The competition's greatest talent has officially exited the stage. Yes, it's true: Melinda Doolittle, the former backup singer who essentially never missed a step throughout the entire season, got the fewest of the 60 million votes "American Idol" fans cast this week.

While she undeniably deserved to be in the final two and would have been a perfectly appropriate winner, there was really no arguing with the kind of fan bases Jordin and Blake have been able to build.

This was especially evident during the footage from the hometown visits shown on Wednesday night's episode. In Glendale, Ariz., Jordin Sparks attracted a crowd of 10,000 that seemed to be as collectively in love with her as any group of people could possibly be. She handled the adoration with such charming humility that her star rose even further.

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In Bothell, Wash., Blake Lewis was treated like Paul, John, George and Ringo all rolled into one. Children shrieked and young women attempted to steady themselves in his presence.

While Melinda managed to nab the governor for the event held for her (Blake and Jordin only merited mayors), and thus was the recipient of a statewide day in her honor (as opposed to just a citywide holiday), the reaction of the group around her seemed decidedly less hysterical than the people screaming for Jordin and Blake.

Of course, on the "Idol" stage, she handled her dismissal like the pro that she is and managed to keep a smile on her face when Randy, appearing genuinely thrilled for Blake and Jordin, incomprehensibly told her she had "nothing to be ashamed of." She didn't even come remotely close to losing it during her "I'm Going Home" montage.

And why should she behave any other way? Her career is arguably the one most eagerly anticipated of all of this season's contestants, and the endless hours spent on clothes, makeup and hair throughout have clearly had a major impact on the girl. In other words, along the way she somehow got hot.

Helping to pass the time before the elimination were performances by Maroon 5 and an entirely unrecognizable Elliott Yamin, who now looks like the love child of Eric Bogosian and Jason Gould and has the bright white smile of a news anchor.

With Melinda gone, "Idol" promises to be a showdown between the phone-dialing abilities of the tweens who want to be just like Jordin and the Blaker Girls.

Melinda, it's probably good you left before things get ugly.

"American Idol" airs on FOX, which is owned by the parent company of FOXNews.com.

Anna David is a freelance writer. Her first novel, "Party Girl," is coming out in June 2007 from HarperCollins.

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