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'American Idol' recap: Amber Holcomb sent home shy of Top 3

Whitney HoustonNicki MinajRyan Seacrest

You knew it was going to be difficult to see any of the women in the "American Idol" Top 4 go home. How could it not be? We've watched them perform for a whole season, running neck and neck (and neck and neck) in the race for top honors, giving their all, growing as individuals and performers and coalescing as a group, especially in these last two weeks together.

Still, I'm not sure I expected such a deep sadness to wash over me as Amber Holcomb learned Thursday night -- in a show that also featured performances by David Cook, will.i.am and Harry Connick Jr. -- that she'd just missed having the heroes' homecomings the other three contenders will enjoy. Although she'd been in tears the previous night, Holcomb initially took the news that she'd be heading home (and not coming back) with a smile, adorable dimples fully on display.

Perhaps none of these women would have been entirely surprised to have been in Holcomb's homebound heels, but the Houston 19-year-old -- who was in the bottom two last week, a vote that factored into this week's results, and who got uneven reviews on Wednesday night -- appeared to have seen her elimination coming a mile away. Certainly, I would have been sadder if any of the other contestants had been cut instead.

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It was clear, though, as Holcomb sang her so-long song, "I Believe in You and Me," that even if she hadn't exactly been blindsided, she was taking it hard. She missed notes and seemed in parts to lose her way -- and who could blame her?

The irony was that only by watching Holcomb fail to hit her usual stride did the effort she'd put in to appear perfect all season become apparent. She always made it look so easy to be flawless -- the looks, the sound, the stance -- which may have been part of what did her in. Perfection can seem remote and off-putting, even when it comes with a bright smile, a quick laugh and dimples.

Making her way through the song famously sung by Whitney Houston, to whom she has oft been compared by the "Idol" judges, Holcomb managed to hold it together -- more or less -- until Ryan Seacrest launched her dad onto the stage. Papa Holcomb enveloped his disappointed daughter in a hug. She wept. The judges wept. I got pretty misted up too.

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The good news is that Candice Glover, Kree Harrison and Angie Miller are still in there vying for the win. They've also worked hard to get there, and it will be gratifying to see them celebrated in their hometowns in the coming days.

I'm hoping Holcomb's hometown gives her a hero's welcome too. Even if it doesn't, I imagine she'll have many other successes to look forward to. Nicki Minaj is right about this being the beginning, not the end.

Here's toasting you with a frozen shrimp, Amber.

Are you sad to see her go?

ALSO:

'American Idol' recap: Can we send the judges home instead?

'American Idol' recap: A results-free results show

'American Idol' recap: The Top 4 try to hang in there

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Whitney HoustonNicki MinajRyan Seacrest
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