By Eugene Robinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 17, 2007
No, not Melinda. No, no, no, no, no.
Melinda Doolittle, the most polished singer in the history of "American Idol" -- she effortlessly channeled Carmen McRae, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, just name your diva and stand back -- was voted off last night. That leaves Jordin Sparks, a big-voiced but inexperienced teenager from Arizona, and Blake Edwards, a hyperkinetic fashion victim who interrupts his performances with beat-box vocalese, to compete next week in the finals.
Melinda's dismissal stunned even Jordin and Blake -- she was that much better. Melinda had made her living as a backup singer, which meant she had chops. Her command of breath, tone, her phrasing were those of a professional singer. Jordin and Blake, let's face it, probably couldn't spell vibrato, let alone modulate it.
But her departure wasn't entirely unexpected. For all her talent and accomplishment, Melinda had little of the sparkle and fizz that people expect from a pop star. Everything about Jordin and Blake seemed younger -- they are younger, truth be told -- and it's a truism that America worships youth.
In that sense, the result was probably good for the "Idol" franchise. Yes, it's something of a problem when the best-singer-by-a-mile gets booted. But "Idol" needs to appeal to a young demographic. Television isn't about justice; it's about parking the right eyeballs in front of the flat-screen, preferably without a DVR attached.
This is our children's world. We are mere trespassers.
Last night's show was larded with the usual non-nutritional filler. We saw Jordin's whirlwind "Idol"-escorted trip home to Glendale, Ariz. She broke up at being reunited with her best friend -- she's only 17, remember -- and seemed to spend the rest of her stay in tears.
Blake, on the other hand, had a grand old time on his trip home to Puget Sound. It took a flight in a private jet, another flight in a seaplane and a ride in a stretch-limo SUV to get him to his family's doorstep, where his parents awaited. Blake's father then promptly began to weep.
Next came a performance by Elliott Yamin, the angel-voiced, charismatically challenged "Idol" finalist from last season. He was there to sell his eponymous new album. He also got to show off his new clothes, his new hairdo and, most important, his new teeth.
Then we got to see Melinda's trip home to Nashville, where she got something more than the royal treatment. At a minimum, it was the "empress of all she surveys" treatment. The state of Tennessee proclaimed "Melinda Doolittle Day," the city renamed a street "Melinda Doolittle Way," and while the eager throngs did not strew rose petals in her path, they would have if she'd only asked.
After the Melinda Experience, we got a performance by Maroon 5. As Adam Levine crooned the band's new single, Blake stood with the other finalists in the wings and mouthed the words, shadowing Levine's every movement. We have long suspected that Blake imagines himself to be the real Adam Levine. If Adam Levine ever has problems with a stalker, I know where the authorities might start.
Finally, at 9:56 p.m., host Ryan Seacrest read the results. Jordin, despite having given three mediocre performances the night before, was safe. Melinda, unjustly, got the ax. And Blake survived to do his beat-box-boy thing one more time.