American Idol

Pia Toscano: Why Do Talented Contestants Go Home?

04/09/2011 at 10:00 AM EDT

American Idol: Pia Toscano Eliminated Too Soon?
Pia Toscano performing on American Idol
Michael Becker/FOX
Pia Toscano's shocking departure from American Idol wasn't the first time a frontrunner has been eliminated unexpectedly early in the competition.

In season 1, Tamyra Gray – a soulful singer like Toscano – was voted off in fourth place even though Simon Cowell had called her "world class." Two seasons later, anticipated finalist Jennifer Hudson exited with a seventh place finish, while in season 5, Chris Daughtry's fourth place elimination incited booing from the audience and stunned the judges.

Good news for Toscano: Gray, 31, has found success as an actress and singer; Hudson, 29, has won an Oscar and a Grammy; and Daughtry, 31, has sold millions of albums.

After the show this week, Hudson and Daughtry expressed their shock via Twitter. She Tweeted, "I can not believe they just eliminated pia ! ReAlly..????" while he Tweeted, "What the crap!!?? I thought Pia was THE best singer on the show this year!"



Calling into Ryan Seacrest's KIIS-FM radio show Friday morning, judge Jennifer Lopez (who became teary-eyed when she heard Toscano was leaving), wondered whether voters assumed the singer was safe or if she just wasn't connecting with the audience.

So what does Toscano, 22, think led to her departure? "I really don't know," says the Howard Beach, N.Y., resident. "It happened for a reason and I think I'm going to have a bright future.”

Is It a Man's World?

So far, only female contestants have been voted off the show, and now Haley Reinhart and Lauren Alaina are left to compete against six men. The resulting odds have left many Idol-watchers wondering if a woman even stands a chance of winning the competition. As it is, the last female to take home the title was Jordin Sparks in 2007. (Over the past nine seasons, men have won five times.)

Singing aside, this season's male contestants have certainly had memorable moments on the show, leading to speculation that voting has been affected as a result. Recently, WWE fan James Durbin was treated to a visit from Hulk Hogan, and Thursday Seacrest revealed that Casey Abrams – who received the lowest number of votes two weeks ago but was saved from elimination by the judges – has a fan in former Idol winner Kelly Clarkson.

But some industry experts say gender doesn't likely play a role in voting. "I don't think there is any clear distinction between the American audience picking a girl or a guy," says Charlie Walk, an entertainment executive and former head of Epic Records. "The American public makes decisions based upon simplicity: The best acts that comes across that screen and grabs their attention are the ones that end up winning."

For her part, Toscano doesn't think that the voting is gender-biased, either.

"I think we all have our moments on the show," she explains. "It's really a hard call."

As for who she thinks will win, Toscano says, "It's anybody's game right now."

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