The three remaining “American Idol” contestants took to the streets Friday — of their rapturous hometowns. Local loyalists showed all day just who they thought should win Fox’s wildly popular singing contest, which will feature some of the scenes next week.
Back before she was an “American Idol” finalist, Melinda Doolittle was a Belmont University mascot. She wore a hot, sweaty bear costume and jumped around in the name of school spirit.
The tables were turned on Doolittle in a big way when she returned Friday to her alma mater. Hundreds waved signs and shouted encouragement to her: “We love you, Melinda.” “You’re going to win, Melinda.” “Doolittle’s Da Bomb.” “Melinda for President.”
The school even named a street after her, unveiling a black iron post with a blue sign that read: “Melinda Doolittle Way.”
Doolittle, who arrived waving from the back of a white convertible Mustang, looked — all too characteristically, as “Idol” judge Simon Cowell has scolded her — surprised and overwhelmed.
“If I talk too much I’ll cry,” she said. “You have no idea how much this means to me. ... This is probably one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced.”
Doolittle said she was glad to be home, even if just for an afternoon. “I just got some sweet tea, so I’m happy. Now I need some candied yams and greens and I’ll be great.”
‘It’s like seeing a miracle’Doolittle, a professional backup singer in Nashville before she became an “Idol” contestant, has a rich, powerful voice that she put to work on two songs Friday. But even stars have off moments, and Doolittle’s came during her first number when her microphone kept cutting off. The problem was corrected, and she recovered nicely for the second song.
Ironically, her mother, Marguerite Doolittle, said her daughter was tone deaf until about the sixth grade. She couldn’t carry a tune to save her life.
“God really dropped a voice into her in the seventh grade,” her mother said. “It’s been so exciting watching this, because it was not there before. It’s like seeing a miracle, really.”
Doolittle, 29, graduated from Belmont with a music degree in 1999. Everyone in the crowd was certain she’d prevail over rivals Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis.
“She’s very talented, and she’s also very sweet and personable,” said Susan Belsante of Charlotte, N.C.
Belsante has a daughter at Belmont and a son graduating from nearby Vanderbilt University. She felt a little guilty about it, but she skipped the commencement speech at her son’s graduation so she could come cheer Doolittle.
“I went ‘Let’s see,”’ she said, holding up both hands like a scale, “commencement speech or Melinda Doolittle.’
“I had to go with Melinda Doolittle.”
Seattle welcomes Blake
The scene was just as raucous in Seattle, where Lewis, 25, played a free concert before more than a thousand fans at Westlake Park. He was joined onstage by Seattle’s own Sir Mix-A-Lot, who sang his hit “Baby Got Back” over what many in the crowd came to see: Lewis’ beat-boxing.
“Every time you watch ‘American Idol,’ you see people that can sing, and that’s it,” Mix-A-Lot said to wild applause. “This cat got real talent. ... He’s the new king of Sea-town, baby.”
Lewis’ homecoming plans included a parade in his suburban hometown of Bothell and a performance of the national anthem at the Mariners-Yankees game Friday night. He looked out on the crowd in the warm midday sunshine and said: “I’m speechless. Thank you guys for all the support.”
Many in the crowd, populated largely by truant teenage girls, screamed and waved signs that read “Blaker Girls” or “We (heart) Blake.”
Blaire Ginnever, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, said she was skipping her lunch period and Spanish class at Villa Academy in Seattle.
“Blake es muy bueno,” she said.
Her favorite part? “The beat-boxing — it’s just, like, unique and nobody else can do it on the show.”
Ginnever’s mom, Marilyn, was also in the crowd, and said she didn’t mind that her daughter was missing school.
“It’s the end of the year, and this is big for Seattle,” she said. “We follow the show. It’s kind of a family event, and rooting for a hometown boy makes it special.”
City Councilwoman Jean Godden, who is old enough to remember a significant chunk of Seattle’s musical history, read a proclamation declaring Friday “Blake Lewis Day” and placing the “renowned beat-box musician” in a local tradition that includes Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Nirvana, Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie.
Jordin Sparks was returning to Glendale, Ariz., Friday, with her hometown love fest slated to start in late afternoon.