I approached this year’s tour with a great deal of ambivalence. The producers made such a hash of this year, that even many die-hard fans like me seemed reluctant to attend. Who wants to endure the first act of boring-boy cannon fodder until we get to the talented girls? Who wants to sit through wall-to-wall ballads for hours? Who wants to hear Burt Bacharach reprised yet again? With concert dates cancelled and rumors of low ticket sales, would the production values be in the crapper? Would the kids be forced to ancient songs accompanied by a backing track created with a Casio? Would they be forced to mine their own closet for tour costumes? Would the stage once again be made of tin-foil?
But, when Seattle suddenly became the debut concert venue, I was intrigued. Once, I received an offer for $20 tickets and those tickets were for the center of the third row, I was sold. Turns out, my seat was smack-dab in the middle of the area where the M&G VIPS were sitting. My area was on fire. They had all seemed to have become fast friends during their waiting times and they were ready to par-ty. They weren’t afraid to stand-up, cheer wildly, sing off-key, sway-bot, clap to-the-beat and dance like a goof. It’s a concert for a cheesy-reality show, not the symphony. Have some fun, I say, and you will have a lot more fun. These people are never going to see you again, so let loose.
The Idol tour has been ping-ponging around Seattle for the last couple of years. Two years ago it was in Everett. Last year in the Tacoma Dome. This year in the Showare Center in Kent. The Showare has free parking which is a perky I’ve never experienced at an arena concert. It’s a fairly new venue, but a tad on the small side. I thought the crowd would be sparse due to all the desperate attempts to move tickets, but I think a lot of people must like bargain because it seemed pretty full from where I was sitting. I love to take pictures at concerts, but no pictures this year. While everybody and their dog around me took endless pictures and videos with the crappy pin-hole cameras on their smart phones, I was informed that no pictures could be taken with my camera or security would seize it (granted, if they tried seizing people’s smart phones, there would be blood-shed). In an era where you can buy 20 Megapixel point-and-click cameras for a hundred bucks, why are they allowed and not SLRs? Were they afraid I would take off the lens and chuck it at Curtis? The lens cost more than a hundred bucks. Trust me, I would throw my point-and-click at him first. Anyway, it left my hands free to clap like a loon.
The tour started with a video intro from Ryan and the missing dance-like-a-goof videos from each of the contestants. There was not enough goofiness in the dancing for my taste. And, we were off. The tour started with Aubrey, Amber, Janelle and Angie singing “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. They are dressed in a rainbow of colors and they have legs for miles. This may be the leggiest group of contestants ever. Kree and Candice soon join them and they all sound fantastic. Great way to start the tour. And I like that they bring out Candice early because in some past years, people have griped at having to wait so long to see the winner. Kree and Candice welcome people to the tour and then introduce their “good friend” Aubrey.
Aubrey has done a quick change and is now in a gorgeous, sparkly pink dress on stage right. The stage itself is pretty spiff consisting of three round, joined platforms. The Idol tour band is sprinkled around the stage and that gives some opportunity for interaction. The lighting design enhances the mood going from frenetic at times, to spotlighted calm in others. The only unprofessional aspect is they insanely literal background graphics. Somebody clearly got their nephew a cool summer job this year.
Once again, the tour-mates are singing back-up for each other. I really like that arrangement. Janelle, Angie and Amber sing back-up for Aubrey. Aubrey is a stunningly beautiful girl and she does very well for herself during the tour. She does a lot of the back-up roles and always harmonizes well. She is the best at choreography, so the choreographer frequently has her right up-front during group numbers. In the groups and back-up, she is charismatic and has great chemistry with the other singers on stage. Always ready with a smile. I was impressed. She sings Beyonce’s “Beautiful Nightmare” for her only solo and it was well sung if just a tad limp.
Next up, is my surprise for the night. Burnell, Devin and Curtis singing Justin Timerblake’s “Suit and Tie”`. I am not a particular fan of that song and Curtis annoys the crap out of me, so the fact that I think this was one of the performances of the night, amazes me. The three appear on the stage looking dapper in snappy black and grey suits. The choregrapher has them doing coordinated moves and they sound really good together. Each of them has bad habits (Burnell tends to shout, Devin tends to go into himself and forget the audience and Curtis never forgets the audience is there and courts them by being an enormous cheese-ball), but somehow, they seem to all magically erase each of those bad habits when they sing together. Fantastic. They got a little lost near the end, but pull it all together to finish strong.
