Surprise! Seven American Idol Semi-Finalists Unveiled!

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Is the next Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson among them?

Tuesday's Hollywood Week installment of American Idol surprised fans by unveiling seven of the top 24 semifinalists (traditionally, the two dozen top competitors are revealed together in the Wednesday night episode).

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Picked out of an already whittled-down list of 71 aspiring singers, the seven contenders 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, of Astoria, N.Y.

Many have labeled Casey James as the potential breakout star of the season — but it was an emotional night for all the performers who made it through.

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"Big Mike" Lynche gave a message to his newborn daughter (Lynche listened to his wife give birth while he was in Hollywood): "Coming to take care of you. Big Daddy's coming."

A crying Benami credited her "angel," 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."

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Judge Simon Cowell bemoaned the exclusion of one contestant: Shelby Dressel of Avon Park, Fla., who suffered from partial facial paralysis. "It's the wrong decision," he said of her being cut. (Dressel said simply, "It wasn't my time right now."

21-year-old Jessica Furney wasn't quite as dignified upon her dismissal. "Do not send me home. I have it," she begged the judges.

Newbie Ellen DeGeneres insisted to Furney that her career wasn't over, but Furney snapped, "How do you know that?

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"Jessica, that's it!" Cowell finally quipped.

The remaining lucky 17 will be revealed on Wednesday night's broadcast.

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