Carolyn brought a friend to the Idols Live Denver concert who had never watched an episode of AI. Read what she, and Carolyn thought of the show, below.
A bit about myself first, so you know where I’m coming from. Was a singer in a band in high school/college so my affinity and love for music has been long-standing (I won’t mention how many exact years). Love everything from Amos Lee to Usher to Keith Urban to Pink. I’ve watched AI from the very first year…ah.. ’cause I like music. But it was always pure entertainment for me. Never voted for anyone. Never attended a concert. Never followed anyone’s career. Bought one CD in the entire nine years – Daughtry’s first because I liked the song “I’m Coming Home” that was played on AI.
Over the years, my mom, sis and I fell into a pattern of each picking one of the top 24 and then comparing notes, giving each other flak for our pick’s dismal performance, etc. All good fun, all light and easy, just a way to stay in touch each week. This year, mom picked Lacey Brown, sis picked Lee. My pick was Casey James – didn’t much like his audition, but liked his Hollywood week. I have to admit though, watching him on the show… I just always thought he looked a bit off, a bit awkward. It seemed like he’d start to hit his stride with a song, and then.. boom. It was over. So, I cheered him on, but when he got voted off, I shrugged my shoulders and said – well, good luck to him. And moved on. Like every other year.
And then a friend sent me a vid of him performing at his homecoming at Keys Lounge. Ha? I said. Who’s this guy? Well, THAT guy changed everything. “Nuff said.
So, for the first time ever, I’m attending an AI concert. I took along a good friend, we’ll call her Shawty. The reason I picked her (other than she’s a lot of fun and loves all kinds of music) is that she’s NEVER watched AI, knows absolutely nothing about anyone on the tour and no, I haven’t discussed anything with her either. Why bring up a show/singer when she knows nothing about it? So anyway, told her I had great seats in the fourth row side (got them for a good price). She was totally excited and game to give me honest opinions, since I told her I was planning on writing this review.
We get to Fiddler’s Green (I refuse to call it Comfort Dental Amphitheatre – feels like I’m going to the dentist) about a half hour before the show starts. Open air facility – cloudy with a few rain drops falling every once in awhile, but we’re a sturdy lot and it doesn’t seem to faze anyone. As we snack on nachos, the crowd slowly filters in. Mix of everything – grandmas in wheelchairs to little kids with Aaron signs. Good mix of female/male – which kind of surprised me. I’d say a bit lacking in the twenty-something demographic. Lots and lots of Ford commercials… ho hum. And then bang, the show started, right on time. I’d say the theater was maybe a third full.
Didi Benami came out from center stage. Dressed in jeans, sparkly silver off-shoulder shirt and awesome boots. Both Shawty and I agreed we wanted those boots. Didi looked comfortable, low-key and easy-going singing “Lay it on Me.” I felt a bit bad for her because during her entire set, the crowd was still coming in, people were talking, laughing, finding their seats, etc. In other words, not paying her much attention at all. She had a couple of fans at the front taking pictures, and she smiled and waved. She clearly wasn’t flustered – I have a feeling this might be par for the course for her. Next, she put on her guitar and sang “Terrified.” Much better song for her than the first. More people paying attention… but still. I just don’t think the opportunity door is going to open up for Didi using her singing. Her voice is soft and rather wobbly – not much to really catch any producer’s attention. But she’s so beautiful and clearly has a lovely personality – I’m thinking sitcom or broadcasting. I wish her luck in the jungles of Hollywood. At the end, Shawty shrugged her shoulders, gave some polite clapping and said… forgettable. This would become a reoccurring word as the evening progressed.
Next up, Andrew Garcia. I thought it odd that he ambled on stage, and took his stand far to the left. As if he didn’t think he could take center stage? Okay, my psychology classes are rearing their ugly head. Anyway…. Andrew starts with his standard, “Straight Up.” Liked it during Hollywood week, liked it now. Andrew’s got a jazzy, reggae, groovy thing going on – in his voice and his guitar playing. Better live than on TV, but still, I’m thinking… just okay. I think he’s got solid skills, but no star appeal. Schlumpy jeans and shirt, big black glasses, rarely smiles. But my girl has other ideas. Within minutes, her fingers are snapping and she says “oh, yeah.” By the time Andrew launches into “Sunday Morning”, Shawty is on her feet, dancing away. And the crowd is clearly more tuned in then before. The theater is probably half full now and many are on their feet. Good job, Andrew.
