Melissa McGhee forgot the words to her song on Tuesday's "American Idol" — on Wednesday she paid the price. McGhee, who stumbled with some of the lyrics in an otherwise smooth rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Lately," became the first of the final dozen to be voted off the top-rated FOX show.

Still, cranky judge Simon Cowell praised the 21-year-old Tampa, Fla., native, calling her performance "edgy" and "strong."

"In my opinion, this was your best performance so far," Cowell said on Tuesday's program.

McGhee seemed reconciled to her fate. When host Ryan Seacrest asked if she predicted she would get the boot, she nodded, saying, "Yeah."

Just barely escaping viewer-elimination were Ace Young and Lisa Tucker, who had the next lowest vote tallies.

Tucker, a 16-year-old velvet-voiced crooner, had wowed judges on Tuesday with her rousing rendition of "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."

Young, who looks the part with long locks and blue eyes, drew sympathy from judge Paula Abdul, who shook her head about the vote count, saying, "I don't get it."

The 25-year-old Denver native had performed Wonder's "Do I Do," and politely soaked up Cowell's criticism that his performance was "manic."

Wednesday's elimination show featured a performance by Wonder, who sang a single, "My Love is on Fire," from his new record, "A Time to Love." In Tuesday's sing-off, contestants performed Wonder's hits in a tribute to the Grammy-winning artist.

More than three years after its debut, "American Idol" continues to be a ratings phenomenon, attracting between 25 million and 30-plus million viewers per telecast this season.

Host Ryan Seacrest said on Wednesday's program that viewers called in more than 32 million votes to determine the top hopefuls.

The final 12 contestants, along with 12 others who made it to the elimination rounds, were chosen by judges Cowell, Abdul and Randy Jackson from thousands of aspiring singers at casting calls around the country.

The final Idol will be named May 24.

"American Idol" airs on FOX, which is owned by the parent company of FOXNews.com.