May I also take time to applaud the tour costumer? In year’s past, I have grumbled that it feels like I’m attending two concerts: one consisting of the female contestants at the Miss America pageant wearing evening gowns and ridiculously high heels with the other concert consisting of the male contestants dressed for day lounging around the house in a rumpled pair of jeans and a t-shirt they pulled out of the laundry hamper. This year, the balance is much better with both wearing some glamorous outfits mixed with some casual. So, kudos!
Paul Jolley appears on stage next and he sings with all his might. He tackles Carrie Underwood’s “Blown Away” and hits all the right notes. He even works the stage as the fan screen-saver behind him threatens to slice him into a bazillion pieces. He ends with a stunning glory note. For his second song, he is joined by Kree and Janelle. These three are frequently seen in the concert with each other. By the end of the night, I almost think they should form a Lady Antebellum-type group. They have so much fun singing “Summer Nights” by Rascal Flatts. They look like the best of friends, enjoying swapping lines and just singing their hearts out. A very enjoyable performance.
Curtis Finch pops up on stage left in a white suit. He emotes with all his might. Everything I hate about Curtis is in full-flight during this performance. While other singers might use their voice to interpret a song, Curtis uses the song as a back-drop to show off his musical acrobatics. He literally could be singing the phone-book for all that song matters. Who cares what is going on in the song, it is time to throw in a falsetto run. He has got one solo and he is going to show us every trick in his arsenal. It seems every phrase ends with something. My normally enthusiastic group around me seems somewhat stunned by this performance – can he really be serious with all this over-the-topness?. But, I cannot deny the rest of the audience is eating it up. Every glory note (and there are a lot of them) seems to get applause. Falsettos merit cheers. Endless runs? The crowd goes wild. Part of me wants to shout at the crowd to stop because he is never going to learn to moderate his cheese-ball nature with them encouraging it, but who am I to argue with people enjoying the cheesiest-cheese-that-ever-did-cheese at an Idol concert? Enjoy it! When the guy next to me starts giggling, I have to agree with him. So, Curtis is Curtis and if you enjoy Curtis you will love this part of the concert. If not, you will survive having the glop of melted Cheez-Wiz and remember when Candice sang “When I Was Your Man” much better.
I like Amber. I like Amber when she is singing old songs. She has wonderful phrasing and digs into those glorious examples of fine song writing. Sadly, she does not sing old songs on the tour. I find when she sings current songs, she gets lost. While singing Rihanna’s “We Found Love”, she seemed to get behind the beat and never had control of it. She tried moving around, but she just does not seem to be able to do choreography. The screen saver is crazy during this performance. For some reason, I think the nephew has great disdain for transit systems because we keep seeing a sped up trip through a subway system when Amber sings the chorus about a hopeless place. The screen-saver gives us a twenty second loop of subway, arid canyons, people walking past a fountain and clouds racing across the sky. Suddenly, there is a bunch of water and we are back to zooming past the empty subway platforms. Is this a modern day “Cassandra Crossing”? Will we ever get off this train? Is Amber still singing? She is. Stupid screen-saver. They are meant to compliment the performance, not pull focus. For her second song, Amber is joined by Angie and Aubrey – the three As singing “The Way” by another A. It was fine, but I wish they would have let Amber sing something more in her wheelhouse.
All five boys take the stage to sing “Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars. The choreographer has obviously spent a lot of time setting up some spiff dance moves for this section. It should have looked amazing. Paul is fully committed and totally on beat. Burnell is not far behind. If you watch those two, you can see what this should have been. Devin is trying, but he does not really have the snap (and he did so well with choreo in “Suit and Tie”. Maybe he was thinking about his next song?). Curtis is ad-libbing throwing in some extra ham. Lazaro obviously slept through dance class because he is not remotely doing the right moves and half-a$$es most of them. The entire performance is a bit of a mess, but Paul is smiling and selling it.