Katie Stevens strides on the stage next. She’s changed her costume from the really awful blue thing she wore earlier the tour (ah, yeah, been watching some tour videos). Now she’s got on a black, silky, slinky, TIGHT dress. Still got the thigh high black boots. Cough. Shawty says, “how old is this girl?” “Seventeen.” “Oh, my.” Quiet from my friend through the rest of the set. Katie blasts through “Here We Go Again.” Band seems to play louder, Katie sings louder. And louder. She struts, she vamps. Granted; beautiful girl, powerful voice. Katie lectures us on fighting for our dreams. Um, thanks. Okay – I’m getting mean. Sorry. Second song blasts through the theater, “Fighter.” Ah, appropriate. Second song is better, but just as loud. I’m thinking this isn’t going to work for Katie. I do remember myself at seventeen and I wanted to wear tight, slinky dresses and thigh-high boots. My mother said, no. Horrible mother. So I think Katie’s living her fantasy and I’m happy for her, but to me, it doesn’t work. It’s not “her.” Snort. As if I really know her. But still… not buying the act. At the end, Shawty leans over, says “she’s got a powerful voice, but she’s forgettable.” Ah.
And now we get Tim Urban. I honestly expected a huge wave of squeals, but the crowd’s reaction was fairly mild. By now, I’d say the entire crowd had arrived and settled in. Venue was about three-fourths full. Tim walked confidently on stage, simple white shirt and jeans and his guitar. Started right in with “Better Days.” Good voice, not great. But solid – unlike the show. Tim’s great strength is his absolute assurance of who he is. He’s a natural on stage, just not a natural singer. I can definitely see this guy making it in a Disney movie, or in a sitcom. He is completely likable. Which is not a quality to sneer at when you’re in the entertainment industry. First song over, Tim ditches his guitar, interacts nicely with audience and launches into “Viva La Vida.” And behind him the screen fills with… what? Blobs of white glue? The clouds proceeding the second coming? I can’t take my eyes off of it – which I don’t think was Tim’s plan. Finally, he strides over to our side of the stage and flashes a truly beautiful smile, which does have the desired effect of drawing my attention back to him. For the first time in the set, Shawty perks up, “Oh, he’s cute.” “Definitely, ” I respond. And then, he’s gone. Again, the word of the night from my friend. You know the word.
Suddenly, we enter another world. The stage goes black, the music turns Harry Potterish and Siobhan Magnus‘s name flashes onto the screen. For the first time there is a genuine roar from the audience. Not a huge one, but clearly there are Magnus fans in the house. Fantastic graphics – Tim should take some lessons from Ms. Magnus. And then, the spotlight on the heroine of the hour. Siobhan has chosen to stand right in the middle of the band, on an elevated ramp, for her first song “Paint It Black.” She doesn’t strut or walk at all. She poses through the entire song. And with a costume like this, why not? She looks like a pink cup cake. With a bit of black leather. And big, clunky boots. Totally odd. Absolutely works. More drama, more poses. Is she singing? Who cares? She’s got all eyes on her. Her arms pump, once, twice. Back to posing. And then, the patented scream. Shawty says, “My GOD.” In awe. Finally, the heroine condescends to move closer to the audience, with her second song, “Spiderwebs.” Not as good as the first song, I think in a daze. But again… who cares? Fantastic glitter all around her eyes. Pink skirt with billows of frothy cream petticoats underneath bounce with her every move. I’m sorry. If I were a guy, I’d be thinking naughty thoughts. Some of the crowd is on their feet, but I think most are glued to their chair trying to figure out if they’ve descended to hell or made it to heaven. Siobhan whips into “Stockholm Syndrome.” Screams for this one from her slaves. Lead guitarist struts out and plays wicked guitar. The heroine’s head does more work in this song then her voice. It all works. She leaves the audience exhausted. My girl finally catches her breath. “My GOD, ” she says again. “What energy that girl has.” My take? Siobhan… go directly to Broadway. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. You aren’t going to need it ’cause you’re going to make buckets of money as either a Broadway star, a fashion queen or a stage designer. I’d be scared to tell you anything differently.
