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''American Idol'': A moment of silence

On ”American Idol,” the elimination of Melinda Doolittle, one of the best contestants ever, leaves us in shock

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American Idol

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Ryan Seacrest
Reality TV

”American Idol”: A moment of silence

Okay, so either there was something really funky in the chicken-and-cheese quesadilla I had for dinner tonight, or I just watched Melinda Doolittle get the boot from American Idol. And since I’ve got a column to file sometime around midnight (which doesn’t really leave time for a trip to the ER to get my stomach pumped), I’m going to proceed under the latter theory.

And that, I have to admit, leaves me at a total loss for words.

But only for a second. Deadlines, after all, leave no room for mourning.

The thing is, if you’d told me 13 weeks ago that neither Melinda nor LaKisha would manage to crack the top two, I’d have accused you of having a wilder imagination than Paula’s hairstylist. But in some ways, the downfall of Mindy Doo — perhaps the most consistent, solidly excellent singer this competition has ever seen — isn’t completely surprising. Painful, yes. But surprising? Not entirely.

You see, in the episode of Idolatry that premiered on Monday, my colleague Alynda Wheat and I reviewed the season in order to judge which of the final-three singers had given the best performance in each of the previous nine weeks of finals. And after deciding not to award points for the all-around-dreadful Barry Gibb and Gwen Stefani nights, we ended up with a tally of four for Jordin (British Invasion, Latin, country, and Tony Bennett); two for Blake (Bon Jovi, Diana Ross); and one for Melinda (”Idol Gives Back” week). And that kind of sums up the weird thing about Melinda Doolittle: Week in and week out, she’s been one of the two or three best performers, but not since her semifinal one-two punch of ”I’m a Woman” and ”My Funny Valentine” has she inspired the kind of watercooler buzz that turns casual fans into obsessive voters.

That is, of course, until last night’s episode. I really and truly thought Melinda’s gutsy, gorgeous rendition of ”Nutbush City Limits,” combined with her new and improved version of ”I’m a Woman” (complete with a classy nod to her backup singers), had made her a lock for the final two. (Heck, as I type this, I’m bobbing my head and singing, ”They call it Nutbush! One more time!” Didn’t everyone in America love that performance as much as I did?)

And watching tonight’s Idol results show, particularly during that visit to Nashville, I started feeling an emotional connection to Melinda that I’d been missing all season. Maybe it was because she didn’t appear to get the hometown fan turnout that Blake and Jordin received. Maybe it was seeing her genuine tears of joy reconnecting with the folks from her hometown church. Maybe I finally came to the conclusion that it would be something close to criminal if the reality show that dominates my pop-cultural life every January to May failed to reserve one of its final two slots for its hands-down most talented vocalist. C’mon, America, even Simon wanted this!

It wasn’t meant to be, though. And I got a horrible sense of foreshadowing midway through the show tonight when Ryan cut to commercial with the tease ”And Melinda goes home!” Of course he was referring to the highlight reel of her Nashville visit, but hearing those words shocked me into rewind-the-DVR mode and prompted the first of several ”Awww, hell no!”s I screamed at my TV this evening. (Another one occurred when I realized that Melinda was wearing a ”Death Cheater” T-shirt.)

But don’t cry for Melinda. Heck, she didn’t even cry for herself. Maybe, somewhere inside, she was smiling, thinking of names like Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson, hoping she’d follow their career trajectories instead of going the MIA way of previous third-place contestants such as Vonzell Solomon, Nikki McKibbin, and Jasmine Trias.

Indeed, it’ll be interesting to see if Mindy Doo is destined for lead or backup in her post-Idol career. And even though I kind of felt Melinda needed to win this competition a little more than Blake or Jordin, there’s no way the folks at 19 Entertainment won’t pick up their option to sign her to a recording deal. So she’ll get a shot at the big time — and as an added bonus, she won’t have to sing anything as dreadful as ”Do I Make You Proud.” So before we move on to a discussion of Jordin and Blake, can I get a chant for Melinda?

Slow clap. Min-dy! Min-dy! Min-dy!

You better believe she’s a woman…w-o-m-a-n!

Which is something you can’t say about Blake (a dood) or Jordin (a girl, not yet a woman). Which of those two is going to win it all? I really think it’ll come down to how well each performs next week. Blake’s hometown visit proved that the screaming-teen set is squarely in his corner, while Jordin’s indicated she’ll do well among folks who like kittens, ponies, and rainbows.

All kidding aside, though, as much as I felt Jordin deserved to go home after her lackluster final-three performances, she’s probably destined to sell a kajillion records, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two of ’em ended up in my CD collection. If she gets her nerves (and lower register) under control next Tuesday, she’s probably going to be coated in gold confetti 24 hours later. Unless Blake, a finalist unlike any other in Idol history, delivers a couple performances as audacious and unexpected as his ”You Give Love a Bad Name” and leaves viewers feeling shot through the heart in the process.

What did you think of tonight’s results? Was it my imagination, or did all three contestants wear outfits they’d already debuted in previous weeks? Was that Nigel Lythgoe awkwardly rocking out during Maroon 5’s performance? Is Blake’s dad the most adorable Idol parent since Elliott Yamin’s mom? And speaking of which, what did you think of E-Double’s lovely, powerful performance, and his very funny bid to score a free Porsche? Finally, how ’bout Ryan’s impromptu rendition of ”This Love”?

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