Devin Velez, center, has been eliminated on "American Idol." (Michael Becker / Fox )
Poor Devin Velez. He didn't deserve to get kicked off "American Idol" just yet – certainly not before that cheesy amateur Lazaro Arbos -- but that's what the "Idol" voters did Thursday night. And the judges, who can't use their one save of the season without agreeing unanimously, did not opt to yank him back and give him another shot next week.
It appeared -- although of course we can't be certain -- that Nicki Minaj was the holdout, unwilling to use the save for the gold-haired singer whose solo performance she praised and group number she reviled Wednesday. She'd called him a "ripe banana" and complimented his choices. Minaj, with the other judges, had listened to him sing for the save in English and Spanish, with more passion than he'd shown in weeks. But though the other judges gave Velez a standing ovation; though Mariah Carey teared up, Randy Jackson stared imploringly into her eyes and Keith Urban looked tense and displeased; though the crowd chanted "save, save, save"; Minaj appeared unswayed. No save for Velez. Jackson broke the news.
Ryan Seacrest seemed surprised, even disappointed, but there it was. The yellow-headed singer took it like a champ.
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"You guys are the real people," Velez told the audience. "As long as I leave with you guys and God, we're good."
I can't say I blame the judges. Their forbearance made good sense. Although it's true that this wasn't really Velez's week to go (cough, Arbos, cough), it is also arguably the case that next week would have been. All five women in the competition surely deserve to make it to the top five. After her horrid solo performance this week, I might be willing to swap Angie Miller for Burnell Taylor, but I'm not sure I would have made the same swap for Velez. His vocal chops are tops, but except when he sings in Spanish, he doesn't seem to generate much heat onstage. There's a reason it wasn't his first visit to the bottom three.
Anyway, there's no shame in going out at No. 8. Colton Dixon, who performed on the show on Thursday night along with Keith Urban, Katharine McPhee and OneRepublic, placed seventh last season, and, to hear Seacrest tell it, he's doing great in the Christian-music and gospel market. Perhaps the bilingual Velez too can find his niche.
Plus, how bad would we feel if the judges had used their save on Velez and then one of those quirky-vote weeks had brought one of the top female contenders -- Candice Glover, say, or Kree Harrison -- to the brink of elimination? No, much as it pains me to say it, if Minaj was, in fact, the judge who insisted on holding on to that save as an insurance policy, she was right to do so.
Velez will do fine.
Are you sad to see him go?
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