( AP )- Carly Smithson progressed on "American Idol" Thursday amid controversy over her professional past. Smithson, 24, has made headlines for having a pre-"Idol" career: The Irish crooner recorded a debut album, 2001's "Ultimate High," for MCA Records. It flopped - after the label spent more than $2 million trying to sell it.
The show's gimmick has always been to pluck talented young hopefuls from obscurity and make them into recording artists.
Besides Smithson, several of this year's semifinalists are not exactly rookies in the world of music. Kristy Lee Cook once had a deal with Arista Nashville, and rocker Robbie Carrico was part of the pop group Boyz N Girlz United.
"If they hadn't already tried to make a name for themselves, then they don't deserve to be in (the) competition," said judge Paula Abdul, defending the contestants' real-world experience.
Abdul added that Kelly Clarkson had pursued a recording career before her "Idol" win.
Now for the losers: Garrett Haley, Amy Davis, Joanne Borgella and Colton Berry were eliminated by viewers getting their first chance to vote in the top-rated talent contest's seventh season.
Haley, who sang "Breaking Up is Hard to Do," was the first one booted. Simon Cowell said Tuesday that the Elida, Ohio, resident looked like he had been locked in his bedroom for a month and needed some fresh air.
"I haven't gone tanning, so I'm being myself," the 17-year-old said before exiting the stage.
Abdul told the telegenic Davis, 25, from Lowell, Ind., that she needed more experience. "You're a beautiful, talented girl," she reassured.
Borgella, a 25-year-old plus-size model from Hoboken, N.J., failed to impress Cowell with her somewhat shrill rendition of "I Say a Little Prayer."
"It was a horrible song choice, and it wasn't a great performance," the acerbic judge said.
"I know I sing better than that," responded Borgella.
Cowell was especially harsh toward the 18-year-old Berry: "I would say get a good job, and enjoy singing. Because I don't think you'll make a successful career out of it."
Berry, from Staunton, Va., took the bad news in stride and closed the show with a spirited cover of "Suspicious Minds."
Thursday's show also featured a presentation of the music video for Abdul's new single, "Dance Like There's No Tomorrow." It drew a warm reception from the studio audience - and a smile and kiss on the cheek from Cowell.
"American Idol," now running three times a week, will return to a twice-weekly schedule March 11 for the elimination of the final dozen. The decision-making finale will be held in May.