James Durbin James Durbin

It wasn't supposed to happen this way: James Durbin, standing on the American Idol stage, in tears because he was being sent home. Before tonight, if you asked anyone on the production staff who they thought would win the whole thing, the answer would almost invariably be James. And if you asked any of the press who cover the show in person, or studio audience members, week after week, who they thought would be in the finals, James would always be one of the two names.

"I can't believe this is happening," said one woman, watching Durbin struggling to sing his swan song, Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed."

When the cameras stopped rolling, the audience members remained on their feet in a strange, mournful, motionless silence, watching and not moving for 10 minutes as the judges, Ryan Seacrest and fellow contestants hugged Durbin. It wasn't like any other goodbye this season. Randy Jackson in particular looked very upset, talking to executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. Jennifer Lopez was in tears. Steven Tyler grabbed Durbin in a bear hug and wouldn't let go. The staff physician was also on stage, never more than five feet away from Durbin as he said his goodbyes.

"Encore! Encore!" The audience started chanting for Durbin to sing again — a first this season. It didn't happen. It was as if nobody could grasp that for this 22-year-old, blazingly talented rocker, it was really over. People in the audience were shaking their heads. The name Daughtry was overheard, over and over, referring to the Season 5 star who also only made it to fourth place. Scotty McCreery looked stunned.

Durbin's fiancé, Heidi, finally made it on stage. He kept telling her he was alright, as he hugged her. Said Idol stylist Miles Siggins, "In the last couple of weeks, he's really been missing his family." Said associate musical director, Michael Orland, "That boy is so smart, so fast, so loving, so appreciative of all the help he gets. He's just a really warm kid."

Wanna take bets that we'll be seeing Durbin doing his dream duet with Steven Tyler on the finale?

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