Christian 'Idol' Contenders Move Past Sanjaya

NEW YORK – The odds of a Christian singer winning this season of American Idol have increased yet again as every one of the faith-backed contestants survived this week's cut on Wednesday.

America said goodbye to 17-year-old Sanjaya Malakar, who many thought should have been voted off weeks ago, leaving behind only six contestants – half of them with past ties to the Gospel Music Association (GMA).

Among the other bottom vote-getters were Blake Lewis, 25, who had the third least amount of votes, followed by LaKisha Jones, 27, with the second lowest. Jones, who started her singing career in the church, had performed "Jesus Take the Wheel" and was relieved to have outlasted this season's improbable winner, Malakar.

This week was a big boost for Phil Stacey, 29, a minister of music at First Coast Christian in Jacksonville, Fla., who has been among the lowest vote tallies four times this season, more than any other of the remaining contestants. He was able to finally break away from his low vote average.

He was even complimented Tuesday night by all three of the Idol judges for his performance of "Where the Blacktop Ends."

"Well it's only taken 10 weeks Phil. But listen, I have to agree with what the guys said," commented the show's most critical judge, Simon Cowell. "This is the only time that I've heard you in a long, long time where I thought you chose a good song, I thought the style of music suited you and even more surprisingly, we actually saw some personality."

"I don't know if it's going to be enough to save you Phil but you definitely chose the right kind of song," the judge later added.

Another GMA favorite, Melinda Doolittle, 29, continued to show her dominance in this week's results. She was the first person announced to be safe from this week's cut among the seven finalists following her rendition of "Trouble is a Woman."

"Melinda, I'm about to compliment you and I'm going to ask you to lose the surprise...It was fantastic. It was a great choice of song," Cowell said to the former Nashville backup singer. "There was an attitude going back to your whole southern thing. But you have to lose this, 'Well I'm a great singer.'"

Jordin Spark, 17, former Overall Spotlight Winner at the 2004 GMA Academy, also had a stellar performance and was included among this week's top performers for her performance of "Broken Wing."

"[G]uess what man?" questioned judge Randy Jackson. "At 17 – I keep saying at 17 because you just blow me away every week being so young – I like the way you started it slow and took your time.... Dude that was the bomb man, another great performance."

"This is the first time since we have met where I actually believe – based on that performance – you could win American Idol," added Cowell.

More than 38 million votes came in for this week's Wednesday vote-off show, which is the biggest Top 7 vote in Idol history.

Next Tuesday, the remaining six singers will return to perform songs that are considered to be "life anthems," fitting in with the Idol Gives Back theme. The show will raise awareness about the effects of poverty of children in the United States and Africa as well as provide relief. For every call made, sponsors will make a donation to Charity Projects Entertainment Fund to help youth in America and Africa.

The following Wednesday will again be the live results show which will slim the competition down to the final five competitors. The program will also run for an extended two hours because of the Idol Gives Back campaign, featuring several artists including past Idol winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.