False Idols: Show's Also-Rans Shine Brightest

Melinda Doolittle stood out a couple seasons ago on “American Idol,” not just for her powerful voice and bold song selections, but for her appealing humility, maturity and refreshing lack of glamorous pretensions.

Now the show’s most talented also-ran since Jennifer Hudson has released an album that showcases her for what she is: an American Idol for the adult set.

That’s drawn into clear relief not only by her fine, long-overdue album, “Coming Back to You,” but by the “Idol” finalists who have followed since – including the crew of kids currently scrambling for the top 12 spots.

It’s been nearly two years since Doolittle cracked the final three, after wowing audiences and the judges with her stirring voice and command on numbers that stressed her versatility, tearing through “Nutbush City Limits,” “I Got Rhythm,” and Bon Jovi’s “Have a Nice Day,” among others. Even the notoriously hard to please (okay, impossible to please) Simon Cowell said at one point that she deserved to win.

Melinda Doolittle's Video Diary

But the voters spoke, and the winner was Jordin Sparks, who has become one of the few contestants to enjoy major post-show success.

Unlike other “Idols” finalists, Doolittle didn’t rush out with an album to capitalize on the proverbial 15 minutes of fame. “I took my time with it and just really found the style of music ... that really resonated with me,” she told the Associated Press.

Her album is heavy on 1960s and 1970s-style soul, with vocals clearly inspired by Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin. But Doolittle, a former backup singer who would have been great behind either of those superstars, breaks out on her own terms.

Doolittle, now 31, sings with the confidence of a woman who, unlike lesser idols, isn’t about to fade away. She’s a survivor who hopefully soon will be reaping a success deserving of her talent and dedication to her craft.

But decide for yourself: You’ll find snippets of her album and a free download of the title track here.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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