Last for this part of the show, we have Aaron Kelly. The whole mood of the audience changes in an instant. From dark goth to cheery country. Aaron’s got his peeps too – a good, solid cheer erupts when his name flashes. Confident kid, but lord, he’s tiny. He does have a great voice. It’s just a bit disconcerting for it to come out of such a small guy. His first song, “Somebody Like You, ” I think was his best. Dressed in the appropriate country gear of jeans, boots and jean jacket, Aaron walks back and forth throughout his set. Back and forth. Back and forth. I’m thinking it’s a bit mechanical – like someone said “Keep moving.” I also think he doesn’t yet have the smooth assurance Tim Urban showed. But yet, he CAN sing. Second song, “Walking in Memphis.” And the poor kid has chosen to put videos of Elvis up on the screen behind him. I’m sorry, Aaron. But if I have a choice between watching Elvis in his swimming pool or you? Note to Ms. Magnus. Teach a class for these boys about graphics. Before Aaron launches into his last song, “Fast Cars and Freedom, ” Shawty – who’s been completely silent, says she has to go to the bathroom. Hm. Her comments when she got back were the predictable. I think Aaron has to grow into his eyebrows and his voice a bit before making it.
“The Climb.” I’ll make this quick. Siobhan looks like she’s singing for her life, Tim is smiling – and really that’s all he needs to do, Aaron sings great, Katie sings loud, Andrew looks like he’d like to be any place else but here, Didi is pretty. Billowing clouds behind them make me feel like I’m on a very long airplane ride. Ho hum.
Intermission. Getting dark now, clouds are moving out, full moon is making this a perfect Colorado evening. Cool, clear mountain air. Shawty gets out of her blanket and snuggles in. We discuss her impressions of the first six. She liked Andrew and Siobhan best, but would only go see Andrew in concert. Why not Siobhan? Shawty shakes her head. A little bit of her goes a long way, she says. Me? I wish all six the best, but wouldn’t go see any of them in concert nor buy their CD. They remind me very much of all the hundreds of AI contestants that walked right out of my mind after the show ended.
Finally, after innumerable ads, Michael Lynche takes control. The crowd is loud in their welcome. Louder than at any time up to this point. He’s looking pretty fine in his black suit, vest and tie. “Woman’s Work” is his first song and within seconds, Shawty is in mindless bliss. She LOVES Big Mike. I have to admit I didn’t understand his appeal on the show. He was cheesy. Great voice, but just too much Velveeta for my taste. But live, I liked him a lot. As Shawty (who is a connoisseur of R&B) told me – a little cheese is part of what R&B is about. And it worked on stage. Putting on a cool fedora and slinging on a guitar, Mike purred through “Ready for Love”. Good stuff. I could definitely see going to his concert with my girl or putting on his CD with a good man by my side and nice glass of wine. “My Love” surprised me, because I’d read other reviews and expected the whole set to be kind of slow, but Mike bounced around the stage, all high energy, coat off now. Good interaction with the audience and the band. I thought the rap and falsetto were a bit off, but my friend lapped it all up. She’s sure he’s going to follow in the great tradition of Barry White and Luther Vandross. “He’s going to do just fine, ” she says.
Boom. Ba Ba Boom. Boom….. a tall, lanky guy walks right into the spotlight and the audience erupts. This is why live is always ten times better than watching on video. I could FEEL the energy explode. Amazing stuff. Everyone on their feet. Lots of screams and yells. Casey James‘ “I Got Mine” is a song I never heard of before he started the tour. It takes some guts to start your AI set with a song you never sang on the show and which most people don’t know. He rocked it. I’ve seen his guitar work on video – but in person? Incredible. His voice is perfect for this kind of music – a bit rough around the edges, whiskey-soaked. Halfway through the song, I manage to glance away from the blonde and look at my friend. Her eyes are wide, she’s a little slack-jawed. “Wow, ” she manages. My gaze goes back to the star on stage. Lights are flashing, guitar is blazing, band is INTO IT. And I definitely had a moment. Actually, several moments. After this tour de force, Casey very simply starts “Don’t”. Now I own this Shania Twain CD. Play it all the time. Casey’s version is like a different song. Completely compelling, completely beautiful. His voice is pitch on. At one point, Shawty says “he’s beautiful.” I look at her and she’s looking at the big video screen. Interesting. I look back at the live guy. Definitely good-looking. I look at the screen. There are some people the camera loves. Every picture, every video makes them look like gods or goddesses. Mr. James is one of these people. In person, gorgeous. On screen, luminous. If Casey put his guitar down and decided to be an actor, he’d have people lined up to see his movies. I’m rather glad he’s not planning on doing that. Next, Big Mike comes back out for “Have You Ever Loved a Woman”. “Oh, ” my friend says. “This is exactly what I wanted – both of them at the same time.” She loves the whole thing. So do I. And finally, darn it, Casey ends with “It’s All Over Now.” I have this Rolling Stones CD also. Hard to say it, but I like Casey’s version over the great Stones’. I didn’t think I’d ever say that about any Stones song.
