NEW YORK (Reuters) - The music of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber marked the end of the road for "American Idol" finalist Carly Smithson on Wednesday after fans of the hit TV talent show cast the fewest votes for her rendition of "Superstar."
During Tuesday's performance, the six remaining contestants were asked to sing a Webber song after being coached by the famed British tunesmith, who wrote such musicals as "Cats," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Evita."
The Irish singer, who lives in San Diego, gave a strong performance on Tuesday of the hit from the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar," drawing uniform praise by the show's judges as among her best.
But after 38 million votes were cast by the show's fans, Smithson came last.
"I apologize for giving you a compliment last night, the kiss of death," the show's curmudgeonly judge Simon Cowell told Smithson after the vote was revealed. "You can leave with your head held high."
Smithson was joined in the bottom two in Wednesday's vote by 21-year-old Syesha Mercado. She sang a sassy version of "One Rock 'n Roll Too Many" from the musical "Starlight Express" and was also praised by the judges for a strong performance.
While Smithson had appeared in the bottom three on several occasions during the show's seventh season, the vote was unexpected.
Pundits had forecast two other singers would be in trouble. Brooke White flubbed her lines of "You Must Love Me," from the movie of "Evita," and made the band stop and restart. Jason Castro gave a performance of "Memory" from "Cats," which judge Randy Jackson called a "train wreck."
The other remaining finalists are David Cook and early fan favorite David Archuleta.
"American Idol" pits singers against one another in a months-long competition. Past winners such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have gone on to music stardom.
Smithson came close to the big time once before.
In 2001, Geffen Records/MCA released the album "Ultimate High" by Carly Hennessy, her maiden name.
Despite massive promotion for the album and an investment of more than $2 million, the record sold just a few hundred copies and saw the young singer dropped from her six-record contract at the age of 17.
The album drew front-page coverage from The Wall Street Journal, which pointed to Hennessy's paltry sales as indicative of how major record labels were struggling to stay relevant in the digital age.
While "Idol" remains America's most-watched TV show, this year has seen its second straight season of declining ratings. Variety reported that Nielsen data through last week showed that "Idol" on its regular nights of Tuesday and Wednesday was averaging 28.9 million viewers -- down 8 percent from 31.3 million one year ago at this point.
The show's winner will be announced during the live finale in May.
Editing by Peter Cooney