March 10, 2008 / 6:38 AM / 9 years ago

"Idol" loser Danny Noriega stayed true to self

<p>Finalists (L-R) Carly Smithson, Kristy Lee Cook, David Cook, Ramiele Malubay, Jason Castro, Michael Johns, David Hernandez, Chikezie, Amanda Overmyer, Brooke White, Syesha Mercado and David Archuleta pose at the American Idol Top 12 party honoring the finalists in the 'American Idol" television reality series in Los Angeles, California March 6, 2008.Fred Prouser</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Danny Noriega, the flamboyant California teen controversially voted off TV talent show "American Idol," on Friday shrugged off his early departure saying he was glad he had remained true to himself.

Noriega, 18, failed to make it to the final 12 contestants on the No. 1 U.S. television show on Thursday night, sparking outrage from devoted fans and an Internet debate that he may have been a victim of homophobia.

Noriega declined to directly address the subject of his sexuality in a conference call with reporters on Friday, saying it was a private matter.

But he said it was important "to be yourself."

"I definitely was really, really different," he said.

"You can't please everybody and I guess the majority of the voters just didn't like me. That's that. I can't change myself for anybody. It's so important to be yourself in this competition," he said.

The teen was admired by many viewers for his sarcastic back chat with British judge Simon Cowell, who called one of his performances "grotesque."

<p>"American Idol" contestant Danny Noriega performs in an undated photo. Noriega, the flamboyant California teen controversially voted off "American Idol", on Friday shrugged off his early departure saying he was glad he had remained true to himself.FOX/Handout</p>

But he also stirred controversy because of an old YouTube Christmas video message in which the heavily eye-linered Noriega wished Santa Claus would rape the mothers of viewers. Noriega dismissed the video as "so, like, forever ago," saying he made it when he was into acting.

"American Idol" pits singers against one another in a months-long competition. Past winners like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have gone on to music stardom, and the weekly show draws nearly 30 million viewers, making it the most-watched program on U.S. television.

Also voted off this week were Asia'h Epperson, Kady Malloy and Luke Menard, but Noriega was by far the most noteworthy.

In four short weeks, he built up one of the biggest early fan bases in the seven seasons of the show. Fans, who dubbed themselves, "Danimals," started a petition on the "American Idol" message boards in a bid to bring him back.

"I want to thank (my fans) for sticking by my side after all the stuff that has been written about me. It is so weird that so early in the competition I can have so many fans and so much stuff written about me," he said.

The remaining 12 Idol contestants move next week to a bigger stage, where they will for the first time be given the chance to sing classic hits by The Beatles.

After more than a year of negotiations, "Idol" producer Nigel Lythgoe said Sony/ATV Music Publishing -- a joint venture between Sony and Michael Jackson -- agreed to release the rights to Lennon and McCartney songs to the show.

Reuters/Nielsen

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