Interview with Idol's Melinda Doolittle
One of the hottest Labor Day events happening in Nashville this weekend took place around midnight last night as Melinda Doolittle took to the stage at PLAY on Church Street for the world premiere performance of the remix version of her Top 40 hit, It's Your Love. http://blackchristiannews.com/news/2009/09/interview-with-idols-melinda-doolittle.html
That's right, the American Idol Season Six finalist chose Nashville's popular night spot, not some ultra-trendy celeb-infested club of the moment in LA, NY or Miami. Prior to the special appearance by Melinda, Oscar Rodriguez, Manager of PLAY said, "We are all extremely honored at PLAY and Tribe to have Melinda Doolittle perform Live on Sunday night! The Nashville community is buzzing with excitement over her first dance remix debuting Live here at Play!"
Oscar continued, "I am certain that she will have a great time because the Nashville GLBT community is so supportive of new dance artists. As far as when she performs, I hope I don't embarrass myself too much because I am a HUGE fan and have been following her career since American Idol," Oscar said with a smile. "It will be an honor to finally meet Melinda and am confident that her experience at Play and Tribe will be memorable. The exciting part is years from now, when I hear Melinda's dance remix that is debuting on Sunday, I will look back and have memories attached to that song. We want to personally thank Melinda for performing at Play and are all looking forward to it!"
While most fans first became familiar with Melinda through her appearance on Idol, I got my first taste of her incredible talent a few years back when she starred in a local theatre production of the musical Nunsense at The Boiler Room. Our paths crossed again two years ago when she became one of America's favorites on Idol, and once more when she performed at The Boiler Room at a fundraiser for the theatre company, so I was psyched to hear about her latest venture. Earlier this week, Melinda was kind enough to take a few minutes and answer some questions about the genesis of the project, life after Idol, her debut CD and a new look.
It seems that most Idol contestants rush to the studio as soon as their season is over in a effort to no doubt strike while the AI iron is hot. Not so with Melinda. Perhaps because with her God-given talent, said iron has been scorching for years, and will continue to do so. It's been more than two years sinceMelinda's Idol Season, but the little diva with the big voice has been anything but idle. "I just wanted to take my time and put out something that really represents me, regardless of how long it took,"Melinda said of her debut release, Coming Back To You. "I'm really happy with the end result and that's something I can be proud of," she added.
She has every right to be proud, too. Coming Back To You is masterful. Even the double entendre title was well thought out, as the project not only signifies Melinda's return to the public eye, but a return for the singer to the historical sounds that laid the way for the R&B genre. Melinda agreed, "My thoughts exactly. I really wanted to come back to the qualities that made me fall in love with music in the first place!"
The songs included on Coming Back To You perfectly captures the feel of the early days of the likes of Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and the lesser known, but one of my favorites, Timi Yuro. The CD, while all covers, is unique and anything but sound-alike. "There are some classic tunes, including amazing songs by Sammy Kahn and Robert Johnson that I love, but there are also some more recent songs that had been cut by artists like Celine Dion and Faith Hill. It was really great to be able to reinterpret these songs and make them my own," beamed Melinda.
Speaking of covers, even the album cover photo and graphics are a tribute of sorts. Musicphiles will pick up on the similarities between Melinda's street scene cover and that of the 1963 release, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. When asked if the visual tribute was planned or coincidental, Melindarecalled, "It was actually pretty organic. We were on the streets of New York for the photo shoot and got this amazing shot. Everyone looked at it and went, 'Oh my goodness!' The resemblance was uncanny. That's how the homage was born."
Coming Back To You contains thirteen bluesy rockin' tracks, and has the strength in vocals and quality of instrumentation to make Amy Winehouse stay in rehab once and for all. One of the strongest tracks is probably also one of the most unusual, Dust My Broom. I became familiar with Dust My Broom, not from Robert Johnson's original, but from Ike and Tina Turner's 1967 LP, Outta Season. Like I told Melinda, I can't stop listening to her take on the classic. I wondered what it was like to cut something that represents a near-perfect example of the sound that defined a genre. She revealed, "Recording that song was seriously one of the most fun times I've ever had in the studio. I absolutely love the song and it brings out my sassy side!"
Melinda's sassy side and strong vocals were in full force when I asked her about the latest hairstyle she is sporting. She is currently wearing her own natural hair, short and curly. Wondering if the new look meant she was done with wigs and weaves, she laughingly said, "Honey, I'm a black woman, you never know!"
