The First Cut Is The Deepest

It’s always sad to see the first finalist get eliminated from FOX’s American Idol, but this season’s first castoff was particularly painful. Curtis Finch, Jr. has been a beloved contender ever since he auditioned in Chicago.

When cameras stopped rolling, there was a five-minute sob fest that seemed to grip his fellow contestants as well as the shocked judges’ panel. Mariah Carey, who has been fond of Finch all season, spoke with him at length and hugged him several times, whispering in his ear.

“She was just telling me to stay encouraged and remain consistent,” he tells reporters after the show. “And to remain 100 percent authentic and continue to be what I’ve represented myself as to America this whole time.”

Back again from his Season 11 Hollywood week dismissal, the 24-year old from St. Louis won the judges over with his soulful spirit and stellar singing. His turn at “God Is Able” blew them away and prompted Nicki Minaj to nickname him, “Finchy.”

Since then, he’s had a steady series of strong performances, including his show-stopping rendition of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” Finch calls that night, his fondest Idol memory.

“I remember how extremely overwhelmed I felt,” he says. “To open my eyes and see the judges standing and applauding and hearing roars from the crowd, I was speechless.”

He moved Nicki that night too, when she told him, “You have a calling on your life to bless people and to do so much good.” She was noticeably shocked when Curtis landed in the bottom two and threatened to walk out if he was indeed eliminated.

“That was mind-blowing to me!” he says of the show of solidarity. “ I need her to stay on Idol, because that will make me tune in. I’ve gone from a contestant to a fan, so I’m glad she didn’t walk out.”

Despite her dedication, the panel didn’t agree to save him. “I don’t think we had a real discussion about it,” she said. Mariah was surly too, saying, “”I’m completely shocked. This entire situation has been about Curtis, in a lot of ways, for me.” Still, the softhearted singer says there are no hard feelings. “I don’t know who chose for me to stay and who didn’t. At this point you can’t go back and redo it so it is what it is.”

So what went wrong for the twice-ousted contestant?

His Wednesday night performance of “ I Believe” failed to capture the crowd and voters at home. He also missed out on Nicki’s complimentary commentary when she showed up late. “I really don’t think her being there for my performance would have changed today,” he says.

Now, he’s focused on cultivating his career outside of Idol. “I want to do so many things and work with so many people. There is a long list,” he says. “I really want to be successful and make America proud. I want to be about 500 pounds lighter, because I really want to strive to be the best Curtis I can be.”

Curtis has proven his voice is gospel gold, and his personality has certainly impacted his cast mates. Many of them were in tears after the show, including the night’s Top 3.

”Kree, Angie, and Candice have something called ‘it,’” he says of the female frontrunners. “When they sing they just fill the room with such warmth because you can feel them.“

The night’s biggest winner, Candice Glover, took the news especially hard. “She’ll be fine,” he says of his friend. “The tears are gonna have to be wiped away tonight, so she can kill next week.”

He’s still rooting for her and the rest of the hopefuls. “Everybody who had a sing off today, everyone who has performed on a past episode has been working un-Godly hours to make America proud,” he notes.

As for Finchy?

“I’m gonna keep being true to myself. I’ve worked hard to be where I am and I’ve learned so many things to the point I shocked myself,” he says. “Either you’re gonna step up to the plate or you’re gonna go back to the dugout. There is no in between.”

American Idol airs Wendesdays and Thursdays at 8PM on FOX.

Do you think it was Curtis’ time to go?

Watch Kree’s Top 10 performance again below.

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