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Utahn stays on track to be 'American Idol'

Surly Simon picks her to move on after ripping her singing

The fact that 17-year-old Utahn Carmen Rasmusen is one of 12 finalists on "American Idol" is somewhat surprising. How she got there is nothing short of astonishing.

Judge Simon Cowell — the mean one — chose Rasmusen to advance as one of four "wild-card" contestants.

That would be the same Simon who seemed to sound a death knell for Rasmusen's chances on Tuesday night when he dismissed her performance by saying, "Well, as you know, we brought some people back so that you'd have a chance to shine, and you didn't. Wasn't good enough. Sorry."

And Rasmusen didn't disagree. "Well, I knew I could have done better. . . . I was not very happy with my performance, just like the judges said, but I think that I could give it a better shot and I could do a lot better."

Not that she was really expecting to get that chance. Rasmusen was one of nine contestants eliminated after earlier auditions and then brought back by the three judges (Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson) for the "wild-card" show. One of the nine was chosen by viewers' call-in votes; each of the judges chose one other. And, frankly, nobody expected Cowell to pick the Woods Cross High School senior. Including Rasmusen, who was visibly stunned when he made his choice.

"Oh my gosh, I'm so surprised! I'm so surprised!" said Rasmusen, whose voice trembled as she wiped away tears during her "victory-lap" performance after Cowell broke the news. (Rasmusen joins another Utahn, 12-year-old David Archuleta of Sandy, in the finals of a network talent show. Archuleta will compete in the finals of CBS's "Star Search" in two weeks.)

Despite her less-than-stellar audition on Tuesday, Cowell decided that Rasmusen "has a unique voice and I think could do very well in this competition.

"I'm going to take a bit of a risk here because the person that I've chosen I don't think sang to the best of their ability last night. . . . But I heard something which I thought was unique," said Cowell, who added that he made his decision Tuesday night watching a replay of that night's show.

Next up for Rasmusen and the other 11 finalists is a two-hour edition of "American Idol" next Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Fox (Ch. 13 locally), when she and the others will perform for the judges and a national TV audience — and hope to impress viewers enough so that call-in votes will keep them alive in the competition.