'Idol' picks top 12

( AP )- The top 12 "American Idol" finalists include an actress, a "Star Search" champion, an Australian, a male stripper and someone who already recorded a debut album.

The popular Fox singing contest cut four contestants from the competition Thursday night, leaving a dozen finalists to vie for the show's record contract grand prize.

Next week, for the first time in the show's seven-year history, contestants will be allowed to sing Lennon-McCartney Beatles songs. ("Idol" producers recently secured rights for participants to perform the hard-to-get songs belonging to Sony/ATV Music Publishing, a company formed by Sony and Michael Jackson.)

More than 36 million votes were cast by viewers to pick the top 12, according to host Ryan Seacrest.

Among the finalists: Syesha Mercado, a 21-year-old actress who's appeared in a commercial for Ford; David Archuleta, a 17-year-old crooner who won CBS' "Star Search" in 2003 at age 12; and Michael Johns, a 29-year-old rocker who moved from Australia to the U.S. in 1998.

Four contestants - two women and two men - were sent home Thursday.

Kady Malloy, 18, from Houston, was the first to get the boot during the live telecast. Judge Simon Cowell called Malloy "forgettable" after she sang Queen's "Who Wants To Live Forever" on Wednesday's female performance show.

Luke Menard, 29, from Crawfordsville, Ind., was dismissed second. Menard appropriately reprised his performance from Tuesday's '80s-themed male performance show: "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go."

Asia'h Epperson, 19, from Joplin, Mo., was third to go-go. Cowell had called Epperson a "second-rate" Whitney Houston after her rendition of "I Wanna Dance with Somebody."

Danny Noriega, 18, from Azusa, Calif., was the last semifinalist to be expelled. The over-the-top contestant, who sang "Tainted Love," was in tears following his removal. Seacrest called him "one of our most courageous performers ever."

Some of the 12 "Idol" finalists have already been at the center of personal controversies this season.

Carly Smithson and Kristy Lee Cook made headlines for having a pre-"Idol" record deals . Smithson's debut "Ultimate High" was released in 2001 by MCA Records. David Hernandez was outed as a male stripper at Dick's Cabaret in Phoenix to The Associated Press by the club manager Gordy Bryan. And a drunken driving arrest mugshot of Amanda Overmyer made the rounds on blogs.

The top 12 "American Idol" finalists:

• David Archuleta, 17, Murray, Utah

• Jason Castro, 20, Rockwall, Texas

• David Cook, 25, Blue Springs, Mo.

• Kristy Lee Cook, 24, Selma, Ore.

• Chikezie Eze, 22, Inglewood, Calif.

• David Hernandez, 24, Glendale, Ariz.

• Michael Johns, 29, Los Angeles

• Ramiele Malubay, 20, Miramar, Fla.

• Syesha Mercado, 21, Sarasota, Fla.

• Amanda Overmyer, 23, Mulberry, Ind.

• Carly Smithson, 24, San Diego

• Brooke White, 24, Mesa, Ariz.

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