7 ‘Idol’ contestants make it to semifinals

LOS ANGELES — Seven “American Idol” contestants can stop worrying, for now: They’re in the top 24.

The Fox TV singing contest revealed the first of the lucky semifinalists on Tuesday’s show. They are: Didi Benami, 23, of Los Angeles; Lee Dewyze, 23, Mount Prospect, Ill.; Katelyn Epperly, 19, West Des Moines, Iowa; Aaron Kelly, 16, Sonestown, Pa.; Casey James, 27, Fort Worth, Texas; Todrick Hall, 24, Arlington, Texas; and Michael “Big Mike” Lynche, 26, Astoria, N.Y.

The other 17 semifinalists chosen by the show’s four-judge panel will be revealed on tonight’s episode in the culmination of “Hollywood Week” auditions.

Sentiment ruled Tuesday among the few who emerged from the remaining field of 71 contestants.

Lynche, who last week was shown listening in by cell phone as his wife gave birth to their daughter, had a message for the newborn: “Coming to take care of you. Big Daddy’s coming.”

Benami said she was competing with an “angel” on her side, her late best friend.

“She would have wanted to do this so much, and she never got the chance to. And I have the chance to do this,” said Benami, who wept when the judges gave her a thumbs-up.

Hall was incredulous but upbeat.

“Momma? Guess who’s in the top 24?” he said, breaking the good news in a phone call. A dancer without formal training as a singer, he said he was inspired to audition after appearing in the stage musical “The Color Purple” with past “Idol” winner Fantasia.

The judges, including newcomer Ellen DeGeneres, also ended dreams Tuesday. Some took it better than others.

“It wasn’t my time right now,” said a composed Shelby Dressel of Avon Park, Fla. The 19-year-old, who was born with partial facial paralysis, added: “Let people see, regardless of any insecurity, just be you.”

Simon Cowell, marking his ninth and final season as judge, responded with an unusual flash of regret. “It’s the wrong decision,” he murmured.

Jessica Furney, 21, of Wamego, Kan., made a less graceful exit.

“I can do this. Do not send me home. I have it,” pleaded Furney, who tried out last season as well.

The judges attempted to soothe her, with DeGeneres suggesting it wasn’t the end of the road for her career. Furney was unmoved.

“How do you know that?” she demanded. That prompted Randy Jackson to offer more impromptu counseling — until Cowell could endure no more and dismissed her with, “Jessica, that’s it.”

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