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La Noche Grande de Sanjaya

Just two competitors are making any noise on "American Idol" this season: Melinda Doolittle and Sanjaya Malakar.

Melinda, the remaining professional backup singer in this year's competition is, not surprisingly, far and away the best overall performer, and each week her song choices are flawless, if old.

Melinda also moves most comfortably in the stilettos the show's dresser seems intent on inflicting on all the women this edition. Really, if the chicks all have to try to dance around in four-inch heels, lose the risers on stage -- or put all the guys on stilts. It's only fair.

On Latin night, Melinda finally finds a look that really suits her: short hair, little black dress, diamond necklace that gives her the illusion of a neck. She looks lovely, as judge Paula Abdul notes.

Also on Latin night, Melinda finally trades in her bag of tics: singing out of one side of her mouth, her I'm a little teapot body crunch, starting quietly and building to the belting out of glory notes at the end of every song

Her performance of Latin standard "Sway" is by far her most sophisticated, controlled and subtle to date. Naturally, judge simon Cowell hates it, saying it lacked her usual "wow factor."

But Simon, like the other judges, appears to be speaking in riddles this season. Recently, when he said he was going to try a "new tactic" with Sanjaya, pronouncing his performance "incredible," Simon was acknowledging what viewers had suspected for weeks -- the judges were pulling punches lest harsh comments cause fans to vote for weaker singers. Like Sanjaya.

It's a dangerous strategy for the judges to try to snooker viewers. But apparently the producers think it's less dangerous for the franchise that has put Fox in first place among young viewers two seasons in a row, than if Sanjaya wins this year's competition, given how many people claim to be voting for him because they think he's so bad.

Sanjaya, who infiltrated the "American Idol" inner sanctum by bamboozling the judges into believing he was a sweet, immature kid with a sweet, immature voice, has completely co-opted the show.

Is anyone talking about Blake Lewis at the water cooler today? LaKisha Jones? Jordin Sparks? Haley Scarnato? (Okay, maybe they're talking about how if Haley's outfits gets any skimpier she'll be naked next week.)

Meanwhile, you can't troll the Web without being bombarded by Sanjaya fashion stories; Sanjaya op-ed pieces; long blogs on The Meaning of Sanjaya; stories on how Sanjaya's Pettable Locks are being done up week after week in a succession of hair tributes to Abdul, Diana Ross and Fred Astaire; the infamous Ponyhawk.

This week is no exception. When last week's results broadcast revealed Sanjaya had cut his Pettable Hair, people wondered whether the producers had told the show's stylist to cut it, in hopes it would sap Sanjaya's power over little girls with cell phones who vote.

But just when you thought Sanjaya had made a fatal follicle error, he goes and sprouts scraggly facial hair in tribute to guest mentor Jennifer Lopez's husband, Marc Anthony. It's genius. Judge Randy Jackson called him "The smartest contestant we've ever had."

Sanjaya is also the show's gutsiest competitor this season - maybe ever. This week, for instance, he is the only Idolette who attempts to sing Spanish lyrics, choosing the lovely "Besame Mucho." Sure, he makes goo-goo eyes at the camera. Yes, his voice trails off in parts. But while all the other Idolettes are spinning tightly in their comfort zones each week, Sanjaya's flinging himself all over the musical landscape. And yes, it's a lot of fun to watch.

Editor's note: For complete play-by-play of last night's "Idol," read Lisa's TV column.

Who should get the boot on tonight's "Idol"? Cast a vote in our "Idol" poll.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  April 11, 2007; 7:59 AM ET
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Next: Haley Scarnato!

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