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Frank Micelotta, FOX
After a pair of horrible performances on Tuesday evening, Jason Castro was eliminated from "American Idol" on Wednesday.

It's official. David Archuleta is coming home on Friday. The Murray teen will be greeted by classmates, politicians and, oh, maybe 20,000 of his new best friends. He'll sing the national anthem at the Utah Jazz game.

And "American Idol" cameras will be following him the whole time, capturing footage for next week's episodes of the top-rated Fox show.

Because, as expected, Archuleta advanced to the "Idol" top three after almost 51 million votes were cast by viewers.

Which means it's homecoming at Murray High for Archuleta on Friday. He'll be greeted by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and Murray Mayor Dan Snarr at an elaborate pep rally that begins at 4:15 p.m. in the school's football stadium. He'll sing two or three songs.

He's also planning to sing when he appears at 7 a.m. on local Fox station KSTU-Channel 13's "Good Day Utah," and maybe when he goes from there to radio station KZHT-FM 97.1.

Now that Fox, "Idol" producers and the NBA have worked out issues over rights, Archuleta will indeed be singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before the Jazz take on the Los Angeles Lakers in Game No. 3 of their playoff series at EnergySolutions Arena.

If you just can't get enough of Archuleta, KSTU's myfoxutah.com will be streaming hourly updates. And both the Web site and Channel 13 will cover the pep rally from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

It's not exactly a surprise that Archuleta was in the top three of the voting this week. After all, "Idol" judge Simon Cowell told the Murray teen that he'd "crushed" the competition on Tuesday night.

But strange things have happened on "American Idol" before. And there's a bit of a curse associated with the week the final four perform — finalists thought to be safe went home instead of less-talented competitors.

The pattern was set in Season 1 when Tamyra Gray made a shocking exit. That was followed by Josh Gracin in Season 2, LaToya London in Season 3 and Anthony Federov in Season 4, all thought to be at least relatively safe until they were sent home.

Then there was Chris Daughtry's absolutely astonishing elimination in Season 5. And Lakisha Jones' exit last season was at least mildly surprising.

Archuleta admitted on Wednesday night that he felt "nervous."

"No matter how well you do, there's always a chance" of being voted out," he told "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest.

"American Idol" doesn't reveal vote totals and, until it is just a two-person competition, doesn't reveal who finishes first. But Seacrest said this week's top three — Archuleta, David Cook and Syesha Mercado — were all within 1 million votes of each other.

After a pair of horrible performances on Tuesday — including one in which he forgot the lyrics — Jason Castro was sent home — only without the big celebration that awaits Archuleta, Cook and Mercado in their hometowns.

After the quick trip back to Utah, Archuleta returns to Los Angeles when he, Cook and Mercado will sing on Tuesday and await the votes on Wednesday.

"American Idol" will declare a winner on May 21.


E-mail: pierce@desnews.com