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Gone Too Soon? Ruminations on Karen Rodriguez's Early 'Idol' Exit

How did the 'American Idol' finalist go from frontrunner to out of the running in two weeks? Idol Worship breaks it down.

karen rodriguez idol elimination
Michael Becker / FOX
Ryan Seacrest and Karen Rodriguez

On Wednesday night, about an hour after Jacob Lusk held his last sustained note, the Top 12 looked tired, deflated and depressed. It wasn’t just the long days or the illnesses (flu-stricken Lauren Alaina was being put up in a hotel so as not to infect her fellow finalists), it was the beat-down by the judges who are starting to put a bit of bite into their critiques. And, of course, the harsh reality that someone was going home. Or, as Casey Abrams calls it, “scare-dom.” 

So why was it Karen Rodriguez, who no less than two weeks ago was being touted as a potential frontrunner and the girl who could possibly give Pia Toscano a run for her pitch-perfect money? It goes back to the very foundation of American Idol: that anything can happen. Also, it’s a good reminder that one bad performance -- or, in Karen’s case, two -- can send you home.    In truth, divas don’t always fare well on Idol. From Jennifer Hudson to Melinda Doolittle to Katharine McPhee, all came close to the crown, but just could not clinch it. Jordin Sparks, however, did, and curiously, Karen Rodriguez actually reminded me of the Season 6 winner a bit -- both have that sweet everybody’s-pal disposition and each can certainly handle her ballads. But where Jordin Sparks shined was in the up-tempo numbers – Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” No Doubt’s “Hey Baby,” Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” -- and we never got to see that side of Karen.    In fact, the closest the Idol audience came to appreciating Karen’s pop flare was in the borderline horrid group number, a mash-up of Steppenwolf's “Born To Be Wild” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” If this is the Glee-ification of Idol, then “Umbrella”/“Singing in the Rain” it was not. But I have to say, the one voice that did stand out, namely because it sounded so close to Gaga’s, was Karen’s. Perhaps had she forgone the Taylor Dayne one-hit wonder and opted for, say, Madonna’s 1989 smash “Express Yourself” (heh), we’d be seeing her again next week. Then again, pitted against Pia, Karen probably wouldn't have lasted long anyhow, but she might have made the touring Top 10.   As things turned out, her last performance had one too many pitchy notes for this judging panel, but in speaking to reporters the morning after her 12th place elimination, Karen took comfort in having the support of Jennifer Lopez, whom she considers an inspiration. “[Jennifer] was rooting for me,” said Karen. “If it would have been all on her, I know she would have saved me. She told me.”    What other parting words advice did the judges offer? “Steven Tyler and Randy [Jackson] both gave me hugs and kisses and said, ‘You’re amazing. You’re going to go so far. This is only the beginning,’ ” she recounted. “And that just made me choke up. It was so many emotions, but it was all for good.”   What do you think? Did America -- and the judges -- get it right by sending Karen home?