By Kate Ward
Updated February 26, 2010 at 11:05 PM EST

Ashley Rodriguez sang Leona Lewis’ “Happy” on Tuesday night, but the 22-year-old contestant certainly wasn’t thrilled with last night’s results. Though the judges gave the singer lukewarm reviews following her performance — and lukewarm is hardly bad when you consider the horrible critiques they unleashed on the rest of the girls — she still couldn’t manage to nab enough votes to stay in the competition. But so what if voters hurt her? Rodriguez still plans on trucking on. Here’s what she had to say to EW following her exit.

EW: You’ve had a night to soak it all in — how are you feeling?

ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ: You know, actually, I’m doing alright. It’s been a long night and it was an early morning, but I think now that everything’s processed a little bit, I’m doing okay.

Were you surprised about the results last night?

Absolutely. I’ll be very honest with you and say that I was surprised to have this journey cut short so quickly for me, considering that three out of the four judges told me that I’d be going on to the next week. So I was definitely surprised.

So their comments felt like a safety net for you.

Of course. I was banking on that security, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

It was a surprising night of results overall. Did the four of you get together and say, “What the heck?”

Yea, pretty much! We’ve been together all day today and we keep looking at each other like, man, this is crazy. We can’t believe it.

I’m not going to lie: Last night you looked pissed.

I feel so bad, because people keep telling me I looked pissed off or angry. I think angry wasn’t my favorite choice of words, just because I was just really disappointed. And shocked all at the same time. Yeah, the judges had given me some critique, but never once were any of them saying I shouldn’t be a part of this competition or doubting the reason why I was there. It was criticism that I could take and grow from, not necessarily that would bring me down. So it was a wide variety of emotions, so it came off as me being angry. But I definitely wasn’t angry. Just disappointed.

Do you think the sympathy vote played a large part last night? A lot of people who had terrible comments from the judges were safe.

You know, I do. And it’s unfortunate that a show like this works this way. And I do feel like to a certain extent votes went into saving people rather than advancing people. And it’s unfortunate that in the first couple weeks that’s what usually happens, until people start to catch on. If you have a favorite, you still need to vote for them, even if you think they’re going to do well. Votes matter, not necessarily just your opinion. You need to put that opinion into action and vote. And I felt like all four of us were kind of hurt by that a little bit, for sure.

Why do you think you went home? What went wrong?

I like to think that it’s because people thought I was a shoo-in for next week, and maybe didn’t vote as much. I like to think that’s what it is, because, of course, that makes me feel better, you know? But honestly, there really is no way to really tell and to really know what exactly happened. Because I’ll be very honest and say that I stand by my performance Tuesday night. And I hold enough confidence within myself to say that my performance Tuesday night was enough to keep me in the competition for another week. And unfortunately, it’s not based on performance. It’s based on voting.

Does it have anything to do with the song you chose? Why did you choose the Leona Lewis song?

I don’t think has much to do with song choice in terms of the voting. I chose that song becuase it’s such a wonderful song. And it really is your contemporary pop ballad. And I felt like that song would be me stepping out of my comfort zone, and me really challenging myself to grow and push the boundaries on my vocals. It tells a great story, and that story is extremely relatable to the last year that I’ve had in my life. So I stand by my song choice. And it was just unfortunate that things worked out the way they did.

Tyler last night said he didn’t feel like he got guidance from the judges. Did you feel the same way?

Absolutely. Because during Hollywood week, I didn’t really get a lot of feedback from them. It was usually like, “Okay, you made it through. You made it through.” Never any commentary. And criticism is something that, yeah, sometimes it stings a little bit, but that’s what makes you grow. And that’s what will make you a better person, a better singer, a better performer. So to not receive any criticism going into the first live show, I felt like all I could really do was to bring my A-game 100 percent based upon what I had been doing all along. And so for me to feel that I stuck with that, and for them to tell me that it was a poor song choice and I was trying to come off as a crazy pop diva, that was not the case at all. I was just sticking with what had gone well for me up until that point. So for the first live show, I felt like I was being consistent, and instead of getting the reviews I was hoping for, I ended up receiving the opposite. And it was a little surprising for me.

How much did nerves affect everyone?

Nerves definitely play into it. This is our first live show, and how many people really get to say that they’ve sung for 30 million people? And I think that definitely goes into play. After the jitters of the first live show, you’ll see that nerves won’t come into play as often for the other contestants. We all felt more comfortable Wednesday night when the guys sing. It’s just a shame that the four of us aren’t going to have that opportunity to get comfortable. We lost that chance.

You didn’t have much airtime during Hollywood week. Did that hurt you?

I got such great comments for my Boston audition, and the feedback was incredible. Not just from the judges, but from people around the nation, who were so supportive. Especially in my city. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. People rooting for me because I stand for Boston. After that moment, not only was my audition the first city, there were weeks of auditions after that. And then Hollywood week got split up into two weeks of airtime, and I did not get much airtime after my first Boston audition. A month and a half went by. And so it’s like, there’s so many other aspects that go into this competition other than your performance. People are paying attention to airtime. How much have we seen this person? Do we like her? Have we had a sense of her personality? I fell like maybe if America got to see me more often — even if I was just interviewed, just something — that maybe would have gone differently.

What’s next for you?

Honestly, my plan is just to use this opportunity, this American Idol experience, as a launching pad into my career. Because music is what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to be a singer and a performer, and this has given me a little taste of that. Now after experiencing that, there’s no way I can say I want to do anything else. This is it for me. It’s back to work and back to the drawing board. And America will see me again for sure.

Image credit: Patrick Ecclestein/Fox