The central conceit of American Idols Live is that you can take 10 singers who were begging to be heard last summer and have them command an arena concert tour this summer.
More than the American Idol TV competion, this event could really tell us who is ready for the big time.
After all, the American Idol series is as artificial an environment as any reality/competition show. Singers deliver a song a week – maybe a handful if they make it deep into the competition – and usually it’s not even the entire song. Everything is tailored for TV, and the singers are immediately judged to their faces.
On Idols Live, the Top 10 contestants play to a live audience, which is essentially what they will have to do if they are to have successful musical careers. The audience passes judgement by getting on its feet and singing along to every word and by buying your albums and T-shirts. Or not.
Saturday night, before an estimated crowd of 4,000 at Rupp Arena, some artists seemed right at home and some should probably savor this tour while it lasts.
Like the TV show, the concert counted down the Top 10 from No. 10 Didi Benami to American Idol winner Lee DeWyze.
Even with five full songs near the end of the concert, it was still hard to see what propelled DeWyze to the championship. He’s certainly a good performer and seems like an amiable fellow. But basically he boiled a bunch of established hits like U2’s Beautiful Day and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah into mid-tempo country-pop tunes. Of course, there are numerous artists touring the country selling pretty much the same thing. It will be interesting to hear what DeWyze has to offer when he puts out his own album.
But several artists seized the opportunity to make good second impressions, particularly third place finisher Casey James. On the show, James always seemed to be a little lost trying to make the judges happy. But taking the stage playing The Black Keys’ I Got Mine, he quickly established himself as a Texas bluesman who had a Stratocaster and wasn’t afraid to use it.
Similarly, in the first six performers, No. 6 Siobhan Magnus was able to let her freaky flag fly to wonderful effect. She hit the stage wearing a bustier, tutu, ripped fishnet stockings and combat boots that must have left the shoemaking world with a buckle shortage. She started with a haunting, histrionic take on the Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black and later showed herself to be a more-than-adequate stand-in for Gwen Steffani performing No Doubt’s Spiderwebs.
There were several good performances in the show’s first half from artists like No. 9 Andrew Garcia, doing his too-cool acoustic rendition of Paula Abdul’s Straight Up. But Magnus and 17-year-old Katie Stevens showed the greatest promise in being able to play to a big house.
No. 4, Big Michael Lynche already mastered it. He kept a friendly patter going while working the stage and delivering his emotional rendition of Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work and a party-starting version of Justin Timberlake’s My Love. Sitting alone at center stage with his guitar, Lynche showed how one man can command a huge room with a huge, versatile voice.
Runner up Crystal Bowersox continued her reputation as Season Nine goofball, juggling a harmonica and water bottle at one point and joking about messages written on her equipment when stagehands brought it to her. She also delivered rousing renditions of show favorites like Janis Joplin’s Piece of my Heart.
The show closed with all the performers singing Season One champion Kelly Clarkson’s My Life Would Suck Without You.
Clarkson has, of course, made it as an arena artist, along with fellow Idol alums like Carrie Underwood and Daughtry. It remains to be seen who will make it back to the big stage after this edition of Idols Live ends, but the show gave us a few ideas.