Melinda Doolittle, who has been critiqued as the most consistent singer in this season's American Idol by judges, was eliminated during last night's vote-off show to the shock of many viewers.
Doolittle's exit takes from the show one of this season's strongest Christian finalists, and leaves only Jordin Sparks to represent the faith as she attempts to fend off Blake Lewis.
"Commiseration to you Melinda," commented the show's most frank judge, Simon Cowell – who seemed to favor Doolittle – after she was voted out, "because you are a heck of a singer."
Doolittle had received stellar remarks from all of the three judges for each of her three performances this past Tuesday night. During this week's competition, the three finalists each performed three songs throughout the show. The first song they sang was chosen by one of the Idol judges, the second by producers, and the final performance was their own choice.
"Very, very difficult song to sing. I think it was your best performance in the last four weeks," explained Cowell, after Doolittle's first presentation in which she sang "I Believe In You and Me," chosen by judge Randy Jackson. "Round one goes to Melinda."
For Doolittle's producer-picked song, "Nutbush City Limits," Jackson told the Nashville native, "Another great, solid performance from you. And I'll tell you what else. When you make your record, you should put some of that in your repertoire because that's a good thing for you. It will lengthen your whole career. I like that. I like that."
The former backup singer seemed to solidify her place in the finals after her final performance "I'm a Woman." The judges seemed to think that she would last to the finals.
"I've got to say this Melinda," concluded Cowell. "We've known each other now for 11 weeks on this show. If I'm going to award a place in the final to the person who has consistently delivered week after week, it's you."
But in the end, the finalist who had been labeled by many as "hands down the best singer there" didn't make the cut. And the announcement by Idol host Ryan Seacrest of the results of the nearly 60 million votes that were cast for this year's semifinal round inevitably sent Doolittle packing.
Doolittle will now have the opportunity to take her singing career to the next level, however, as she is more than likely going to have a record contract. She was one of the strongest Idol competitors backed by the Gospel Music Association (GMA), which has been supporting several Christian singers during the popular TV show this year. The 29-year-old originally hailed as a backup singer from Nashville, the center of Christian music in the United States.
Jordin Sparks, former Overall Spotlight Winner at the 2004 GMA Academy, is now the sole GMA-backed Idol contender going into next week's finals contest. Many say she has the talent to win, and she has been given more positive critiques on her performances than fellow competitor Lewis. But votes do not necessarily always favor the most talented.
"This is the point in the season where I'm really trying to see who's in it to win it and who's going to bring the heat every single time they're up there," voiced Jackson after Sparks' performance of "Wishing on a Star," chosen by judge Cowell. "That was a very good vocal. Kind of harkened like a little Beyonce there; I like that. The run at the end was hot!"
Jackson, who seems to favor the Arizona native, also called Sparks' final performance "very, very hot."
"Well listen that's another great performance," he said of Spark singing "I Who Have Nothing."
"I think that's your best performance of the night. Way to close it out."
Sparks and Blake will now head on to next Tuesday's show, where they will compete during a one-hour showdown to determine the winner of American Idol's sixth season. A live two-hour finale will reveal the winner on the following Wednesday.
Idol has continued to dominate the networks as the year's most-watched show. The culmination episode is expected to bring in record audiences.