Ayla Brown and Gedeon McKinney, American Idol
And then there were 12. As reiterated by the nifty little "countdown" scorecard that Fox sent out to reporters this week, Season 5 of American Idol now is down to its dynamic dozen (my term — use it if you like!) finalists. Joining Kinnik Sky and Will Makar in the quartet cut last Thursday were a pair of 17-year-olds: high-school hoops star Ayla Brown and he of the megawatt smile, Gedeon McKinney, both of whom spoke with reporters the day after their dismissal.

AYLA BROWN ON...

... whether greater Idol success would have sunk her Boston College basketball scholarship:
"[The BC representative's] response to my father was, 'We are so incredibly proud of Ayla and what she's done with her music career. She has put Boston College on the map. If she does make it to the top 10 where she goes on tour, we'll have to red-shirt her for a year, but of course she has her scholarship and spot on the team.'"

... singing the National Anthem — at her own games!
"Yes, I would definitely love to sing at the games because that's where I started out. I wasn't even a performance singer until I tried out for American Idol. I was just doing National Anthems at Red Sox and Patriots games and events like that. It's almost second nature to me."

... pre-ouster suspense:
"During a commercial break, I gave Melissa [McGhee] a hug and said, 'Listen, whatever happens happens, and we're going to get through it no matter what the outcome may be.' And she goes, 'You know what, you're right.' We then said good luck to each other and that was the end of it. I wouldn't want to do it again, I'll tell you that."

... the shock of being sent home:
"It wasn't mostly shock [that I felt], it was more of a disappointment in myself, almost like a sense of failure. I had a nervous feeling in my stomach like something bad was going to happen, and it was lasting all throughout the day and throughout the results show. When [Ryan Seacrest] told me [I was out], that was the hardest part for me, knowing that the silver shiny seat was so close but yet so far away."

... second-guessing her song choice:
"Simon [Cowell] had told all of us young kids, 'Pick something that is age-appropriate,' so I went and researched songs. The first that came to mind was [Natasha Bedingfield's 'Unwritten']. It was one where I could show my personality... where I could have fun and really show that I am 17, not a tall-looking girl who's pretending to be 30. It was a risk, but I was willing to take that risk. I just didn't know that America would dislike it that much."

... being a "perfect girl" from a "perfect family":
"I think people do think that and assume that but believe me, [my life is] not perfect. My parents worked four jobs to support my sister and me and to enable me to do these sorts of things, so it's definitely hard to see people who don't like this side of me. But I thought this was more of a singing competition, not about what your parents do for a living. I guess I was wrong."

GEDEON MCKINNEY ON...

... raising money to travel to Idol competitions:
"My school let me put on a concert, and the students each paid $2 to get in. People gave me donations and... would bring, like, tips. That was pretty much it."

... why he was booted:
"I don't know why I was, but all I can say is it was God's will. I have to move on, by faith, and keep going. I have to stay focused, determined and disciplined and just move on."

... his megawatt smile:
"It's been with me since I come out of my mother's womb. That's been my trademark. That's the thing that attracts people from miles away. From Memphis to New York City, from Memphis to Los Angeles, they know Gedeon by his smile."

... the power of Randy, Paula and Simon:
"My case showed that the judges' vote didn't really have any [power] over the American vote because on Wednesday night I got all good comments, but [then still] went home. It really didn't matter. Like they say before the show comes on and after the show goes off: 'America, it's up to you.'"

... acting out:
"When I go back to school, I'm going to be in some plays to get my grade. After that, man, I would love to act. You can look at [how I was on TV] and tell I love to act. Anything dealing with entertaining people [and] making them happy."

... not appearing upset by his ejection:
"I was overwhelmed with joy. Over 100,000 people auditioned for the show, and I was one of the top 16. You see what I'm saying? I was thankful... so, so, thankful. They were expecting me to drop that smile and bring some tears, but I couldn't do it. What is there to cry for when I've been watched on television three times a week by 40 million people a night, so somebody had to see me. That's why, at the end of my song, I held out my hand. That was me saying, 'I'm here. Come and get me. I'm ready for the world.'"