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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Top-rated TV talent show "American Idol" narrowed its list of contestants to 12 on Thursday, sending home sassy 18-year-old Danny Noriega and retaining former male stripper David Hernandez.
"Idol" is the No. 1 U.S. television program and has launched the singing careers of pop star Kelly Clarkson and country singer Carrie Underwood, among others. Winning a spot among the coveted final 12 is a young performer's step toward stardom.
But this year's contest, the seventh in the hit series, has been marked by controversy.
This week, news reports surfaced that Hernandez, 24, had appeared as a male stripper in a Phoenix nightclub and performed lap dances for a mostly male clientele. But the show's organizers stood by him, saying there had been stripped on the show before.
One contestant, since eliminated, briefly dated Britney Spears, some contestants had previously had record deals and others were found to have a lot of experience for a show that trumpets its ability to break new talent.
David Archuleta, a crooning 17-year-old with a silky voice, already won another U.S. talent show, "Star Search," back in 2003.
Still, the controversy lures viewers to "Idol," and show host Ryan Seacrest said some 36 million votes were cast from viewers to pick the top 6 female and 6 male contestants from a list of 16 semi-finalists.
The 12 finalists in alphabetical order are: David Archuleta, 17, Jason Castro, 20, David Cook, 25, Kristy Lee Cook, 24, Chikezie Eze, 22, David Hernandez, 24, Michael Johns, 29, Ramiele Malubay, 20, Syesha Mercado, 21, Amanda Overmyer, 23, Carly Smithson, 24, Brooke White, 24.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith