Idol finalist performs for local charity event

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On June 28, last year’s American Idol contestant Melinda Doolittle was in town to perform at the Sinai Health Institute’s 15 Years of Going The Distance gala, which celebrated the hospital’s presence in North Lawndale, and introduced its Bound for Glory m

“Anything dealing with children or medical needs is huge to me. I love children, and I see how they shape our future. So anything to help them live longer and enjoy life more, I’m all about,” Doolittle said of the Bound for Glory program. Since her shocking ouster from Idol, Doolittle has been busy. She is completing her first album (due out in the fall), working on a Christmas album, and performing and traveling to Africa as part of President George W. Bush’s Malaria No More campaign.

The Defender sat down with the 30-year-old Tennessee native to see how her newfound fame has been treating her.

CD: So are you in Chicago a lot?

MD: I do still live in Tennessee (the Brentwood-Franklin area), but my daddy’s with y’all. (laughs) Most of my dad’s side is in Aurora and he’s in Bloomingdale. So I probably come to Chicago about once or twice a year to visit. I love the culture of Chicago, I just love the feel of it. It’s kind of like a laidback New York, which is my kind of thing.

CD: So, what has changed most since you were an Idol contestant?

MD: I think, probably, most drastic is that I haven’t found a place I can go where people don’t know my name or recognize me. I’m an only child, so I’m used to being to myself. It’s been kind of fun because I’ve met some amazing people in the process, but I’m not used to being camera-ready at all times. (Laughs)

CD: What about meeting guys? Has being famous helped with that? MD: Not really. (Laughs.) Schedule wise, I just kind of run in and out of places. I do occasionally meet people but it’s pretty quick and to the point. So I don’t know how it will happen, but I think that’s the exciting thing about it.

CD: What has been your most memorable experience since leaving Idol? MD: Traveling to Africa was huge. The last time I went to Tanzania (for the Malaria No More campaign), I was part of the presidential delegation. I’m looking at the manifest to see who’s going to be on Air Force One, and I’m seeing our delegation leader (Secretary of the Interior Dirk Dempthorne), and former lieutenant governors and then I see ‘Melinda Doolittleûsinger.’ And I thought, ‘How did I end up here?’

CD: Tell us about your album. Does it have a name yet? MD: It’s like retro soul with a little bit of grit added in because my voice can get a little gritty sometimes. The producer’s name is Mike Mangini. He’s phenomenal. He’s worked with Chaka Khan, Diana Ross and also on Joss Stone’s first two albums. I didn’t write songs on the album, but I think the songs themselves are timeless and hopefully the way I do them is also. I love to tell a story while I’m singing, so a lot of the songs tell a fun story or a story that means something to me. The album doesn’t have a name yet. We’re still coming up with that.

CD: How are you going to deal with the ‘post-Idol slump,’ that has left many contestants–and even winners–with poor record sales and lackluster careers after leaving the show? MD: I’m just going to have to depend on God for that one. I love to sing and would love to do it for years to come. But whatever God’s perfect plan is for me, I’ll do it. The fact that right now I’m getting to do what I do for a living is priceless. I’m learning to live in that moment and take it as it comes from here on out. I think the most important thing is that the people who get the album love it. I’m not really into the numbers of it. I’m trying not to even think about that part.

CD: And what message is Melinda Doolittle trying to send out to the world? MD: My main goal, I think, is to be the best representation of Jesus I can be, whether it’s on stage or in Africa helping out, because I feel like He’s been so good to me, and He’s the reason that I’m here.

Leila Noelliste can be reached via e-mail at lnoelliste@chicagodefender.com.

______ Photo credit by Guyna Gee Photography

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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