The Times' pop music critics' take on "American Idol":
Wednesday night's vote tally sending Melinda Doolittle home to Nashville -- but not before she hits the concert trail with the "American Idols Live" summer tour -- may qualify as a surprise, even an injustice to many, in that she's clearly the most accomplished pure singer of this year's crop.
Yet now that the contest comes down to wholesome R&B teen queen Jordin Sparks and wholesome, beat-boxing, robot-dancing Blake Lewis, we'll have a far more intriguing finale next week.
With Melinda, there would be no surprises -- we've seen how competently she fields every song and style thrown at her this season. She's the quintessential studio pro, the talented utility player you want at your beck and call precisely for that faultless versatility. But there was little in the way of a personal stamp on any of it. Her musical foundation was poured, set and long-ago cured.
Blake and Jordin, however, are obviously in the gestation stage as performers, embryonic as potential artists, so growth and musical evolution remain possible. Blake's kinetic energy is his chief asset, and he'd be wise to play that up rather than making any more awkward attempts at smoldering sexuality.
Jordin, unquestionably Blake's vocal superior and the rightful heir to this season's "AI" crown, could become a full-fledged pop-soul diva -- if she winds up in the hands of managers and producers who are committed to bringing the most out of those preternaturally soulful vocal cords. Ahh, to hear what Atlantic Records veteran Jerry Wexler might have done with her in the '60s.
The moment I wake up on Tuesday, I'll say a little prayer for her.