So there wasn’t a mania or frenzy surrounding this year’s crop of Idols. So what? I was convinced that the Season 9 Idols had some serious talents to unleash in their live show, and I had to confirm my hunch. Not gonna lie: there were flashes of doubt, first when I swallowed hard and paid more than I should have for front row tickets, then the brief panic when a rash of cancellations swept the tour before it was barely off the ground. When my stop was spared in the cut, I simmered down and decided to approach this concert with an open mind, and have some friggin’ fun for once. I mean, how can you NOT when attending an American Idol concert? Am I right? This was no time for cynicism. So, I frog marched my best friend to the Rose Garden for the second year in a row (she had barely recuperated from the Glambert phenomenon we’d witnessed last July) to have a full-on dork out session up close and personal with the American Idols.
I have to hand it to the good people of Portland: the crowd, although spaced throughout the venue like patches on a quilt, was better than decent, about 60-65% full by eyeballing it. Because I think I’m that cool, I strutted with pride to my front row perch with smug satisfaction, though I’m not sure at whom I was aiming the smugness. The only thing between the Idols and me was a sturdily constructed metal barrier that only the zoom function on my camera could penetrate. Not long after the customary montage of Ford videos, former Idol music videos and hokey promos and tie-ins, the lights dimmed and those fantastic concave background screens flashed their splashy countdown graphics, and, in sync with the familiar pulsating Idol theme song, primed us for the impending “experience”. I queued up the Zippo lighter app on my iPod and prepared to be dazzled. It was at this point that I threw out some knee-jerk reaction tweets, upon which I feel like I need to expound. Naturally, I’ll start with Didi:
“Wow, go get it Didi!”
Well, this my way of saying that I thought Didi sunk her teeth into her performance. It’s gotta be quite a challenge kicking off such a huge concert, both as a newbie to the experience and as a typically low-key performer. When Didi leaned theatrical on Idol, it got her in trouble. Yet this performance seemed like a sweet spot for her, as she did a solid job of mixing that lilting vocal style with songs people can appreciate on a bigger stage. I liked her choices and her delivery.
“Ooh Andrew has some swagger”
I forced myself to hold back on the giant eyeroll I had at the ready when Andrew’s set began. I mean, “Straight Up” grew to become Andrew’s albatross as his Idol run trudged on. I thought it was going to take out every last drop of the cleverness his iteration of the song ever possessed by, *sigh*, performing it all summer on tour. But Andrew came out on that stage like it was his debut performance of the rendition, and his confidence and ease made it seem, dare I say, fresh. Andrew knows his wheelhouse; he’s got the acoustipop deconstruction down pat, and he likes it that way. Even if it’s not my cup of tea in general, his self-assuredness sold me on it.
“Never knew Katie was such a spitfire!”
Really, I didn’t! Katie seemed to have a veneer, an inauthenticity to her. “Pageanty” is the word that comes to mind. Even my BF gave me the “Is this girl for real?” look when she first strutted out. After seeing her perform, though, I’m willing to discard that assessment.Sure, Katie plays up the attitude onstage, but isn’t that kind of the idea when giving a performance to an audience of thousands? She strikes me as a go-getter with drive and a strong, if not entirely unique, voice. She’s definitely not leaning on the “teen” image, but perhaps is still searching for a way to set herself apart. I give her props for going full-force, even if it didn’t completely sell me.
“Erm” is my catchall word for when I don’t quite know what to make of a person or situation. Gas station bathrooms and Jersey Shore are erm-worthy for me. As was Tim Urban’s performance. Tim was a dubious presence in this lineup for me for you for me, dawg. Earnest? Yes. Cute? Even Helen Keller would agree. But Tim just didn’t convey emotions through his songs in my opinion. I think he could parlay his Idol notoriety into another creative field like acting or hosting. But his musicianship is run-of-the-mill. All my BF had to contribute in regards to Tim’s set was, “Hey, he’s wearing Jack Purcells. Haven’t seen those in a long time.” Erm, indeed.
“I must say Siobhan is mesmerizing!”
