By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated March 13, 2003 02:34 PM

Damning “American Idol” contestant Vanessa Olivarez with faint praise Tuesday night, judge Simon Cowell told the Atlanta resident after she sang “You Just Keep Me Hangin’ On”: “You’re like Bette Midler, a great entertainer.”

But he added that her personality didn’t necessarily fit that of a singing star that “American Idol” is looking for.

Even the generally upbeat judge Paula Abdul offered some mild criticism. “It was a little pitchy,” she told Olivarez, “but it was a lot of fun.”

On Wednesday night, viewers spoke. Olivarez, 21, was voted off the show, becoming the first finalist to be eliminated.

“Thank you all so much and you haven’t seen the last of me,” a composed Olivarez told the audience after her defeat, “so keep watching, okay?” (In fact, Olivarez reportedly has already been booked for this summer’s “Idol” concert tour.)

Before to the broadcast, the general consensus was that contestants Charles Grigsby, 24, of Oberlin, Ohio and Kimberly Locke, 24, of Nashville, were most likely to be shown the door. In an American Online poll of 377,540 respondents, Olivarez ranked eighth out of 12, though she captured only 3 percent of the vote.

Also among the 12 finalists who will continue vying for the $1 million recording contract: Kimberley Locke, 25, of Nashville, who sang “Heat Wave,” and Julia DeMato, 23, of Brookfield, Conn., who sang “Where Did Our Love Go?”