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'American Idol' Recap: Judges Save Jessica Sanchez

Talk about drama: None other than Jessica Sanchez --- the frontrunner, the one to beat, the future winner of American Idol season 11! -- earned the lowest amount of votes on Thursday's results show, drawing gasps and boos from the stunned studio audience.

While Sanchez's fellow finalists shook their heads in disbelief, Sanchez began singing in a last-ditch effort to snag the judges' save. Well, that was easy: Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson stormed the stage and yanked the microphone out of the 16-year-old contender's hands mid-song.

“You ain’t going home! Go sit down!" demanded Lopez, hugging a weepy Sanchez.

Intoned Jackson: "We are saving Jessica without any doubt. For myself, Steven and Jennifer, this girl is one of the best singers in America. Please everybody … vote for the best!”

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Ryan Seacrest said it was the first time judges had rushed to join an Idol hopeful on stage, following the use of the special "save" privilege. When asked if she expected to be the lowest-voted finalist, Sanchez diplomatically replied: "No, not at all. I don’t expect anything. I just do what I do. Whatever happens, happens. I just want people to know I’ve been working hard my whole life."

The nail-bitingly unexpected bottom three: Sanchez, Elise Testone and Joshua Ledet.

"Everybody did a good job last night but that shouldn’t be the bottom three," said tightly-coiled mentor Jimmy Iovine, sitting in the crowd, seeming more anxious than usual.

Without further ado, the final seven remain intact: Sanchez, Testone, Ledet, Skylar Laine, Colton Dixon, Phillip Phillips and Hollie Cavanagh.

Season-10 finalist James Durbin (sporting Dixon-esque spiky blonde hair) performed his song “Higher Than Heaven,” while season three’s Jennifer Hudson -- the only Oscar and Grammy winner to spring from the Fox contest – dueted with Ne-Yo on their song from the new movie Think Like a Man. (J-Hud, by the way, looked and sounded spectacular, in a Rihanna-short black skirt, grooving all sexy-like.)

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In an awkward TV moment, Seacrest -- enforcing a clear mandate to deliver the message "Look, the contestants have fans! And they appreciate them!" -- passed out fan invitations to attend various dances. A Dixon supporter named "Katie," of Wichita, Kansas, asked the singer to prom, to which he responded: "Oh, snap, this is a strong maybe."

Cavanagh, meanwhile, was requested to be the formal dance date of a dark-haired cutie named Tate Allen, whose picture was displayed on the air. (No word on Cavanagh's response.)

During a group performance of Pink’s “Raise Your Glass,” Phillips ran his fingers through Dixon’s emo mohawk as the rivals played nice for the camera. Given Iovine’s attempts to pit Phillips against Dixon in the spirit of competition, it seemed as if the two finalists aimed to convey that they’re friends rather than bitter enemies.

So many questions, Idol-Worshippers: on a scale of 1 to infinity, how shocking was Sanchez's near-elimination? Would you boycott if judges let her go? Should Cavanagh accept Allen's offer to be his dance date?

Email: Erin.Carlson@thr.com

Twitter: @ErinLCarlson