By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated August 29, 2002 01:00 PM

It was another tearful Wednesday night, and Fox’s “American Idol” is now whittled down to two: Justin Guarini, 23, of Doylestown, Pa., who sang Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” and Kelly Clarkson, 20, of Burleson, Texas, who delivered Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” That left Nikki McKibbin, 23, out in the cold, as she was booted by viewers Wednesday after singing “Black Velvet.” McKibbin wept as she hugged her fellow contestants and was gracious in defeat as family members, including her visibly disappointed mother, looked on from the audience inside Hollywood’s Kodak Theatre. “What an incredible journey this has been,” McKibbin said. “Just to know that so many people support me and enjoy what I do means more than anything in the world.” Even the usually tart-tongued host of the show, Simon Cowell, went easy on the runner-up. “Reality check: Out of 10,000 people, you are third. This is not a time for tears,” he told McKibbin. “You’ve got a career ahead of you.” Meanwhile, Guarini and Clarkson will sweat it out next week for the final two episodes of the Fox summer hit, which promises a recording contract to the winner. Viewer calls will decide the champion, to be announced on the program Sept. 4.

Want more “American Idol”? Check out CNN’s story, “And Now There Are Two.”