March 14, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

When the 12 American Idol finalists reconvene on Tuesday for their first co-ed competition, a certain newsboy cap covering a certain set of curly locks will be conspicuously absent. In a shocker of an announcement, Fox revealed on Sunday that fan favorite Mario Vazquez has dropped out of the competition, citing unspecified personal reasons. He’ll be replaced by Nikko Smith, the top vote-getter among the male semi-finalists ousted last week. In fact, he already has been at the Idol website, from which Vazquez has been purged, Soviet politician-style.

Vazquez, voted by his own fellow contestants as the finalist most likely to win, has offered few clues as to the reason behind his dropping out. Talking to TV Guide Online, he said his departure had nothing to do with the show itself ”It’s just a personal family thing,” said the 27-year-old. The Bronx-bred singer said he had ”to take care of some personal issues with my family in New York. And with Idol being a live show, it just wouldn’t have worked out schedule-wise.”

But his mother, Ada, told the New York Post she was unaware of any family crisis. ”I don’t know his reasons, but whatever they are, I respect him for it and will be very supportive,” she said. ”I feel so hurt. Maybe it’s something Simon did. We are always blaming Simon.”

Vazquez’s older brother, Rich, told the Post that Mario was equally mysterious in telling him about his decision. ”He said, ‘This is not a life-threatening situation. It’s for the best reasons. But I can’t talk about why,”’ the elder Vazquez said. ”I know he wanted it so bad, so it was a shock to me. I thought that maybe his life was in danger, but that is not the case.”

Before his reinstatement, Smith, 22, told hometown newspaper the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he wasn’t overly disappointed with his loss last week. ”I’m happy to get all that exposure,” said Smith, the son of baseball Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Smith. ”Millions and millions of people watch the show, and hopefully somebody saw me and liked what they saw.” Guess he’ll find out for sure now.

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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