It's hard to imagine the sixth season of "American Idol" without Melinda Doolittle.
In a year of mini-scandals, questionable talents and buzzed-about hairdos, the 29-year-old backup singer from Brentwood, Tennessee, brought expertise and humility to the otherwise-chaotic stage. As Randy Jackson put it, she was the show's "resident pro."
And as unpredictable as this season has been (Sanjaya in the finals, anyone?), it should come as no surprise that Doolittle — considered a shoo-in for the top two — was sent packing Wednesday night (see "Melinda Doolittle Yanked From 'American Idol' Finale" and " 'Idol' Recap: Blake's Still In It; Melinda Pulls A Paula; Jordin May Pay For Her Big Mouth").
We caught up with the ever-gracious Mindy Doo on Thursday (May 17) to talk about her older fanbase, her new sense of style and how she actually never meant to audition for "Idol" in the first place.
Q: Why do you think you were sent home?
A: I was up against two amazing contestants. ... But also, I know that I was probably getting a little bit of the older vote, which is great, and I had a lot of people come up to me and say, "I voted for you five times last night, it was so good." Sometimes they may not spend a full two hours voting, and that's OK. But I really feel like, personally, that I've won as far as where I ended up in this competition.
Q: How did your mom react to your elimination?
A: My mom was at home, so she called me and was so, so encouraging and so sweet about everything. Once I told her I was OK, she was like, "Great — then I'm OK."
Q: Simon gave you a hard time about always looking surprised when you got a compliment. Did you realize you were doing that?
A: It's part of my personality. Plus, I was coming out of a singing background for so many years, I got so used to having to sound like other people. "American Idol" was my first time really stepping out and finding out what my voice sounded like. So the fact that people liked it and were giving me good comments was surprising to me. It was a great honor. And it always kind of shocked me right at first. It was my little adjustment process there. I couldn't help it!
Q: We saw your fashion sense kind of evolve during the season. Do you think you're ready to branch out and be your own stylist now?
A: You know what? I am packing my suitcase as we speak and wondering the same thing. The show has great stylists. ... I was privileged to have a best friend that was a stylist also, so she was very helpful to me. Hopefully they've instilled something in me to help me shop a little better. I'm probably just going to wear things I've worn already that I know work on me.
Q: Simon brought up song arrangements a few times on Tuesday's show. Do you think they make a big difference?
A: Sometimes you can have an arrangement that you love and people don't really connect with it because they're so used to a different version of the song. Then there are other times where you can take the song to a whole other level. I really commend Blake for taking risks like that. And I think that he did a great job taking a song and making it more like Blake and kind of taking it to another level, as opposed to taking it backwards.
Q: How did you end up trying out for "Idol"?
A: Deciding to audition for "American Idol" kind of happened on a fluke, because I was driving down with a friend of mine and wanting to support him. The way he talked me into driving to Memphis was [by saying], "Remember the funny auditions? Maybe now you can see them in person!" So we got a couple more friends and we all went down and had to audition to get inside. So we all signed up to audition, and I ended up being the only one out of that group to make it through. And as it kept going, I was like, "Oh my goodness. I'm still here?" It kind of forced me to take it by the reins and just be like, "OK, God, we're gonna do this, I guess." The growth in me has just been amazing, and just me learning about myself and learning how I react to these kinds of situations and how I react to being up front.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes of "American Idol"?
A: Because of the pressure of what we go through, when we get backstage, we are ready to let go. We are a silly bunch. We love to hang out, kind of like one big, happy family. We tease about certain things that maybe are on the Internet or certain things the judges may have said. We try to take it as lightly as possible so we don't go home crying.
Q: Who did you joke around with the most on the show?
A: Everybody's hilarious. I'm kind of the mama of the bunch because I'm the oldest, so I call them all my babies. Jordin, being the youngest, is my baby girl definitely. We all hang out. Blake is kind of the class clown, so he might have been one of the funniest ones.
Q: What do you like about this year's top two?
A: First of all, Jordin is 17 years old, and it does not make any sense to me for a 17-year-old to be able to sing that amazingly well. I am just in awe of her. She's got one of the most mature voices I've ever heard, especially on someone her age. And she's got such a pure heart — I think it comes through when she goes to sing and when she goes to emote her song. That's my baby girl and I wish her the best. ... I think that Blake may quite possibly be one of the most original performers "American Idol" has ever had. He takes a song, he makes it his own — whether it's beatboxing, dancing, kind of putting a different groove to it. I believe that he took risks, and I am so proud of him for doing that and for stepping out and making people listen to a different style.
Q: What kind of album do you want to put out?
A: The only way I know how to describe it is just soul music. Anything from the heart. I love a groove, I love anything where I can tell a story. For me, I just call that soul music.