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Simon wants Melinda in ‘Idol’ finals

All three are strong singers, but the surly judge has obviously made his pick to win. By Craig Berman
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

“American Idol” ran a little short on Wednesday, and since there were no last-minute product-placement opportunities to fill the extra 20 seconds, host Ryan Seacrest asked the judges who they thought would get voted off. Randy Jackson said he expected the two girls to make next week’s finale, while eager-to-please Paula Abdul dodged the question.

Simon Cowell made the most declarative statement: “I want to see my girl Melinda in the final.”

Of course, what Simon wants and what the audience wants aren’t always in synch, and the audience is the one who will ultimately decide. But based on talent alone, Melinda Doolittle is a no-brainer to make it.

Focusing only on this week’s efforts, she’s also a no-brainer to continue. In fact, by virtually any standard that doesn’t involve beatboxing ability, Melinda is a sure thing.

And the judges very badly would like Melinda in the finale, because she’s the surest bet to excel among the three finalists.

Jordin Sparks has been strong most of the season but she’s just 17, doesn’t have Melinda’s vocal range or performance ability, and hasn’t been as consistent down the stretch. On the positive side, nobody in the history of the show has reacted to criticism better than she does.

Granted, she doesn’t get much of it, but any negative feedback is answered by agreement, a giggle or occasionally a very mild but funny rebuke.

Blake Lewis has personality, skills and originality, and has definitely won himself a record deal with his extended “Idol” run.

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It’s theoretically possible that a Blake and Jordin finale could fall flat, and make critics wonder about the level of talent compared to past seasons. Melinda compares with anyone as far as pure vocal skills are concerned, so her presence next week would leave “Idol” in great shape to have a memorable champion.

Each singer got three songs this week: one chosen by a judge, one by the producers and one by themselves.

Jordin Sparks, 17, Glendale, Ariz.:  Jordin entered the week as arguably the co-favorite with Melinda, but she lost ground by failing to really nail any of her three songs. All were very good, but her most impressive song was a repeat of one she sang earlier in the competition. And for whatever reason, she wound up with three songs that first hit the charts well before she was born.Judge’s choice: Simon had her sing “Wishing on a Star” by Rose Royce. The arrangement wasn’t great, and that’s what the judges chose to blame for their lack of enthusiasm for the performance. But Jordin didn’t do much herself to sell the song.Producers’ choice:  The producers chose “She Works Hard for the Money” by Donna Summer. Paula was the biggest fan, and the other two judges praised it as well (though Simon again wasn’t a fan of the arrangement). It was good, but not fantastic.Jordin’s choice: Jordin responded to a viewer question earlier in the show by saying her favorite song was “Mmm Bop” by Hanson. Fortunately, she didn’t actually elect to sing that as her finale. Instead, she went with “I Who Have Nothing.” The judges loved it, as they loved it the last time she sang it, and Jordin responded to Simon’s minor criticism by giggling it away.Grade: B+Stay or Go: Jordin’s probably going to make the finale, but it’s no sure thing.

Blake Lewis, 25, Bothell, Wash.:  Blake entered the week behind the other two in the fan voting, so he had some catching up to do. He did his part by singing well, but probably not well enough to get him over the top. On the positive side, he did get to jam with Sir Mix-a-Lot as part of his back-to-Bothell homecoming.Judge’s choice: Paula chose “Roxanne” by the Police, and if Blake makes the finale he’ll owe her a thank-you note. It was a nice contrast to the song Simon gave Jordin to open the show, and gave him a chance to strut across the stage and display some showmanship. The judges all approved, though Simon gave it his patented good-but-not-great-it-was-just-an-imitation-of-the-original line.Producers’ choice: The producers gave Blake “This Love” by Maroon 5. The vocals were fine, but he couldn’t resist a little beatboxing in a song that really has no place for it. But it sure won the heart of Randy, who said, “When you make a record, that’s the kind of record you should really make.” No word on whether Maroon 5 is quaking in its boots at the competition.Blake’s choice: For his final song, Blake chose Robin Thicke’s “When I Get You Alone.” Simon loved it. “This is what I have really liked about you throughout the competition,” he said. “You don’t play it safe, you take risks, and you look like you’re having fun out there.”Grade: B+Stay or Go: It wouldn’t be a stunner if he reached the finale, but he’s the most likely candidate to be eliminated.

Melinda Doolittle, 29, Brentwood, Tenn .: Melinda doesn’t make mistakes, so the drama each week is whether she’ll be outstanding or simply really good. This week, she was outstanding, and ended all doubt that she deserves a spot in the finale with a trio of strong performances.Judge’s choice: Despite six seasons of advising contestants never to sing Whitney Houston songs because they won’t compare to the original, Randy made Melinda sing “I Believe in You and Me” by the legendary co-star of “Being Bobby Brown.” Randy predictably loved it, and Simon called it her best performance of the last four weeks, and gave her the opening round.Producers’ choice: It’s also easy to see that the producers like her, since they gave her “Nutbush City Limits” by Ike and Tina Turner. Simon has said in the past that Melinda sounds like a young Tina Turner, and that really came through with this song. She nailed the vocals in the best overall performance of the night. Randy gave her the round, with Simon calling it a tie in an effort to preserve a little drama. Nobody asked Paula her opinion.Melinda’s choice: Melinda closed the show with “I’m a Woman,” capping her night with a third consecutive strong effort. Her consistency won Simon over, as he said, “If I am going to award a position in the final to the person who has consistently delivered week after week, it’s you.Grade: AStay or Go: It wouldn’t be a stunner if she got sent home, since everyone left is really good. But it would sure be an injustice. Melinda should be safe.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.