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HOME > American Idol > American Idol 6

Ousted 'Idol' finalist Melinda Doolittle served as "the momma"

By Christopher Rocchio, 05/18/2007 

Melinda Doolittle described American Idol's 12 sixth-season finalists as "one big, happy family," and she had the honor of serving as its matriarch.

"I'm kind of the momma of the bunch because I'm the oldest, so I call them all my babies," said Doolittle during a conference call with reporters on Thursday.  "I felt like I kind of hung out with them.  Jordin [Sparks], being the youngest, is my baby girl, definitely.  But I mean we all hang out, Blake [Lewis], everybody.  Blake is kind of the class clown, so he might have been one of the funniest ones."

While she was consistently praised by Idol's judges for being the most consistent performer during the sixth season, Doolittle's Idol journey stopped just short of the finale -- something she says had an idea was going to happen -- when she became the tenth finalist eliminated.  However she has nothing but good things to say about Sparks and Lewis -- one of whom will soon be crowned Idol's sixth season champ.

"Jordin is 17-years-old and it does not make any sense to me for a 17-year-old to be able to sing that amazingly well.  I just.. I am just in awe of her.  So she's got one of the most mature voices I've ever heard, especially on someone her age.  And gosh, she's got such a pure heart, and I think it comes through when she goes to sing and when she goes to emote a song.  So that’s my baby girl and I wish her the best," said Doolittle. "I think that [Blake] may quite possibly be one of the most original performers American Idol has ever had.  He takes a song, he makes it his own, whether it's beat boxing, dancing, kind of putting a different groove to it.  I believe that he took risks and I am so proud of him for doing that and for stepping out and making people listen to a different style."

Doolittle had previously worked as a background singer for numerous artists and said a number of them called and congratulated her for stepping into the spotlight during her Idol run, including CeCe Winans, Anointed, Martha Munizzi, Risen, and Sandi Patty.

"I've heard from quite a few artists that have just been extremely supportive to me and excited for me, because a lot of them have only heard me sing background, so this was something new for them also," she said.  "So they were kind of on the journey with me and they were extremely, extremely excited about.  So it's been a great run.  They've been supportive."

Given her familiarity with the job of a background singer, Doolittle made sure to recognize Idol's supporting vocalists during her Top 3 performance of "I'm a Woman," which she had previously performed during the Top 16 performance episode.

"You know what; I had remembered doing the song before and going back to sing with them the first time, and those girls have been kind of my rock out here," said Doolittle of Idol's background vocalists.  "They're amazing singers and I like to call them support singers now, because they're not really backup singers; they can all hold their own up front.  So they've just decided to support us out here, and I'm so grateful for it.  I love the fact that people get to see them in their element also.  So that was kind of my motivation on that, is that people see that those are supporting singers and they're amazing at what they do."

While she's glad to finally be in the spotlight, Doolittle said she still has moments when she yearns for her previous role as a performer.

"I loved singing background so much," she said.  "And while I am so excited about what's to come in the future, I'm going to... there are parts of it that I will still miss.  But as long as I get to hang out with them, I think I'll be probably cool, because they're like family to me so."

The support Doolittle received from artists she previously worked with, her family and her fans was appreciated, but she said former Idol fifth-season finalist Mandisa Hundley -- a friend of Doolittle's -- was the only one who could not only offer encouragement but also fully grasp the position she was in.

"Mandisa has been great for me," said Doolittle.  "She has just kind of been the person that understands what I'm going through, so if I need to bounce anything off of her I can.  And not necessarily advice other than, 'Be yourself.  Love it.  Live in the moment.  And give 100%.'  So she's been a great rock."

So much was made out of what was atop the finalists' heads during the sixth season -- be it Sanjaya Malakar's constantly creative coifs, Chris Sligh's curls, Gina Glocksen's rocker-do or Phil Stacey's baldness -- that Doolittle revealed her hair was also something she paid close attention to.

"Oh my goodness, [I wear a wig] every week.  I love them," she said.  "I started to name them.  So I think by [Wednesday] night I had Whitney on, and Whitney is my new favorite.  I call her Whitney, so maybe she helped out with that one."

Although tens of thousands of people audition at each season's Idol casting calls, Doolittle said she found herself at the sixth-season's Memphis audition somewhat serendipitously.

"Deciding to audition for American Idol kind of happened on a fluke because I was driving down with a friend of mine, and wanting to support him," she explained.  "And also the way he talked me into driving to Memphis was like, 'Remember the funny auditions?  Maybe now you can see them in person.'  So we got a couple more friends and we all went down and assume that you had to audition to get inside.  So we all signed up to audition and I ended up being the only one out of that group to make it through.  And as it kept going I was like, 'Oh my goodness, I'm still here.'  And so it kind of forced me to kind of take it by the reins and just be like, 'Okay, guys, we're going to do this I guess.'  So the growth in me has just been amazing and just me learning about myself and learning kind of how I react to these kinds of situations, how I react to being up front and everything."

Doolittle's reaction to being in the front instead of in the back was often one of surprise, as she had a tendency to repeatedly appear shocked when Idol's judges heaped praise on her vocal ability. Idol judge Simon Cowell was particularly enamored by Doolittle's surprised looks, and he also voiced that she was one of his favorite finalists during Idol's sixth season.

"He was ultra-supportive [after I was eliminated]," she said.  "He was just really explaining to me that he really believed in me and wanted to me succeed.  And that's great to hear, especially coming from Simon, you know.  But all of the judges were so sweet to me afterwards, and just really encouraging about what's to come in the future.  So I'm looking forward to what's coming next."

Criticism from the Idol judges was few and far between for Doolittle, but following her Top 4 performances, judge Paula Abdul hinted she was looking for the 29-year-old from Brentwood, TN to let loose a little bit.  Unfortunately, Doolittle said she was only able to heed Abdul's advice during her performance as the credits rolled on her Idol experience.

"You know what; sadly, I think the first time I let loose was after I got eliminated [Wednesday] night," said Doolittle.  "There's so much that goes through your head while you're onstage, getting ready to be judged and getting ready to be voted on, that I don't know that I've completely achieved letting loose like during the actual show.  I think I've gotten close, but I don't believe that I completely achieved it.  So last night was kind of a full-circle moment for me in the fact that I was able to just let go and have a great time onstage.  So it really meant a lot to me."

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