January 30, 2007

Hometown sweetheart charms 'Idol' judges

Hometown sweetheart charms 'Idol' judges
Simon Cowell describes her as in top 2% of contestants

Staff Writer, The Tennessean

BRENTWOOD — Apologetically shy, Brentwood resident Melinda Doolittle took a deep breath and belted out "For Once in My Life" at the American Idol tryouts and earned herself a ticket to Hollywood.

The 28-year old backup artist and 1999 graduate of Belmont University said she was ready to overcome her timid ways and take a try at center stage. Her song selection summed it up well:

"For once unafraid
I can go where life leads me
And somehow I know I'll be strong."

Doolittle's powerful rendition of the Stevie Wonder classic won over all three celebrity judges, Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and even stodgy Simon Cowell, who said she is in the top 2 percent of their contestants this year.

It comes as no surprise to those who know Doolittle and were rooting for her before the Memphis auditions aired on Fox Tuesday.

Fairview fan believes

"I was thrilled for her," said Jeff Kirk, director of events and administrator/coordinator of commercial music at Belmont.

"I think they were dead on," Kirk said. "She is an amazing talent. It was an excellent song choice. She has great pitch and phrasing. It really showed off her voice. It's not an easy song to sing."

Kirk said he raced to his Fairview home just in time to watch her on the Tuesday night airing. The next day at Belmont, people in the music department gathered around to watch her performance again.

"She just has an amazing voice and, beyond that, she is an incredible person," he said. "What you saw on the show with her seeming to not be a pushy person, that is exactly her. She is a very service-oriented person. What they don't see is when she gets on stage, she commands the audience."

In her senior year at Belmont, Doolittle was selected as an artist in the Commercial Music Showcase. Kirk still has a poster of the event, which includes a picture of Doolittle, on his office door. He said she was already making a name for herself at that time. Years since, Doolittle has been a judge for the showcase.

"She comes over for no pay and volunteers to help us out," he said. "She goes out into the community and talks about Belmont. We couldn't get better publicity for our school. I think she will do exceptionally well. Her voice is so rich and strong that she could do all sorts of things, from gospel to country, without missing a beat."

Doing what she loves

Even though Cowell, Abdul and Jackson said they loved her, her audition didn't go without getting a little gruff. Cowell asked if she hates every artist she's sung in the background for and wanted to know if she ever wished they would fall off stage so she could take their place.

"Oh goodness no," Doolittle said on the show, adding that the background has always been her comfort zone.

Doolittle's MySpace page shows a more playful side than Cowell, Abdul and Jackson got to see in her audition. She says she can be silly and relies on a sense of humor to get her by in the ever-changing music business.

"I know it is one of the hugest blessings to do what I love all day, everyday and I pray I never take that for granted," she wrote. "Dream God-size dreams and you can never go wrong. Love big, dream big and believe it will happen."

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