The three remaining American Idol contestants took to the streets Friday... of their rapturous hometowns. Local loyalists showed all day just who they thought should win FOX's wildly popular singing contest, which will feature some of the scenes next week.
Back before she was a finalist, Melinda Doolittle was a Belmont University mascot in Tennessee. She wore a hot, sweaty bear costume and jumped around in the name of school spirit.
The tables were turned on Doolittle in a big way when she returned Friday to her alma mater. Hundreds waved signs and shouted encouragement to her: "We love you, Melinda." "You're going to win, Melinda." "Doolittle's Da Bomb." "Melinda for President."
Doolittle, who arrived waving from the back of a white convertible Mustang, looked - all too characteristically, as judge Simon Cowell has scolded her - surprised and overwhelmed.
"If I talk too much I'll cry," she said. "You have no idea how much this means to me. ... This is probably one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced."
Doolittle said she was glad to be home, even if just for an afternoon. "I just got some sweet tea, so I'm happy. Now I need some candied yams and greens and I'll be great."
Doolittle, a professional backup singer in Nashville before she became an American Idol contestant, has a rich, powerful voice that she put to work on two songs Friday. But even stars have off moments, and Doolittle's came during her first number when her microphone kept cutting off. The problem was corrected, and she recovered nicely for the second song.
Ironically, her mother, Marguerite Doolittle, said her daughter was tone deaf until about the sixth grade. She couldn't carry a tune to save her life.
"God really dropped a voice into her in the seventh grade," her mother said. "It's been so exciting watching this, because it was not there before. It's like seeing a miracle, really."
The scene was just as raucous in Seattle, where Blake Lewis, 25, played a free concert before more than a thousand fans at Westlake Park. He was joined onstage by Seattle's own Sir Mix-A-Lot, who sang his hit "Baby Got Back" over what many in the crowd came to see: Lewis' beat-boxing.
"Every time you watch American Idol, you see people that can sing, and that's it," Mix-A-Lot said to wild applause. "This cat got real talent. ... He's the new king of Sea-town, baby."
Lewis' homecoming plans included a parade in his suburban hometown of Bothell and a performance of the national anthem at the Mariners-Yankees game Friday night. He looked out on the crowd in the warm midday sunshine and said: "I'm speechless. Thank you guys for all the support."
Many in the crowd, populated largely by truant teenage girls, screamed and waved signs that read "Blaker Girls" or "We (heart) Blake."
Blaire Ginnever, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, said she was skipping her lunch period and Spanish class at Villa Academy in Seattle.
"Blake es muy bueno," she said.
Ginnever's mom, Marilyn, was also in the crowd, and said she didn't mind that her daughter was missing school.
"It's the end of the year, and this is big for Seattle," she said. "We follow the show. It's kind of a family event, and rooting for a hometown boy makes it special."City Councilwoman Jean Godden, who is old enough to remember a significant chunk of Seattle's musical history, read a proclamation declaring Friday "Blake Lewis Day" and placing the "renowned beat-box musician" in a local tradition that includes Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Nirvana, Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie.
Meanwhile, in Glendale, Ariz., an estimated 5,000 fans weathered 100-degree heat to see the 17-year-old Jordin Sparks, their hometown fave.
A stage was erected in an outdoor plaza at Westgate City Center and some fans waited up to five hours to see her.
"You guys are crazy but I love you for it," Sparks told the crowd before singing three songs that she has performed on the show, "Give Me One Reason," "Heartbreaker" and "I Who Have Nothing."
"I hope I make you proud next Tuesday," Sparks told the crowd, referring to the upcoming semifinals. The last singer standing will be announced May 23.
Glendale, located just northwest of Phoenix, has been throwing elaborate, outdoor "Idol" viewing parties to show support for Sparks. Since March 20, the city of about 245,000 has seen hundreds of people from all over the state turn out to see "Idol" episodes on two 14-foot TVs. The city also has distributed hundreds of free "Glendale supports Jordin" posters at its visitor center.
Sparks made a grand entrance late Friday afternoon, perched on the back of pink Mustang convertible. Once on stage, Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs presented Sparks and her family with a special city proclamation.