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Haley Reinhart's departure ensures a country music showdown in American Idol finale next week

She lasted longer than many expected, even after openly criticizing the show's judges for being too hard on her.

But in the end, Haley Reinhart couldn't overcome whatever forces that seemed focused on knocking her off American Idol, ejected Thursday by viewer votes after a performance with her guitar-playing father was punctuated by an unexpected and embarrassing stumble onstage.

Host Ryan Seacrest touted a record 95-million votes racked up this week, as country crooners Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina faced off against Reinhart, a self-styled rocker who sometimes struggled to find her groove on the show.

Thursdays result also left the show with a somewhat anti climactic finale, as McCreery and Alaina are both teen vocal powerhouses with a taste for country music. Next week's finale, moved to Tuesday and Wednesday (to finish inside May's "sweeps" ratings period), may prove that Idol's voters have ever more specific tastes than critics thought -- zeroed in on young country singers in record numbers.

Besides echoing Idol voters' penchant for choosing bland, inoffensive winners, Thursday's show also unearthed another unwelcome past trend: the bloated, bizarre results show. Padded with footage from an uncomfortable visit to Super 8 director J.J. Abrams offices and an odd performance by Italian trio Il Volo, the show also featured footage of all three semi-finalists touring their hometowns, with Alaina brought to tears surveying tornado damaged areas in Georgia.

Boring as next week's finale may be for Idol viewers, crowning a country-oriented winner may make sense for Idol, which has seen country powerhouse Carrie underwood emerge as its most successful winner.

Posted by deggans at 10:48:12 pm on May 19, 2011