Former “American Idol” finalist Melinda Doolittle, who once sang backup vocals for many big names, showed why she deserves to be front and center during her show titled “Love 101,” Saturday at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis.
An R&B singer extraordinaire, Doolittle possesses a big voice with a rich, full-bodied timbre and a style that is sultry and soulful. Warm and funny, the effervescent Doolittle’s show included jazz standards, pop, Broadway tunes and some original songs. An artist who was born to entertain, Doolittle connected viscerally with the audience through her powerful voice and magnetic personality in a way few are capable of.
“The good, the bad and the ugly” were the aspects of love that Doolittle tied to her show’s “Love 101” theme. Informing the audience that she was influenced by her mother, who was a teacher, Doolittle proceeded to “educate” them through her own journey as she sang songs that pertained to various stages one undergoes when searching for love.
Doolittle was accompanied by her accomplished pianist, DeMarco Johnson, who happens to be a South Bend, Ind. native and a 1999 graduate of Butler University. Demonstrating both personal and musical rapport, they entertained the full-house crowd with a fast-paced program that showcased Doolittle’s spectacular vocal strengths to her best advantage.
Saying that someday she hoped to marry a man like her hero, Cliff Huxtable, from the TV sitcom “The Cosby Show,” Doolittle began her first set with “Teach Me Tonight” and “Do What I Do.” Then, she sang “My Funny Valentine” — a tune she performed during “Idol” semi-finals when she wowed the judges with her distinctive phrasing.
Displaying her playful sense of humor, Doolittle sang Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” She then drew from her deep reservoir of emotion in “You Need Me” (with music by Johnson), an original song about falling in love with her best friend. Blowing the roof off the Columbia Club with her immense voice, Doolittle closed Act 1 with “I’m A Woman.”
Doolittle’s second set began with her rendition of “I Got Rhythm,” followed by “The Best of Everything.” Then, with Johnson singing backup, she rendered another one of her own songs, “Wonderful,” in what was truly one of the show’s highlights.
Next came the interactive portion of Doolittle’s act. Having asked for a volunteer to be her boyfriend earlier in the show, a good sport named Greg, who raised his hand previously, received a surprise when Doolittle went out into the house to dance with him while Johnson played. To the delight of the audience, Doolittle took a turn on the floor with a few other willing partners before ending up with a gentleman who she revealed later was her “Uncle Champ,” who lives in Indianapolis.
The show’s climax occurred when Doolittle sang an explosive interpretation of “Home,” made famous by Diana Ross in “The Wiz,” with a performance so intensely moving that she received an instantaneous standing ovation.
Changing the mood, Doolittle then proceeded to sing a charming tribute to current hit pop songs about love in a medley that included Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe,” Justin Bieber’s “If I Were Your Boyfriend” and “Baby,” and Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” and “Marry You.”
Once again showing off her ability to belt and emote like the best of them, Doolittle sang her own version of “At Last,” made famous by Etta James. Following another prolonged standing ovation, she performed “Love Will Stand” as her encore.
For tickets and information about upcoming performances at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club, call (317) 275-1169 or visit www.thecabaret.org.
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