Ever since her Idol days, there have been inevitable comparisons to Tina Turner. I was surprised to learn that Melinda didn't really discover Tina's music until she was older. Of those who were early influences, Melinda revealed, "There are too many to name, but at the top of my list are Gladys Knight, CeCe Winans and my Mommy." She continued, "Honestly, I discovered Tina Turner quite late, but I can say she is one of the most amazing performers I've ever seen and I've learned so much from watching her."
Speaking of Tina, Melinda's version of Fundamental Things, really showcases a rockin' bluesyTina-esque side to her vocals. Tina is of course a Tennessee girl, having been born in the now-lyrically-imortalized town of Nutbush, Tennessee. A lot of people think Melinda is a Tennessee girl too, in part because she auditioned for Idol in Memphis, has become one of Belmont University's most famous former students and now resides in Nashville. In actuality, Melinda was born in Missouri, went to high school in Tulsa, then moved to Nashville for college. "Yes, I lived in St. Louis for ten years, Tulsa for ten years, then moved to Nashville, which became my home."
Just prior to her appearance tonight at PLAY, Melinda returned to Tulsa to her high school alma mater, Union High as well as some other area schools to speak to students. "I'm so glad I got the chance to go back to Tulsa and thank everyone for the amazing support they've shown me. It was so great to visit the schools and talk to the kids about following their dreams. My motto is Dream Big and I loved being able to say it in person to the kids at my alma mater."
Giving back isn't something new for Melinda. After Idol,Melinda accompanied then-First Lady, Laura Bush to Zambia to assist with the organization Malaria No More. There is even a charity that she proudly lent her name to, Melinda's Backups. "Melinda's Backups are an amazing group of people that are technically a fan club but are actually more like a support group. They have taken up the causes of my heart as their own, and have even started a scholarship at Belmont in my name," she beamed. "I'm so grateful for the platform that I have because it enables me to bring attention to such worthy causes."
Tonight's appearance at PLAY will feature Melinda performing the Jason Nevins remix of It's Your Love, which was the lead single from her debut CD, Coming Back to You. "This is my first time doing a remix and what better way to start than with Jason Nevins. I even got a chance to work with him in the studio and change up some of the background vocals," Melinda confessed. Nevins' remix is one of three available on Melinda's extended single for It's Your Love. The song has also been remixed by SmashMode (John Suraci) and Mike Rizzo. "Bryan H. and DJ Ron put together a remix version of the original video using the Rizzo mix," revealed Melinda.
DJ Ron, a longtime Nashville DJ, radio host and favorite spinner of PLAY's dance music fans will be at the helm of tonight's premiere of Melinda's remix. Of the genesis of tonight's event, the ever-shyRon had this to say, "Melinda popped up at Tribe when I was spinning one night. I had just received the remixes in the mail but didn't have the video yet (as it was just completed). On a whim, I searched YouTube - found it and quickly downloaded it. I played the internet version of the video and watched Melinda (and her manager Kelley) surprised faces. I introduced myself and they asked me how I got the video since it hadn't been serviced to DJs yet. I said, 'I am DJ Ron - I can track down just about anything,'" recalled Ron with a laugh.
Ron's talent will be put to the test tonight as he incorporates his set into Melinda's live performance. "I am a huge fan of artists and seeing them perform live. So often in dance music, the focus is on the DJ spinning and not the artist performing. Aside from videos, live performances is another great way for fans to make a connection to the artist. DJing is all about performing to the crowd as well and taking them on a journey throughout the evening. With a live performance, it's a change to the energy. Also spinning at Play Dance Bar, its a challenge because there is a second room where the fabulous case of Playmates perform two shows a night. As a DJ there, you have to work extra hard to keep a dance floor. Performing on the DJ stage adds an extra level of excitement and helps me build the excitement of the crowd while interacting with them. Its a challenge and I love it!"
Following her performance at PLAY, Melinda will be showcased as part of the True Colors Cabaret, a monthly extension of Cyndi Lauper's True Colors Tour, on September 28 at Feinstein's in NYC. True Colors is yet another cause Melinda has become involved in, which again shows her generous spirit. When I asked her who she got her kind nature and generosity from, she smiled and said, "Like I always say, 'Blame it on my Mommy and Jesus!" Amen, Sister, Amen.