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"American Idol" gave John Stevens his Dear John letter Wednesday night.

The 16-year-old crooner from East Amherst, who reached the final six in Fox's live televised talent competition despite weeks of unflattering vocal assignments, sour comments from the judges and howls of protest from music critics across the nation, finally was voted off the show.

Host Ryan Seacrest noted that he had received just slightly more than 4 million votes. Viewers vote each week via toll-free phone calls and text messages.

After the announcement, the studio audience joined Stevens' parents in standing and giving him a round of rueful applause.

Everybody stood, it seemed, except judge Simon Cowell. Cowell, who praised him in the early going, had become his harshest detractor. During Tuesday night's show featuring the songs of Gloria Estefan, he told Stevens, "You and Latin music are like chocolate ice cream and an onion."

At least two of his fellow contestants -- Diana DeGarmo and Jasmine Trias -- wiped back tears Wednesday.

Stevens, whom Cowell credited Tuesday night for having "taken every bullet thrown at you like a man," looked crestfallen, but seemed to take the bad news in stride.

"Are you a bit relieved?" Seacrest asked the Williamsville East High School junior.

"Somewhat," he replied.

"What are you going to miss?" Seacrest continued.

"Them," said Stevens, indicating the five surviving contestants on the couch.

Then came the weekly "American Idol" farewell video, which sums up the departing contestant's experiences on the show. In previous weeks, it has been like snapshots. With Stevens, it was like watching someone go through a rite of passage. He seemed to become more mature, more seasoned as it went along.

"I thought I didn't belong there," he said in the voice-over, "but I discovered I did belong there."

He went on to say how he tried to bring something new to his performance each week. He noted that "the past few weeks have been very intense" and that "the show has been very emotional."

"Every day you get through here is a great day," he concluded, "and I wouldn't trade this experience for anything."

"A true class act," Seacrest declared, then introduced Stevens' farewell song, a reprise of the Gloria Estefan number he had sung the previous night, "Music of My Heart."

Stevens' departure is expected to deflate controversy that has arisen around the show recently. Critics complained bitterly after last week's shocker, when the competition's three strongest singers received the fewest votes, and one of them was booted out.

On the other hand, the uproar gave "American Idol" its biggest audience ever on Tuesday night. Will as many viewers tune in to watch the victory march of one of the two surviving divas -- Fantasia Barrino and La Toya London?

Judge Randy Jackson gave his approval to a return to predictability Wednesday when he was asked what he thought of this week's bottom three -- Stevens, "aloha girl" Trias and George Huff from New Orleans.

"It's definitely the right bottom three tonight," he said.

Nevertheless, Stevens' boyish charm should not be discounted. He's already showing up in commercials.

e-mail: danderson@buffnews.com