Collier County resident Lazaro Arbos continued to sail through the "American Idol" singing competition this week, but he still has to survive one more cut before he makes the show's Top 40.
The 21-year-old Gulf Coast High School grad survived the grueling "guys vs. guys" Hollywood Week rounds, which FOX aired in two parts Wednesday and Thursday nights. After the emotional competition, Arbos was one of 28 men left standing.
But the celebration was over fast. At the end of the solo night competition Thursday, contestants and viewers learned that eight more men would be eliminated before the Top 40 is announced next week.
Still, "Lazis," the moniker adopted by Arbos' fan base, celebrated online. Cher is among those who sent messages of support.
"You made it!! Great job! Am proud of you babe!! Love you!!! XXXME," she said via Twitter Thursday night.
Arbos went online to thank his fans and sent a special note to Cher.
"Thank you so much doll :) you're the best!!!" he tweeted.
Arbos has been featured prominently on the show through the start of the season, partly because he has a noticeable speech impediment that disappears when he sings. His voice has impressed the judges, including Mariah Carey, one of Arbos' singing inspirations.
Keith Urban gave Arbos high praise Wednesday night after the Cuban-born singer sang a solo a cappella rendition of "Angels" by Robbie Williams.
Urban, who like Carey joined the cast this season, complimented the "clarity" of Arbos' voice and called it "beautiful."
"You just simply must go on, so you are going through," Urban said.
There were a few more surprises for contestants and viewers this week.
For one, it was the first time that the show divided the Hollywood rounds by gender. The male contestants competed against one another this week. The female contestants will try to out-perform each other next week.
Another change came during the group round. In past seasons, contestants like Arbos who made it through the first round of individual cuts were able to choose their own performing groups. This time, the contestants were split into pre-selected groups.
Each group picked a song from a list and had to memorize lyrics, craft choreography and figure out harmonies.
Arbos and his teammates seemed to have trouble meshing, and at least one of them pointed to Arbos' speech impediment as a problem. Arbos seemed aware that there were issues.
"Sometimes I feel that when you can't communicate well sometimes people take that as not being smart," Arbos said during the episode.
Jane Fraser, president of The Stuttering Foundation, said it is common for people to make that association.
"It just shows you how courageous Lazaro is to be able to stand up to that kind of pressure," Fraser said.
The female contestants will compete against one another starting Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 8 p.m. The Top 40 will be announced Thursday, Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. Both events will air on FOX.