The nightmare came true for Burnell Taylor, Devin Velez and Lazaro Arbos during Motown Night on Wednesday, as the three finalists botched a group performance of "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)," the 1965 hit by the Four Tops.
It started off okay, but Arbos then forgot the lyrics, and as a group they missed their cues and strayed off key. The performance had judge Nicki Minaj fuming.
"Don't ever do that again," she said. "All three of you, go. Go! Go! Get off the stage!"
After the show, the three singers struggled to explain what went wrong.
In the end, much of the blame fell to Arbos, who also had a tough time previous week. "We forgot – well, I forgot – the words. Yeah," he told reporters, adding that he had never heard the song before rehearsal and just froze in the front of the crowd.
"When you don't know a song, and you are just getting to know the words, at the live show the words vanish," he said. "We felt comfortable when we had the song sheets, but as soon as they went away, we kind of said, 'Oh shoot, we have no idea.' "
Taylor said the rehearsal went very well, and he was surprised and disappointed by the live performance.
"I'm not singling anybody out because I feel like I did a poor job, too," he said. "We're brothers, so from a brother's perspective, I'm going to tell you this wasn't our best. ... When we're in a group, we all look bad. Not one person."
Of the three, Velez defended himself the most stridently. "I don't want to point any fingers, but I knew my parts," he said. "I tried to save a couple of lines, and I think I did a good job. I think we were a good team, and yes, it was suck-ish."
All three said they hoped people remembered their solo performances, which were generally strong. And as Arbos said, what else can they do but move on?
"So, the [group] song went bad, and so what?" he said. "I can't go back."
Reporting by PATRICK GOMEZ