Sans Melinda Doolittle, American idol loses its luster!

Jordin Sparks, a 17-year-old whose voice and poise belie her youth, and Blake Lewis, 25, who did it his way with risky song arrangements, will compete tonight (Fox, 8 ET/PT) to be the next Idol.

The Arizona teen enters as the favorite over the Washington beat-boxer, in the opinion of music critics and online betting sites, in the first finale without a Southerner. The matchup is a surprise to many after Melinda Doolittle, considered the season's finest singer, was eliminated last week.

Judge Simon Cowell, for one, agrees that Melinda was this year's best of show and that America got this final pairing wrong. But executive producer Nigel Lythgoe disagrees.

"I'm delighted. I think it's the uniqueness of Blake and the actual growth of Jordin. Melinda and LaKisha (Jones) started off as front-runners, and I think Jordin overtook them," he says. "From the show's point of view, having two girls in the final wouldn't have been as strong as a boy and a girl."

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