Teach me tonight :: Melinda Doolittle on Love 101

by Kevin Scott Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday February 24, 2011

American Idol Season Six (2007) finalist Melinda Doolittle is back at New York's Feinstein's through March 5.

The powerhouse vocalist is widely regarded, along with Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert, as one of the finalists who could have taken the top spot in the competition but for the vagaries of audience voting.

The Tennessee native and one-time backup singer released her critically acclaimed solo album Coming Back to You in 2009 and has been busy with concerts (including performing at the White House in 2007) and charitable work.

Recently, she spoke with EDGE about her return engagement to Feinstein's, her upcoming second solo CD, and all things American Idol.

Love :: The good, bad and ugly

EDGE: Are you still based in Nashville or have you moved to L.A. or New York?

Melinda Doolittle: I'm in Nashville. It's home. I've been there for thirteen years. I can't leave!

EDGE: This time you have two weeks at Feinstein's instead of one. You obviously had a good time last time around. What can we expect with this show?

Melinda Doolittle: It's called Love 101-the good, the bad and the ugly of love. [Laughs] I've had much more experience with the ugly, so I may linger on it a bit! I cover the whole gamut, songs from my first record and my upcoming one-current songs, jazz and Broadway. There will definitely be some silly moments too. I am more excited about this show than anything I've ever done before.

EDGE: Although there have been a handful of superstars created from "American Idol," many seem to be struggling to get ready airplay or sizeable record sales. Why do you suppose that is? Is there still a prejudice in the business against Idols?

Melinda Doolittle: I don't know if it's so much that as that we're a diverse bunch and the music we love may not always be geared toward mainstream radio. So many of us are still working but we're all approaching the business in different ways. Like last year, I sang with the Boston Pops! What an amazing experience! We're finding where we fit best.

They called her Mama

EDGE: American Idol must have been an intense experience. Do you still keep in touch with anyone from the show?

Melinda Doolittle: Most definitely. Our season was very close, like a family. They called me Mama because I was the oldest. I talk to Jordin all the time and I still call Chris Richardson my husband. But Phil, LaKisha, Chris Sligh . . . we're all in touch and even with people from other seasons. It's a unique bond because each person in the American Idol family has gone through what you have, so we understand each other. We're very supportive of each other. Whenever someone releases something, we're the first ones to buy it and tweet about it.

EDGE: What do you think about the new set of judges this year?

Melinda Doolittle: I'm addicted to the show. I was a little nervous at first, but I love them! Steven Tyler is the most hilarious person and I love that he feels the music. Jennifer Lopez was my favorite mentor on my season, so I love to hear what she has to say. She has heart but isn't afraid to get tough. And I love that Randy is stepping up his game! So far, my favorite contestant is Casey Abrams, but we still need to hear from a lot of people.

EDGE: So many in the Idol family have found a supportive home on Broadway. Is that something that interests you?

Melinda Doolittle: I would love it. I love doing musical theater. I would like to take more acting classes first, but I'm a dramatic person at heart. I'm waiting for the right time and role.

EDGE: Tell us a little about the new album. When is it coming out and what is the style?

Melinda Doolittle: I don't have a release date yet. I believe a career should be a marathon, not a sprint, and the label has been amazingly supportive. This is the first time I'm involved in the writing process. I'm co-writing with some people who know how to put my ideas to music, and the label is loving what we're submitting.

EDGE: Do you think the fact that you were not 16 or 17 when you were competing has helped you maintain the attitude that the career is a marathon and not a sprint?

Melinda Doolittle: I think my age helped. Also, the people I look up to helped me with that. My favorite singer is Gladys Knight and with her it took a while for her to hit, but then it was huge. I look to her career as a model for mine.

EDGE: Have you met her before?

Melinda Doolittle: Yes, she came on during our season. Then I met her again after one of her concerts. She was so gracious and wonderful and remembered everything. I've been trying to write a blog about that experience and I just can't!

EDGE: You've worked on behalf of so many charities-Malaria No More, UNICEF, The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and more. Have you thought of weighing in on political matters when it comes to certain issues?

Melinda Doolittle: I haven't. I'm definitely all for telling people to vote and get involved, but my biggest thing when I'm looking at an organization is about helping children. Those are the things that move me and help me speak, but I don't touch on politics. I actually got involved with Malaria No More while President Bush was in the White House and traveled to Africa as a delegate. I'm so thrilled that President Obama has continued that program and I'd love to represent his administration with that program as well.

EDGE: Tell us a little about your book, "Beyond Me," which came out last year.

Melinda Doolittle: When I was first approached about it, I thought, "I have nothing to tell people." But then I started to share what I call Mommyisms-things my mother did and said to shape who I am. They are life lessons everyone can use and some of them are hilarious! American Idol is touched on in the book because I was always a wreck before and after a song, and the Mommyisms helped me through.

EDGE: In person, you are so kind and gracious-and sometimes the judges criticized you for that-but when you sing, the fireworks start. How do you tap into that passion?

Melinda Doolittle: I get into character when I sing. I like to say that Beyonce has her Sasha Fierce. I have my girl Chantelle. She walks better in high heels and she's sassy as all get out! I like sassy songs. Sometimes when the song is over, I look around and think, "Uh oh, don't be mad at me!" I blame it all on Chantelle!

Melinda Doolittle sings at Feinstein's, Tuesday through Saturday, through March 5, 2011. Go to Feinstein's at the Regency's website for more information.

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).