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Four more cut loose from 'American Idol'

| Friday, March 2, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) -- "American Idol" viewers squashed the dreams of four more aspiring singers Thursday night, but Antonella Barba, the focus of recent attention over some racy Internet photos, was not one of them.

Alaina Alexander, Leslie Hunt, Nicholas Pedro and A.J. Tabaldo were voted off in the phone ballotting, which drew about 32 million calls and text messages. Sixteen hopefuls remain of the 24 who began the elimination rounds.

Perhaps the night's biggest surprise was that 20-year-old Barba, of Point Pleasant, N.J., was staying. "I thought you were worse than last week," Simon Cowell said Wednesday after her less-than-stellar cover of Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me."

A close friend of Barba has denied she was the subject of some graphically sexual pictures purported to be of her that were posted on the Internet last week.

Another surprise: The early elimination of the talented Tabaldo, 22, who gave a rousing rendition of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good." Paula Abdul couldn't hide her disappointment.

"Truthfully, this is a singing competition," Abdul said Thursday. "I don't feel tonight reflects this."

Tabaldo's song choice could be bad luck for "Idol" contestants - after all, Hunt also performed "Feeling Good" this week. The 24-year-old Chicago resident told Ryan Seacrest she "had a feeling" she might be going home.

An emotional Alexander, who sang the Dixie Chicks anthem "Not Ready To Make Nice," was too choked up to get through the song after Seacrest asked her to perform it one last time. (The "Idol" females were there to help the 24-year-old California girl along - and give a group hug.)

Pedro's take on "Fever" wasn't enough to keep him on the Fox talent show. "It's about standing out in the crowd," said Cowell, who criticized the smoky-voiced singer, 25, for what he called a lack of charisma.

Thursday's show also featured a performance by "Idol" also-ran Kellie Pickler, who crooned "I Wonder," a song from her country album "Small Town Girl."

"American Idol," now running three times a week and again ruling the ratings, will return March 13 to a twice-weekly schedule.

The final 12 will be split evenly between men and women. So far this season, the show's sixth, men and women have been competing separately. The winner will be crowned during the finale in May.

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