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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Ellen DeGeneres is proving a hit with "American Idol" fans as a new judge, although Paula Abdul is very much missed, according to an AOL Television poll released on Tuesday.
As the public get their first chance this week to vote for performers on the top-rated TV talent contest, guitar-playing Andrew Garcia and young mom Crystal Bowersox are emerging as early fan favorites among the top 24.
Garcia, 24, of California, and Bowersox, 24, who plays guitar and mouth organ, won a leading 26.2 and 25.2 percent of votes in the AOL Television poll over the weekend.
Michael "Big Mike" Lynche, whose wife had their first baby while he was competing, was third favorite. But Lynche was also voted the most overhyped, as fans decided by an overwhelming 78.3 percent that highlighting personal stories such as his gave contestants an unfair advantage.
Some 58 percent of those polled said DeGeneres was doing an "awesome" job in her new role, with just 7.4 percent judging her "awful".
But plenty of "Idol" fans are missing Abdul, who quit last summer in a dispute over her contract renewal. Some 46 percent said the singing competition was not the same without her, while 41 percent said they did not miss her and a surprising 12 percent appeared not to have realized she has left.
Tuesday's show features the top 12 girls singing for public votes the first time, with the top 12 guys singing Wednesday. Voters in the poll said three-time hopeful Angela Martin, who nearly made the group of 24, should have been there with them.
Martin, who at 28 is too old to audition again for the show, got a big consolation prize late last week after being let go in the last round of auditions.
DeGeneres invited Martin on her daytime TV talk show and told her that fellow "Idol" judge and songwriter Kara DioGuardi had agreed to write and produce a song for her, and help her find a record label.
The AOL Television poll attracted 57,682 votes and ran from Feb 18-22.
Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte