Ray Mickshaw, Fox
He forgot the words, but David Archuleta's smile helped him avoid elimination.

For the top 12 contestants on "American Idol," life as they know it will never be the same.

Literally from the time their heads come off the pillow until they put them down again, their schedules are jam-packed. Photo shoots, interviews, red-carpet appearances and rehearsals galore are only some of the things on an "Idol" contestant's "to do" list. There's also Ford commercial shoots (that pretty much eat up an entire day), recording studio times and, for people like David Archuleta and me (younger than 18 while on the show), three hours of school a day.

And that pressure seemed to have gotten to Archuleta Tuesday night.

With a brand-new stage, a bigger audience (whose screams make it hard to hear yourself sing) and strep throat to boot, Archuleta was nervous, said Dean Kaelin, Archuleta's voice coach and also mine.

Kaelin said he did vocal warm-ups with Archuleta over the phone before he performed that night and that he sounded "phenomenal." But Kaelin's reassurance wasn't enough to calm Archuleta's nerves.

"You could tell on his face that he was worrying about too many things," Kaelin said.

Archuleta forgot his lyrics not once but twice Tuesday night. But he kept right on going, "just like an ice skater who falls and still finishes his routine," Kaelin said.

And Archuleta did it with a smile on his face. I think that's what prompted fans nationwide to rally around him and keep him safe for another week.

"I think he's learned from this experience. He's going to bounce back," Kaelin said. "And, actually, I think he's got more support now than last week."

Trying to focus on keeping your grades up was actually really tough. I don't know about Archuleta, but my teachers would FedEx me my homework.

One night, I was so behind on my schoolwork that the hair guy, Dean Banowitz, came into my study room and did my hair while I, ahem, "studied."

The minute my three hours were up, I was basically carried into the hair and makeup room while someone buckled my shoes, someone touched up my makeup, Banowitz ratted my hair, and the wardrobe lady tied on my belt — all at the same time.

"Don't move!" they all screamed while they worked their magic.

With all the added stress that comes with being a new contestant on America's No. 1 TV show, sometimes just focusing on the song is the hard part.

"My advice would be to find a song you're comfortable with and then just sing it," Kaelin said.

Meaning, don't think about everything else so much. Focusing on why they're there and what it's going to take to get them through each week is the most important thing for contestants right now.

This week, the contestants were privileged to choose songs from the Lennon/McCartney songbook. While some played it safe, others, in judge Paula Abdul's words, took big risks — and earned big rewards. Among them were Chikezie, Carly Smithson and David Cook.

I have to say that after watching "Idol" on Tuesday night, I am now a Chikezie fan. He added a Southern-rock edge to his song — and it worked.

"This risk paid off, my dear," Abdul said.

Carly Smithson also took a significant risk by singing "Come Together."

"Week after week so far, I think you've chosen the wrong song — until now," said judge Simon Cowell. And he didn't stop there.

"This reminds me of six years ago, same week — Kelly Clarkson," Cowell said. A very surprised and ecstatic Smithson thanked Simon profusely, even declaring, "I love you!"

David Cook took a risk by adding a "rock" edge to his song of choice: "Eleanor Rigby."

"If this remains a talent competition and not a popularity competition, you actually could win this entire show," Cowell predicted.

If that doesn't boost Cook's confidence ...

But not everyone's risks paid off.

Taking the judges' earlier advice, Kristy Lee Cook changed "Eight Days a Week" into a twangy country song. But it didn't work.

"It was horrendous," Cowell said. "It was like Dolly Parton on helium. A very brave but foolish thing to do."

Consequently, her performance landed her a spot in the bottom three along with Syesha Mercado and David Hernandez on Wednesday night. When asked if the judges thought America got it right with the bottom three, Cowell said, "I think America got it spot-on."

Hernandez ended up getting the boot. "Honestly, things happen for a reason, and this isn't it for me," an optimistic Hernandez said.

And that's what's so great about "American Idol"— for those who work hard, being voted off isn't the end.

Utah recording artist and actress Carmen Rasmusen-Herbert came in sixth place during the second season of "American Idol." She wrote about her experiences in her book, "Staying in Tune." Her first full album is "Nothin' Like the Summer," featuring the single of the same name.

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