Ashley Rodriguez, one of the first four singers voted off by viewers, chided the panel Friday for being hard on contestants during their first live shows.

“They were coming in throwing punches,” she told a teleconference. “I wouldn’t say they were too hard but we definitely could have used a little bit of love from them, that’s for sure.”

Rodriguez, 22, of Chelsea, Mass., said she stood by her performance of Leona Lewis’ “Happy,” which had been derided by judge Simon Cowell as “clumsy.”

The departure of Rodriguez, Joe Munoz, 20, of Huntington Park, Calif.; Janell Wheeler, 24, of Tampa, Fla., and Tyler Grady, 20, of Nazareth, Pa., leaves 20 contestants on the hit Fox singing contest.

“American Idol” found itself outperformed by NBC’s Winter Olympics, which drew more viewers than the Fox show for the second time in two weeks, according to preliminary Nielsen Co. ratings.

Going head-to-head at 8-9 p.m. EST Thursday, the Olympics drew 19.2 million viewers compared to 17.8 million for the results show of “Idol,” which typically is lower-rated than performance episodes.

The ex-contestants said they don’t intend to slip from sight.

“I will keep on trying and you will definitely hear more about me in the future,” Munoz told the teleconference.

Grady, whose retro sound and look would fit neatly in a production of “Hair,” said he doesn’t regret his approach or his lament Thursday about a lack of “constructive criticism” from the four-judge panel.

“I was just expressing myself and I meant no disrespect and I’m not bitter at the judges. Seems kind of silly,” Grady said in rebutting reports he said painted him inaccurately.

Ellen DeGeneres’ characterization of him as lacking honesty and charisma also was off base, he said.

Grady said he’s sticking with his kind of music, mentioning his band’s name so often that one reporter complimented him on his marketing skills.

“The name is Wailing Waters. Keep an eye out for us,” Grady said.

An upbeat Wheeler said she was proud of her composure she learned she was out of the contest.

“If I had to go out, I’m glad I went out that way,” said Wheeler.

She took time to compliment new judge DeGeneres for doing “a bang-up job for her first live show” and said she expected the contestants’ performances to improve as they get used to a big stage and how they sound on it.