Devin starts his set with a bit of banter. He describes how happy he was to sing in Spanish on the show. He sings “Impossible” and does a very nice job of it. He has obviously sung this song a lot and hits some really beautiful notes. I think he actually sounds slightly better during the Spanish parts of the song. I would not have minded hearing another song from him.
Janelle sings “I Know You Won’t” by Carrie Underwood? I have no memory of this. I must have passed out from the heat.
The next thing I remember is Burnell in a bright pink suit singing Rihanna’s “Diamonds”. I absolutely hate this song and Burnell shouting it does not improve matters in the least. Suddenly, Amber is on the other side of the stage singing the song in a much softer tone. The shouting starts to work as he shouts and she sings softly and the chemistry on-stage is insane. I’m not entirely sure they intended it, but the shout/soft creates context like they are fighting lovers and finally they come together both in singing and by holding hands. By the end, I enjoy it and it is Amber’s best performance. A really nice number. Burnell then sings George Michael’s “One More Try” and I’m a HUGE fan of Burnell’s off-the-wall phrasing (like he is mixing R&B phrasing with folk phrasing), so I obviously love this song. He is a bit shouty at the start, but he really digs into the song. This guy has so much talent and, with a bit of experience, he could go really far. Or not. This industry is ridiculously hard and you need a LOT of luck. He is having trouble with his in-ears and first tosses one and then the other. Perhaps there is truth to jest in the finale and the girls are mucking with the monitors. Devin was futzing with his too and Lazaro will end up pulling his out as well. Overall, it was a good set for Burnell and I predict it will only get better as the tour goes on.
The first half of the show went quickly and all of sudden, they are all closing it off with “We are Young” and a very energetic “Crazy in Love”. Curtis’s hamming it up really works during this section as it just adds to the enthusiastic fun. My area of the audience is going nuts with dancing and singing along. A great ending and Ryan sends us off to buy some more merchandise.
Angie starts the second act with a bang. She is everywhere. She even ends up kneeling on top of the piano at one point. She totally opens a vein out there. She’s leaving everything on stage. The crowd is wild. Don’t ask me about song names – I am terrible with that. I think this was the Jessie J number “Mamma Knows Best”. She banters with the audience and mentions that she will sing the song that started it all. She sings her original “You Set Me Free” which certainly put her on the map. She is a very dramatic singer and again commits totally to this song. The audience is thrilled to watch her perform it live and the smart phones in my area are all up and taping. Her final song is another original “Put it on Me” (or so I am told). I am initially distracted by the bowling ball screen-saver. Bowling balls of various sizes roll off-and-on the screen. Sometimes, they ricochet off of each other. Sometimes, they split into mini-bowling balls. Sometimes they just spin. Finally, the start falling on Angie’s head. Are they kidding with this crap? Finally, I tear my focus from the ridiculous screen-saver to pay attention to what is a really good song. Angie really is a very talented song-writer and I could see this being a hit. It has a Christian theme, so I think it will start in that format, but it is so solidly written, I could see it crossing over. It has great pop bones and a successful hook. Angie is the total package.
Janelle follow Angie with Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” and Keith Urban’s “Where the Blacktop Ends”. She gets an animated graveyard screen-saver for her first song and a clearly photo-shopped paved road ending abruptly in a dirt road for her second one. No, I am not kidding. I suspect that the nephew screen-saver dude has never even seen a dirt road because no dirt from the dirt-road has been carried over onto the paved road. They exist on entirely different planes. Janelle is able to overcome this nonsense by putting on a firecracker of a performance. She is fantastic. Great voice, loads of energy, connecting with audience. I enjoyed the first half, but the second half is miles better.
Oh-oh. Lazaro is next. These over-stayed-their-welcome contestants always feel me with dread. His lukewarm efforts during the group numbers in the first act did not help. But, Lazaro exceeds expectations. He is totally in tune, handles the key-changes effortlessly, remembers his words, works the crowd like a champ and totally sells his set. He gets a lot of love from the audience. His “Feeling Good” is better than “Edge of Glory”, but both are enjoyable. He later sings one part of the “Gone” medley that sounds great (I was wondering at first who was singing it because it sounded so good). Redemption.
