NEW YORK – Tears streamed from "American Idol" judge Paula Abdul's eyes when the result was announced. The audience stood and clapped, paying their respects.
In a close vote, Abdul's favorite finalist, Elliott Yamin -- an "Idol" underdog and blue-eyed soul singer -- was bounced off the FOX talent contest during Wednesday's elimination show.
The exit of the 27-year-old Richmond, Va., resident cleared the path for a final showdown between gray-haired Taylor Hicks and sultry Katharine McPhee. The winner will be crowned May 24.
During Wednesday's program, Yamin told host Ryan Seacrest he felt "truly blessed."
"I hope it doesn't stop here," he said of his music career.
Yamin, who is 90 percent deaf in his right ear, was considered the show's best -- and most sensitive -- male singer. When "Idol" featured a segment on Wednesday documenting his return home to greet fans in Virginia, he broke down in tears. Abdul also wept.
Judge Simon Cowell seemed to sense Yamin's impending departure on Tuesday's program.
"Your songs are not going to carry you through to next week -- that's the problem," Cowell told Yamin, who had performed a cover of Ray Charles' "I Believe To My Soul."
"However, you are a great guy. You are a great singer. And whatever happens, you will make your mom very proud for what you've achieved for this competition."
Abdul, who recently said she wanted Yamin to win "Idol," called him a "funky white boy."
"You pierce through the heart," she told him on Tuesday's program.
Nearly four years since its debut, "Idol" continues to rule the ratings. It has attracted 25 million to 33 million viewers each telecast this season.
Seacrest said on Wednesday's program that viewers called in 50 million votes.