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'American Idol' disaster

Pia Toscano of Howard Beach sings her last

Pia Toscano of Howard Beach sings her last song after being eliminated from "American Idol" as her fellow contestants look on. (April 7, 2011) Photo Credit: Fox

Some departures on "Idol" can call an entire franchise into question.

Like the one tonight.

My rant in tomorrow's paper:

What? WHAT? Pia Toscana?

If words escaped you, and still do, then you weren't and aren’t alone: One of the best singers in "American Idol" history was voted off the last night.

Her departure even left the judges momentarily mute, but not for long, with each expressing outrage (Randy Jackson), disbelief (Jennifer Lopez) and bewilderment (Steven Tyler.) In closing, she sang "I"ll Stand by You," her voice breaking -- for the first time in her run -- then she broke into sobs.

She was surrounded by other contestants and in yet another first in "Idol" history, the three judges walked to the stage to comfort her. To say this was a shocking departure does injustice to the word "shock:" Howard Beach native Toscano, 22, was and is one of the true standout singers, male or female, ever on "Idol." "Idol" watchers will compare this injustice for as long as this show airs to a pair of other travesties -- Jennifer Hudson (3rd season) and Melinda Doolittle (6th season), the other best "Idol" singers who never won, and should have.

Like them, Toscano was a balladeer with a genuinely beautiful voice, and a powerful upper register. When she closed songs -- invariably hitting top notes with gale-force bravado -- she effectively pushed other "Idol" contestants to match her game. She was -- they all knew -- the one to beat. And now she's been beaten.

What happened? A thousand -- a million -- tweets, posts and breathless watercolor conversations this morning will blame the usual culprit: Complacent voters who figured someone else was voting for Toscano Wednesday night (so why should they?). The tenth season has also been brutal on female contestants, even though they have largely been the best of the crop. And of course this: The regional voting biases that so often reward voters from southern or Midwest and penalize contestants from the northeast. Toscano's early departure effectively cements that theory.

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