With only three contestants left after nearly a full season of “American Idol,” the competition heated up Tuesday night. Blake Lewis, Melinda Doolittle and the Valley’s Jordin Sparks, who were clearly the class of the popular Fox singing competition during the last month, each performed three songs Tuesday -- one chosen by the judges, one by the producers of the show and one by the contestants themselves.
Sparks was the first to perform, singing “Wishing on a Star” by ‘70s funk band Rose Royce, chosen for her by judge Simon Cowell. While judges Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson praised the singer’s performance, Cowell didn’t like the jazzy arrangement, although he admitted she sang “brilliantly.”
Abdul chose The Police’s “Roxanne” for Lewis, and the singer, known for his beat boxing, did a surprisingly straight version of the ‘70s reggae-tinged new wave hit. Again, while Jackson and Abdul gushed praise, Cowell said the performance was not “earth-shaking.”
Doolittle was given the tough task of singing Whitney Houston’s “I Believe in You and Me,” but all three judges raved about the singer’s performance, with Cowell saying, “Round one goes to Melinda.”
Round two began with Sparks performing the Donna Summer disco classic “She Works Hard for the Money,” as chosen for her by the “Idol” producers.” Jackson called her performance “hot,” Abdul called Sparks “fantastic” and Cowell called it “very good.”
The producers chose the funky “This Love” by Maroon 5 for Lewis, and the singer threw in a little of his trademark beat boxing – he was chastised by Jackson in recent weeks for overusing the technique – and Lewis was again impressive, with Jackson telling the singer that “when you are ready to make a record, that’s the kind of record you should make.”
Doolittle then showed her rock side – a side rarely seen this season – by belting out Ike and Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits.” Cowell told her, “I love that side of you – another brilliant performance.”
Sparks chose Shirley Bassey’s “I Who Have Nothing,” a tune she had great success with during “Idol’s” British Invasion week, and while she sang the song flawlessly, Cowell criticized the singer, saying that he “wasn’t loving it” as much as he should have and called Sparks’ performance “old-fashioned.”
Lewis performed Robin Thicke’s “When I Get You Alone,” a song he chose to highlight his R&B side. Jackson called the performance “all right,” but Abdul and Cowell both liked it, with Cowell praising Lewis for taking risks with his song choices.
Doolittle wrapped up the evening with Peggy Lee’s bluesy “I’m a Woman,” and the choice was rewarded by the judges, who all agreed it was another great performance. Cowell said if he could award a place in the final for consistency, it would be Doolittle.
When host Ryan Seacrest asked the judges who they thought should get to next week’s final round, Jackson said that it should be the two women. Abdul was non-committal, saying that all three deserved to be there. Cowell emphatically said Doolittle should be in the finals.
Fans can find out which two contestants will be in the final when the “American Idol” results show airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Fox.