He thought he was out. His friends back home thought he was out. With one spot allegedly left in the Top 12 last Thursday night, Chapel Hill’s Anoop Desai heard the other guy, Matt Giraud, called to take the final silver stool. But wait! Those drama-engineering producers of American Idol had yet another Season 8 surprise up their sleeves. Rather than a Top 12 this year, they named a Top 13, and gave the last slot to Desai. Judge Simon Cowell delivered the news to the crestfallen UNC grad student, who lit up with a big “What?!” before clutching his face in his hands. His parents embraced each other in the audience.

The soulful singer had performed a rousing romp of Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative.” Desai followed the tune with a sober shout-out of empathy to fellow Tar Heels back home who were watching in support while mourning on the one-year anniversary of the death of former UNC-Chapel Hill student body president Eve Carson, who was murdered on March 5, 2008. Desai has credited the slain popular student leader for motivating him to try out for the hit show.

Desai and his 12 competitors sing tonight at 8; one will be sent packing tomorrow night.