NEW YORK – Did that really happen? In a surprise, soul singer Mandisa — also known as Man-"diva" — was voted off "American Idol" on Wednesday, proving that even judges' favorites aren't safe in the tense sing-off.
Mandisa's exit narrowed the contestants to eight. The winner will be crowned May 24.
Judge Simon Cowell said on Tuesday's program that 29-year-old Mandisa's rendition of Shania Twain's "Any Man of Mine" was "fun" and "cutesy" — though he called the song choice "horrible."
Cowell once named Mandisa the competition's best female singer. But he said on Wednesday's show that success "comes down to song choice."
Mandisa wiped away tears as host Ryan Seacrest told her: "You've been a great spirit on the show."
Escaping viewer-elimination were Elliot Yamin and Paris Bennett, who had the next-lowest vote tallies.
Considered the show's best male singer, Yamin, 27, chose the wrong song for his soulful voice. Cowell described his take on Garth Brooks' "If Tomorrow Never Comes" as "safe" and "hesitant."
"You're going to have to do better than that," Cowell lectured.
Bennett, 17, had crooned "How Do I Live" to mixed reviews from judges. Cowell praised her performance as "excellent," but Randy Jackson called it "a tough song" for her.
Wednesday's elimination show also featured a performance by guest coach Kenny Rogers, who performed his single "I Can't Unlove You" from his new album "Water & Bridges."
More than three years after its debut, "American Idol" continues to be a ratings ruler. It has attracted 25 million to 33 million viewers a telecast this season.
Seacrest said on Wednesday's program that viewers called in "just under" 35 million votes.