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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A relieved Jason Castro on Thursday attributed his exit from "American Idol" to inexperience and the pressure of trying to learn two new songs every week for the hit television talent show.
The dreadlocked, guitar-playing Castro dismissed the notion that he had given up trying in the past couple of weeks. But he said he was "freaking out" over having to learn three new songs for next week's showdown among the last three contenders.
"I guess people were thinking I didn't want to be there, but that was never my mind-set," Castro, 20, told reporters in a conference call the morning after being voted off the show.
"It has just really been hard ... I was starting to fear the week ahead. Like, how can I do three songs?. I can't even do two ... I was freaking out about it.
"I really felt relief, like the pressure was off. I loved my time on there, and I would have liked to go farther, but I don't think I could have handled it," the Texan singer said.
Castro, whose mellow good looks won him a huge teenage girl fan base, said he only began learning guitar a couple of years ago and had played only a handful of performances before making it onto the show.
"It was just my inexperience," he said, noting the frenetic rehearsal period that led to him flubbing the lyrics on Tuesday of the Bob Dylan classic "Mr. Tambourine Man."
"I am as raw as it gets. I have not done much of anything singing-wise ... I really had a hard time when it got up to two songs a week. I wasn't connecting to either one. I couldn't fall in love with them, and you need time for that," he said.
"Idol" judge Simon Cowell, who slammed Castro's performance Tuesday as "utterly atrocious," said he believed the singer was looking for a way out.
"I think he almost did what he did on purpose," Cowell told reporters after the results on Wednesday. "I think when you are given a chance like this and you willfully screw it up, you are going to regret it."
Castro described himself as "kinda laid back and grounded" and said he went further in the show than he ever imagined.
"I've learned I can do a lot more than I thought. I think I have done as best as I can in the circumstances," he said.
Castro's exit from the Fox network show leaves baby-faced David Archuleta, rocker David Cook and lone female crooner Syesha Mercado in the competition for a recording contract and a chance at the commercial success enjoyed by past winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.
The winner, chosen by the votes of some 28 million viewers on the most-watched series on American television, will be announced on May 21.