Ah, Kree. I love Kree. Her voice is absolutely stunning. STUNNING. She breaks out the guitar to open her set (Janelle also used a guitar for “Where the Blacktop Ends” and Angie played the piano during her set). The audience is still, listening intensely while she sings a beautiful rendition of “Up to the Mountain”. Much of the crowd leaps to their feet when she finishes (the first standing-O for a performance). Kree really blossoms outside of the Idol format. The crowd loved, loved, loved her. After her first song, the audience started chanting “Kree! Kree! Kree! “ and you could not hear her banter. She then told the rest of the audience to stand up and sing along “Hold On” while she played the tambourine. I don’t think many people in the audience knew that song, certainly my area did not. But, we all happily learned it so we could sing along and she had the audience end the song. She closed her set with her coronation song “All Cried Out” and it sounded wonderful. It is too bad the song did not get any traction on radio. Did I mention Kree has an amazing voice? The crowd wanted more.
Candice is such an artist. She sculpts songs with her voice. Every inflection and phrase is deliberate while sounding completely natural. Come on, Jimmy, give her a good song and promote the crap out of her. She is good. Her set starts out with a military drum-beat and Aubrey, Angie, Amber and Janelle marching around the stage (they are soon joined by a quick-changed Kree – the quick changes are a thing of wonder in this show). Candice sings some song I do not know. Then, Angie and Kree are her back-up for “I Am Beautiful” (you can tell by their expressions that they are thoroughly enjoying watching Candice sing as well). Candice introduced the song with a bit of banter. Actually, she has a lot of banter. Then she introduces “In the Middle” with a bit of talk about people being in love, but does not mention that this is her new song (but apparently it is). It sucks. It sounds like some Partridge Family song. The Partridge family-style screen-saver in the background may be re-enforcing this image. Jimmy, have you completely lost your touch? If this is Candice’s new single then I am mad. Candice sings it as well as it can be sung, but this song just does not go anywhere and the hook is weak. This is not the kind of song Candice should be singing. Give it to a kid in a Disney show and find a real song. Give her something she can sculpt. Okay, enough ranting. For now. Jimmy, I am watching you.
I am probably messing up the order, but Candice and the girls sing another song that I actually heard on the radio on my way home and I love, but I do not know what it is called. There is some “Hey”ìng in it, but it is not the Lumineer song. It has a staccato rhythm. Somebody will figure it out. They do a good job. She ends her set with a “Lovesong” by the Cure (and some badly rendered rose-petals falling up the screen). She once again shows her mad skill.
Now, it is the end of the show. They sing a collection of “Gone” songs. First, it is all of them singing one song which you will recognize, “Since U Been Gone”. Then, just the girls singing “You’re Gonna Miss You When I’m Gone”. Aubrey and Angie adorably do the cup-clapping thing while Janelle and Kree play guitar. Finally, the close the show with the boot song (have they ever done that before?) – Phil Phillips’s “Gone, Gone, Gone”. They sing it very earnestly. At one point, the five guys end up playing drums. I cannot say for certain, but I suspect they are playing air-drum. They do seem to all be hitting the drums at the right time, but it just does not seem right. I think maybe because, they just do not seem to be hitting them in the way that would normally produce the sound that we are hearing. Plus, they are using sticks and it sounds like mallets. IDK. Maybe it is them. Discuss. Anyway, it is a fun way to close the show. And, they are gone. The crowd chants for me, but as the crew quickly dismantles the instruments, the crowd realizes there will be no more.
Sum it Up:
Age of Songs: Most are Very Current – a few oldies
Favorite Performance: Kree “Up to the Mountain”, runner-up Candice’s “Lovesong”.
Best Group Number: Devin, Curtis, Burnell “Suit and Tie”, runner-up Everybody “Crazy in Love”
Biggest Surprise: Devin, Curtis, Burnell “Suit and Tie”,
Worst Screen-Saver: Bowling-Balls, runner-up Hopeless Subway
Best Costume: Anything Aubrey Wore (she could make a sack look amazing), Devin and Burnell were pretty sharp too in their suits
Best Sign: Kid in the first row who had a different sign for every Idol
Stefano Award for Complete Commitment: Paul
Most Random Randy: Randy introduced the Second Half – What?
Was it fun? Yes. Should you go? Yes. Redemption!