last Thursday.

American Idol has continued to be television’s top ranked program, bringing in 26 million to 37 million viewers per telecast during its sixth season.