NEW YORK (Reuters) - The four "American Idol" judges used their one-time-only veto power on Wednesday to spare Matt Giraud from being sent home after the hit talent show's fans cast the fewest votes for his performance of "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?"
"Matt, it's good news," Simon Cowell told the singer, who broke down in tears after the judges' unanimous decision allowed him to stay in the competition at least one more week. The audience, which had chanted "Save, save, save!" cheered wildly.
Giraud first had to perform the Bryan Adams song from the film "Don Juan DeMarco" one more time, and Cowell said Giraud had actually done better on Tuesday. He began by saying, "I don't really see that you have really any chance of winning" as the other judges voiced disagreement.
Cowell also told the other finalists, who surrounded Giraud in an emotional group embrace, "I wouldn't be so quick to congratulate him," because the save meant two singers will be sent home next week and the veto had been used.
Giraud, 23, from Kalamazoo, Michigan, had drawn tepid feedback with Randy Jackson saying, "You fell down more places in that song tonight ... it wasn't one of your best performances." With more than 36 million votes cast since Tuesday's broadcast during "American Idol"'s movie-themed week, fans apparently agreed.
Anoop Desai, 21, and Lil Rounds, 23, were the other bottom-three finishers for the second consecutive week. Desai also landed among the bottom three two weeks ago.
The other remaining finalists are Adam Lambert, Danny Gokey, Allison Iraheta and Kris Allen.
Highlights of Wednesday's live broadcast included the return of season three finalist Jennifer Hudson, who triumphed over what many considered a premature elimination by landing a plum role in the hit film "Dreamgirls," and winning a best supporting actress Oscar. Hudson performed "If This Isn't Love" from her debut album, which recently won her a Grammy award.
"Hannah Montana" star Miley Cyrus also performed.
"American Idol" pits aspiring singers against one another in a series of competitions that focus on a musical theme each week. It is the most-watched TV show in the United States, with more than 24 million viewers per episode broadcast by the Fox network, a unit of News Corp.
Past winners of the competition such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, as well as runners-up such as Clay Aiken have gone on to lucrative music careers as well as in film and on Broadway.
The winner of "American Idol"'s eighth season will be announced during a live finale in May.
Editing by Peter Cooney