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Now `Idol' is really heating up

March 30, 2007|Richard Rushfield | Times Staff Writer

This is where the "American Idol" race should start to get truly interesting as those who are not dying to win to the core of their souls start to make terrible mistakes and fall away.

Front-runner Melinda Doolittle has not made a single misstep. Can that last?

That question aside, the shape of the race is clear enough that I am prepared to pick the winners. Even though a month ago I said with certainty that it was a Melinda-versus-LaKisha race, I can now say with absolute certainty the final three will be:

No. 1: Melinda Doolittle

No. 2: Blake Lewis

No. 3: Jordin Sparks

And this prediction will absolutely hold up. Unless something changes and it doesn't.

Other observations from the taping of the show Wednesday night:

* I swear I'm not imagining things. The other contestants are barely tolerating Sanjaya Malakar. He sits in another world on stage.

* The biggest impression one gets watching from the Idoldome is that these kids are very, very tired.

Both Phil Stacey and Chris Sligh referred to exhaustion in their presong mini-interviews Tuesday night. Sligh -- who got the boot Wednesday night -- went so far as to say his health was in jeopardy.

In their interactions with the crowd and one another, all 10 seemed to have surpassed being nervous. Standing before the judges just a week ago, a grin or grimace from Simon sent most of these contestants whirling off on an emotional roller-coaster. This week, most struggled to muster more than weary nods. Haley Scarnato -- who earlier would have been pushed close to breaking by negative comments -- took it in stride, while Stacey seemed to be going through the motions, miming devil-horns excitement. Only Gina Glocksen seemed genuinely touched after getting the thumbs-up.

In a conversation last week with one of the remaining contestants -- I won't reveal whom -- I was told that during a night of particularly harrowing results they were numb to the outcome, drained at the end of a hard week of rehearsals, photo shoots and Ford commercials.

I am reminded, of course, of the experience of the Apollo astronauts who stepped on the moon. Having completed a journey few could imagine, the moon walkers have spent their lives since answering the question, over and over, "What was it like?" In his book "Moondust," author Andrew Smith reported the frustration the 12 lunar visitors experienced trying to articulate those fleeting moments in time, subsequently turning variously to painting, New Age religion, workaholism and silence.

Because the truth is, as Smith writes, they were almost all too busy up there to stop to notice what it was like.

My point being, this moment will pass quickly; they owe it to future historians to pause to take in the experience that few mortals will ever achieve. Perhaps "Idol" needs to include a space of time when contestants can truly live rock-star lives -- throwing groupie orgies and developing seven-figure drug habits just for a week -- to give these brave souls a chance to take it all in.

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