March 18, 2004 12:08 PM

Long-shot Leah LaBelle, 17, from Seattle, who had been a wild card allowed back in the game only last week, lost out for good on “American Idol” Wednesday night, when she became the first of the final 12 to get the boot on the FOX talent hunt.

As Leah tried to keep her eyes dry after the votes (some 18 million of them) were tallied, she thanked her mother and her friends for their ongoing support, but it is now time for the high-school student with the 3.8 GPA to go back to her books.

All told, some 26.5 million viewers tuned in to “Idol” on Tuesday of this week, marking a landmark ratings figure for the show’s Tuesday time slot.

Viewing of that episode, which featured aspirants belting out such R&B favorites as Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” were at their highest during the 8:30-9 p.m. half-hour, which averaged 27.4 million viewers, according to Nielsen figures.

“It was the biggest Tuesday we ever had,” said FOX spokeswoman Alex Gillespie in a statement. “It’s absolutely fantastic.”

And regardless of the fact that this “AI” is actually “AI3,” this season’s numbers are higher than last year’s through-the-roof ratings.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Tuesday’s installment was up by 9 percent in the 18-49 demographic group, compared to the comparable episode in 2003 — and up 20 percent in total viewers.

No wonder judge Simon Cowell can’t wipe that smirk off his face.

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