From Out of the Shadows to America's Idol
with Antonia E. McBridehttp://www.inchicity.com/articles/361/articles-melinda-doolittle.html
If the DNA for singing was harvested from Tina Turner, Gladys Knight and Stephanie Mills, you’d create the song stylings of Melinda Doolittle. This former backup singer may have placed third in the sixth season of American Idol, but with her debut CD, Coming Back to You (Hi Fi Recordings), Melinda commands the spotlight as a powerful solo artist who’s wrapped in the roots of R&B and Soul.
Promoting her release of classics – remade her way, Melinda is visiting Borders Books around the country to sing a little, laugh a little, and spread a lot of joy. Melinda recently stopped in the (Chicago) area for what turned into a family affair as dad, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends turned out to listen to their baby girl blow the roof off Borders in Oak Park.
ICC: You took some time creating this album after your stint with American Idol. What was going on in between that time?
Melinda: A lot was going on. Part of it was me finding out what I wanted to do. I love so many styles of music, and I wanted to do songs that resonated with me and that I felt I could tell a story. I knew that the retro-soul throw-back sound was it for me. So I wanted to take the time to do it right. To hookup with Mike Mangini, who did Joss Stone’s first two records, and to work with Chaka Khan all took time. Mike included live horns and live strings, all of which was a process for me.
At the same time I was singing quite a bit, and I traveled to Africa twice on behalf of “Malaria No More,” which is an organization that is very, very dear to my heart. It’s about eradicating malaria in our lifetime. So for me, finding different things that were making a difference was important.
During that time, I also helped launch a league organization in New York schools, plus I began participating with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Anything working with children is a huge thing for me. That’s why “Malaria No More” is so close to me. One million children under the age of five die every year because of malaria, which is preventable with the help of just a $10 bed net. Getting involved with things like that have made a difference for me.
ICC: How does it feel at this point in your life to have such growing success and fan base? Looking on the Internet, people were really excited about the release of this CD.
Melinda: I’m so glad, amazed and I know I’m blessed. I couldn’t ask for anything more than to do what I love and to be around people who are so supportive and so wonderful in the process. I know it’s not me, it’s a God thing.
ICC: Who were a few of your musical influences growing up?
Melinda: (Laughing) Gladys Knight is my number one influence. I also love Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, and Whitney Houston. I listen to a little bit of everything. I also love Aerosmith, who’s one of my favorite bands. Faith Hill. I could name so many because I love so many styles of music.
ICC: I read that you did backup for a few country singers.
Melinda: I lived in Nashville so it was kind of inevitable. (Laughing) I got to sing on great projects including a song for Alabama, and just working with other groups that I think are amazing. It is so really cool to have had the opportunities to sing for so many people that I look up to.
ICC: Having sung with so many different people, what’s one tidbit you took away?
Melinda: I traveled with the gospel group Anointed for nearly five years. During that time, they taught me how important it is to not only be a good person on stage, but good off stage. They were some of the best people when they walked off that stage. It really had a lasting impact on me to make sure that I was ‘me’ at all times. And that the ‘me’ that I portrayed was truthful and loving. I really appreciate having that example in front of me for so many years before I got to this point.
ICC: What goes through your mind right before you step on stage?
Melinda: I get completely nervous. I shake. I say a prayer (laughing) then I shake some more until the music starts. I speak first and yet I can still be nervous. It’s not until the music starts that I can take a breath.
ICC: You’ve talked about your various influences and the people you’ve worked with. But who truly gave you your start?
Melinda: Oh gosh, I’m not sure if I can name any one person. Singing background, there’s a wonderful vocalist, Roz Thompson, (her husband is Chester Thompson who has been a drummer with Genesis for 20 years with Phil Collins) who started me singing in the studios. She gave me my first chance and kept me working while I was in Nashville. Then, I have to give a lot of credit to American Idol for that opportunity.
ICC: Talk a little about your road to American Idol.
Melinda: I started off singing background and I also did musicals for a hobby. I love musicals. One of my friends who also sang in musicals said he was going to an American Idol audition and that he was taking me with him. (Laughing) I said I’m not going; I’m too scared to do that. He said we’ll go together with a couple friends. So four of us went, I don’t know how they talked me into it, but I’m glad they did. I keep saying God had to trick me into doing it, because I feel like it was what I was suppose to do, but I would not have done it on my own.
ICC: What’s one little known fact about Melinda Doolittle?
Melinda: I’m the air hockey queen. It’s my favorite game, ever. I’ll challenge anyone. Dave & Buster’s, Jillian’s, you name the place, I’m playing air hockey.
ICC: What are your favorite things about Chi?
Melinda: Garrett Popcorn and Lou Malnati’s, that’s an easy one. And then seeing my daddy.
Melinda will be performing in St. Charles, Illinois, at the Arcada Theatre, March 28.