| NEW YORK
NEW YORK "American Idol" finalist Michael Johns finished in the bottom three for the first time on Thursday, and in a surprising result ended up being eliminated from the TV talent competition when fans cast the fewest votes for his rendition of Aerosmith's "Dream On."
"I'm definitely surprised," said Johns, 29, this season's oldest finalist, adding that despite some of the judges' comments that his choice of songs for the inspirational-themed show was not the best, he stood by his choice and it was not a bad song to go out on.
The singers' covers of inspirational songs were conceived as a tie-in with the hit show's annual fund-raiser "Idol Gives Back," which host Ryan Seacrest said had taken in over $60 million so far with donations continuing to come in.
This week's other two bottom finishers were Syesha Mercado and Carly Smithson, both of whom have risked elimination in recent weeks. Over 31 million votes were cast, the highest this season.
The handsome Johns, a native of Perth, Australia who resides in Los Angeles, was not the only one shocked by the result, which brought boos from the audience during the live telecast. His family, as well as judge Paula Abdul, were shown slack-jawed at the announcement.
"There are a lot of surprised fans here and watching right now," Seacrest noted.
Highlights of this week's show included a performance by last season's winner, Jordin Sparks, as well as taped appearances by all three remaining major presidential candidates soliciting contributions to Idol Gives Back.
"American Idol" pits singers against one another in a months-long competition. Past winners including Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have gone on to music stardom.
The weekly show draws some 30 million viewers, making it the most-watched program on U.S. television.
The other remaining finalists are: Brooke White, 24; early fan favorite David Archuleta, 17; breakout "Idol" star David Cook, 25; Jason Castro, 20, and Kristy Lee Cook, 24.
The winner of "American Idol"'s seventh season will be announced during the live finale in May.