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''I know there's a lot of top-secret stuff''

”American Idol” music guru Michael Orland hints at a spectacular season finale this Wednesday night, after acknowledging he was puzzled by the judges’ song choices last week

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Michael Orland: Joseph Marzullo / Retna; Jordin Sparks: Michael Tran/FilmMagic.com

Last week Michael Orland, Idol‘s musical guru, predicted he would not be out of a job working closely with Jordin Sparks until the end of the season. But after her less-than-stellar song options last week, we were wondering if Michael spoke a little too soon. He called us today between rehearsals with Jordin to talk about the top two and what we can look forward to for the final showdown.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Michael, let’s start with Simon’s choice for Jordin. I was not a fan of ”Wishin’ on a Star.” What was that?
MICHAEL ORLAND: I called our vocal coach and said, ”You’re not going to believe this. Simon picked ‘Wishin’ on a Star.’ I’m so depressed. He was like, ‘I love that song!’ So I had hope. But I’m going to take all the blame for her getting crushed over that arrangement. The song just keeps going over and over ”Wishin’ on a star, wishin’ on a star, wishin’ on a star.” By the time we finished with it and put some bounce in it, it was more R&B, not jazz. When I heard the band do it I was like, ”Oh my god. This sounds so great.” And then when it got to Simon and he said, ”I hated the arrangement,” I was like, ”Uh oh.” I thought she did a really great job with a really average song. I thought Simon was uncomfortably hard on Jordin all night.

And what was up with the producers giving her ”She Works Hard for the Money,” which wasn’t nearly as good as the songs they chose for Blake and Melinda?
I guess they wanted her to show she had a fun side with a faster beat.

I thought Melinda scored with ”Nutbush City Limits,” but some people in our office thought it was too old of a song for her.
I didn’t know that song before. The first time I heard it I was like, ”Ugh.” But boy, when she performed it, I was like, ”What a great song!” She’s a young Tina Turner.

What was up with both Melinda and Jordin choosing songs they’d already performed this season? Wasn’t that a cop out?
Well, Blake was definitely the most daring in picking a brand-new song for his choice. They were all told they could pick something they’d already done. Blake knew that Maroon 5 song already, so maybe he felt like he had the brain power to do a third song he didn’t know. I don’t want to say the girls took the easy way out, because they had their work cut out for them learning two new songs. I can tell you that the day before the show Blake was rehearsing with lyrics, though. He really did his homework because he was ready by showtime.

All three of the judges’ choices this year were actually pretty weak. I mean, ”Roxanne?” Isn’t that a song only Sting can sing?
Yeah, we got the answer to that. It is so identifiable with Sting. Melinda fared best in terms of taking a song and changing it up a little bit. It’s so funny Randy gave her a Whitney [Houston] song because he always tells the kids not to sing Whitney. What’s he going to do next? Give them Mariah?

Maybe next year the judges should consult with you.
It would be really fun if all three judges picked a song for each contestant and if the contestant got to pick from the three. It would have been interesting to get a different take from different judges. The song choices were weird this year. I thought Simon would find Jordin her ”Over the Rainbow,” but I didn’t think that happened.

NEXT PAGE: A taste of what to expect on the Idol finale