NEW YORK – Shock. Total shock.
That was the reaction in the audience when "American Idol" finalist Chris Daughtry — predicted by many to be the last singer standing — was booted off in Wednesday's voting.
In the most competitive "Idol" race yet, Daughtry's exit narrowed the contestants to three. The winner will be named May 24.
"Surprised?" Host Ryan Seacrest asked an unsmiling Daughtry, visibly caught off guard.
The 26-year-old rocker, drowned out by loud boos and screams of "No!" replied: "Yes."
The other "Idols" stood speechless, mouths agape. Even the judges — usually unflappable — didn't foresee Daughtry's ouster: Simon Cowell's jaw fell slack; Paula Abdul's eyes filled with tears.
Contestants sang Elvis Presley classics — two songs each — in Tuesday night's program. Daughtry's cover of The King's "Suspicious Minds" drew rave reviews from judges, including Abdul, who said "See ya in the finals."
Cowell called his second performance — a rendition of "A Little Less Conversation" — "flat" and "not as good as the first."
Katharine McPhee, 21, had the next-lowest vote total.
McPhee, considered one of the best singers in the talent contest, stumbled with some of the lyrics in her "Hound Dog/All Shook Up" medley on Tuesday's program. Cowell derided the performance as "shrieky," comparing it to a "desperate, manic audition."
"It hasn't been one of your best nights," he told her.
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.
"American Idol" airs on FOX, which is owned by the parent company of FOXNews.com.