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CASTING CORNER
 
Wednesday, March 17, 2004
Idol Insider: Beginning of the End

It was a night of smiles, upsets and even some compliments from the always-nasty Judge Simon Cowell as the search for the next "American Idol" officially began Tuesday, bringing in another huge night of ratings for FOX.

Last season’s "American Idol" runner-up Clay Aiken sat down with "Extra" as he prepared to perform on Wednesday night’s vote-off show. So who is Aiken rooting for? "I think Fantasia is going to the finals."

The "Idol" alum also said he has issues with Randy calling this group the best collective 12 finalists in the show’s three seasons. "Randy’s crazy," Aiken told us. "My class of 12 was as great."

But Cowell said Aiken better watch out. "Let's be clear. All the people who do well in this competition are watching each season to see if anyone is better than them," Cowell asserted. "Clay is watching it every week dreading someone coming along who can sing as well as he does."

Abdul hit the town after Tuesday night's show for a Mercedes Benz/ McLaren Charity Event, where she told "Extra" that it will take more than a great voice to win the competition: "You know it’s all about picking the right songs. Matt picked a great song, and therefore his performance was charming."

The other charmer, "Idol" "pen salesman" Jon Peter Lewis, shocked everyone with his dance moves last week. Now, we’ve managed to uncover a tape from his high school years that showed Lewis had dance fever long before he became an "Idol."

In the tape, Lewis’ turn as a Blues Brother and Joseph (from "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat") on the high school stage show a comic flair that could take him a long way. But, not surprisingly, the tape did not impress Cowell.

"There's nothing I can say to these contestants other than the fact you're in a big league now," Cowell told us. "The reality, unfortunately, is that only two of the 12 in my opinion are going to have longstanding careers. So if you don't make the finals, you may have a problem."

To see who moves closer to the final two, don’t miss tonight’s episode of "American Idol."

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