All the plans, hopes and last-minute efforts to marshal votes across the Tampa Bay area came to naught on Wednesday night, as St. Petersburg-raised Michael Lynche was ejected from Fox TV's blockbuster singing competition, American Idol.
It was a long road for the 26-year-old Gibbs High School graduate, who had talked on Tuesday's show of hoping to come back to St. Petersburg on Friday for a daylong celebration as part of Idol's Homecoming Week episodes.
But to get there, he had to make it into the show's Top Three contestants. Instead, Lynche fell short, last in audience votes behind cutesy guitar player Casey James, bohemian singer-songwriter Crystal Bowersox, and paint store clerk-turned-singer Lee DeWyze.
"It's been unbelievable," said Lynche, after his ejection was announced, as his wife, Crista, looked on with tears in her eyes. "I sit here and think, 'I wasn't even supposed to be here.' … Thank God the judges saved me and I got to spend more time here, be with the people and perform for my wife. It's all good, man."
Indeed, there was a sense that Lynche was living on borrowed time during the last stages of the competition; ejected once before on April 7, he was saved when the judges used their only option to rescue a singer.
Some observers figured the vote contest Wednesday would come down to Lynche and James, both of whom had landed in the bottom two or three in recent weeks. Once James was announced as the first safe contestant early in Idol's hourlong results show, the look on Lynche's face revealed that he knew he was in trouble.
Early on, Lynche emerged as a focal point, when Crista give birth to their first child, daughter Laila Rose, as he was performing during Idol's infamous Hollywood Week auditions.
He made judge Kara DioGuardi cry with an emotional rendition of Kate Bush's This Woman's Work — a high point she kept urging him to equal in subsequent weeks. Later, Lynche brought water to country star Shania Twain's eyes after singing her ballad It Only Hurts When I'm Breathing.
His ease on stage and vocal skill came from lots of experience: As a child growing up in St. Petersburg, he performed at local churches and talent shows with his siblings — including older brother Marque, who competed on American Idol in 2004.
But it was an audition in Orlando that brought him to Idol and months of performances on network TV's highest-rated prime-time program. Often, contestants who reach a similar level earn their own major-label record contracts, and the show's judges encouraged Lynche on Wednesday, saying that his career as a performer had just begun.
Hometown fans can still see Lynche on the concert stage Aug. 4, when the American Idol tour comes to the St. Pete Times Forum; tickets go on sale Saturday.
Though it may seem a small consolation now, Lynche can comfort himself with the knowledge that Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson and platinum-selling rocker Chris Daughtry — who ironically performed on the show Wednesday — have had amazing careers since placing seventh and fourth, respectively, on the show.