By ERIN CARLSON
NEW YORK (May 17) -
Most observers thought she was a lock to go on to the "American Idol " finale, but Melinda Doolittle was eliminated Wednesday night. The result was a real surprise, considering Doolittle - hands down the best singer there - had the blessing of Simon Cowell . Her departure clears the way for a final showdown between Jordin Sparks and Blake Lewis.
"Congratulations to you two. My commiserations, Melinda, 'cause you are one heck of a singer," said a glum Cowell, who covered his face with his hands upon hearing the news.
The acerbic judge had always made clear his affection for the 29-year-old backup singer-turned-diva from Brentwood, Tenn., who delivered knockout performances week after week. Doolittle, who never hit a bad note during her "Idol" run, seemed resigned to her fate. She belted "I'm A Woman" before leaving the stage.
It's tough to predict who'll win next week's finale. Sparks, 17, of Glendale, Ariz., rose from the bottom ranks to gain much momentum in later weeks, and few would deny her broad appeal to viewers of all ages. The bubbly beauty has charisma for miles - a true American idol, her fans argue.
But the 25-year-old Lewis, who hails from Bothell, Wash., has tricks up his sleeve. As this year's hippest contender, the stylish beatboxer has wooed fans by taking risks with song arrangements and infusing even stale pop songs with contemporary flair. He had a big "Idol" moment weeks ago when he mixed up Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" to add fresh beats - a move that secured him a spot in the final four. Even Cowell loved it.
Wednesday's show also featured performances by the band Maroon 5 and former contestant Elliott Yamin, who came in third last year.
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