How could anyone want to come after this? For a brief moment, I felt bad for Crystal Bowersox, but within moments all that was washed away. “Hi Denver, ” she said with a smile as she strolled onto center stage, guitar in hand. Dressed in a low-key way, she looked like something out of the sixties; all in black, feather earrings, big belt, familiar dreadlocks. Which is what she’s all about, I think. Her voice soared in “What’s Up.” Pure, perfect. The pipes on this girl. Shawty leans over, “what an amazing voice.” I agree. I liked her on the show, but her attitude sometimes bothered me. Not here. She’s all sunshine and light. I mean, the girl has a sunflower pinned to her breast and sunflowers in the screen behind her. Great banter with the audience, very warm. I feel like I’m in her bedroom, a good friend listening to a good friend. But as she works through “Come To My Window” and “Up to the Mountain, ” I don’t know… it starts to sound all kind of the same to me. Same kind of song, same pure voice. Crystal also seemed to have a bit of difficulty with her breathing – she even mentioned it. By the time she hit “Piece of My Heart”, my girl excuses herself again to go get something to drink. Hm. As we drove home later, I told Shawty that I thought Crystal was just like Janis Joplin or Melissa Etheridge. Why not just stick with the standards? But my girl made a good point. “Lots of kids don’t remember Etheridge, much less Joplin. Crystal will be all new to them.” Not Shawty’s cup of tea, or mine, but I think Crystal will do well in the niche she’s carved out.
Last, we have the American Idol, Lee Dewyze. I liked him on the show, though his “aw shucks” routine got a bit old. The rasp in his voice is good and when he really got into a song – great stuff. But I can’t say I ever got the mania or why he was voted top dog. In person, he is really exactly like you saw on TV. Same crooked grin, same energy, same voice. “Beautiful Day” is not the way I would have chosen he start his set, however. U2 are gods to me, as are the Rolling Stones, but unlike Casey, Lee did not make this song his own. I was relieved when he began “Rocket Man”. Elton John is not a god to me, and I thought Lee’s version was excellent. But a problem began to develop… I would say the band got perceptibly louder over the course of the set, which made Lee perceptibly louder. I’m sorry. He was shouting in some parts. My ears started to ring. That didn’t make me happy. Shawty looked at me halfway through. “He won?” she said. “Yep.” Lee continued. If I NEVER hear “Hallelujah” again, it will be too soon. This is not a comment on Lee’s singing. It’s a comment on his choosing. “Treat Her Like a Lady” was solid, and Lee was definitely in his passionate zone with this one and with his last “Use Somebody.” Throughout Lee’s set, people were on their feet, lots of screams and yells. But I don’t know, the energy was different… kind of perfunctory. Oh, well. I wish Lee the best.
Within seconds – a bit of a jolt – there’s Casey on stage alone playing the first notes of “It’s My Life”. When Mike strolled on singing the second verse, Shawty yelled. “They’re back.” But then everyone else came on and she groaned a bit and fell back in her chair. Girls on with “My Life Would Suck Without You”. This is not a group who should do harmony together. Blech. The three hour show ends with a whimper rather than a roar.
Shawty and I make our way back to the car. “What happened?” she said. “What do you mean?” She waves her hands in the air. “Why did Lee win? He’s not any better…” Pause. “Casey is better actually.” I explained about the fact he couldn’t really play his guitar much. “But his singing is better, ” she protested. I told her about the eye candy/cougar thing. “He can’t help it if he’s beautiful, ” she said. We keep walking, past the souvenir stand where a girl is asking why there aren’t any Casey James’ t-shirts. “Lee is forgettable, ” my friend says. “But Casey? He’s going to take off. He’s going to be a big star.”
Did I mention she’s also my friend because she has excellent taste?