Casey Abrams

This time, there were no tears. No near collapse. No doctor escorting him off the set. This time, Casey Abrams said goodbye to American Idol with an exuberant performance and — when the cameras stopped rolling — an unexpected speech. 

A joyful Abrams, 20, surrounded by the five remaining contestants and the judges, turned to the crowd and picked up his microphone one last time. It wasn't working at first, and then the sound engineers turned it back on. "I know I'm not supposed to make speeches," he said. "But my goal was to make it to the Top Six, and I'm here!" The crowd burst into another round of applause.

It was clear that the judges, who saved Abrams earlier this season when he received the lowest number of votes, were sorry to see him go. All three gave him a standing ovation. Randy Jackson hugged him hard, and Jennifer Lopez left the stage wiping away tears.

It's been a rough ride for the unusually talented jazz musician from Idyllwild, California. He was hospitalized for ulcerative colitis early on in the competition. And in the last few weeks, he says he struggled to find the right balance between doing the jazz he loves and pleasing the bigwigs at the show. He was torn between doing what record producer Jimmy Iovine (whom Abrams describes as "that grumpy grandfather that really knows best for you") prescribed, what the judges wanted, and what executive producers Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe were asking of him.  

"It's horrible," Abrams says about getting so many mixed signals. "Ken and Nigel will say this, and the judges will say something completely different, and you don't even get to talk to them. And so you just have to do this big balancing act, which is hard."

Still, Abrams maintained what ousted contestant Stefano Langone called "the best sense of humor" among the Top Ten. And Abrams proved it this week by saying that he wants to use his newfound celebrity to let one special woman to know he's available — and no, it's not Lopez or fellow contestant Haley Reinhart. It's jazz phenom Esperanza Spalding, who recently won the Grammy for Best New Artist and also plays the standing bass. "Just putting it out there," he says, smiling. "She is the perfect woman."

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