If it wasn’t obvious before that Siobhan belongs on a stage, it hit me like one of her sh*t kicker Frankenstein boots to the chops when she emerged from her cocoon of smoke and began belting and vamping. This was the point in the show where I can pinpoint the start of my being ENTERTAINED. Up until Siobhan, it was a pleasant yet rudimentary concert experience. Even knowing full well what she was going to perform, I still managed to be disarmed by Siobhan’s execution. She was completely in her element, and it showed. I had cast off Siobhan as an oddball long ago, but she was one of only three Idols who I felt were their most normal, natural selves onstage. I’ll divulge the other two as this verbose recap wears on.
“Aaron Kelly is adorbs. Girl next to me is in love.”
Now I realize the two reasons why Aaron stuck around until 5th place: 1. the teenage girls swoon for him, even more than they swoon for Tim Urban (which I thought was an impossibility. Guess that just proves how out-of-touch I am to teenage tastes) 2. He can work that stage like a pro! Give him a batch of feel-good country songs, an expanse of stage, a spotlight or two and a microphone, and Aaron just takes it and runs. He really broke through that shell of timidness he appeared to have on Idol. Perhaps I simply mistook his (and several others’) being limited by the crappy constraints of Idol themes and paltry song options as timidness. Whatever the case, Aaron really rose to the occasion, and impressed me enough that I sat back and let that teenage girl next to me swoon and squeal at him with abandon. I felt like that was the least Aaron deserved.
“I’m enjoying this immensely. Front row allows you to see every zit.”
Well, I won’t call out on whose face I saw those zits, but my bigger point was that, at that close proximity, you could see every last smirk on the Idols’ faces. “The Climb” was almost too much to bear, but since I enjoy a good hunk of cheese now and then, out came the Zippo app in full force. Andrew was particularly amused by the sway of my virtual lighter (caught the smirk!), and I could have sworn Siobhan’s concentration waivered when she caught a glimpse of my mime ladder climbing. Yet, in a testament to her stage prowess, she didn’t let a full-on smirk slip out. Kudos.
“Why is Big Mike’s intro music Barry White-esque?”
Which is to say, why is there always an allusion to Mike being hokey, old-fashioned and/or a Luther/Ruben/*insert big Black crooner of your choice here* knockoff? Apparently too few people can recall or appreciate the neo-soul movement that occurred a few years back. Based on the song choices Mike made for his concert set, I could envision him jamming with The Roots more vividly than I could him posturing around in polyester clutching a skinny microphone and mopping his brow. Both my BF and I were really digging his style, which is perhaps due to the fact that it recalls our early 2000s heyday. It’s inaccurate to write off Mike’s set as snoozeworthy in my opinion. His falsetto was flawless, his emotions rang true and his stage presence was much more fitting for the big stage than the TV screen. He might have needed to mop his brow after that rap breakdown, though! “Got Casey’s guitar pick, bitches!” Um, that one’s self-explanatory. Actually, he signed the aforementioned pick for me, too. BF was cringing and possibly ashamed that I was so proud of this.
“Casey was incendiary. He makes the hottest ugly guitar playing faces.”
*Gulp* Okay, I admit it: Casey is my favorite. I’m sure some of you who frequent this site know this already. And yes, I DO like how the man looks. But, the incendiary part is first and foremost in my affinity for him. He, like Siobhan, likely calls the stage a second home. He was so comfortable and engrossed in his performance that I felt as if I was intruding on a private moment by watching him play. Those hot ugly faces seemed to channel visually the intensity with which Casey feels the music he’s playing. A huge selling point for me with artists is if they can channel emotions and make me feel them, too. This is one of Casey’s strongest suits, and his guitar(s) sort of aids and abets in that process. The hearty applause he received in the arena just confirmed that Casey was successful in getting the crowd as jacked up about his music as he was. I hope Casey keeps up the love affair with a lengthy live performance, because that will be his bread and butter in the future.
“Crystal is rocking sh*t. Can’t peel my eyes away.”
Since Crystal is second on my list of favorites, I honestly thought her set would be no big whoop for me. After all, she was the most reliably and consistently superior contestant of Season 9. Well, I took her for granted just like too many viewers seemed to do as well. She strode right up to the precipice of that stage, belting out with so much confidence that I couldn’t even blink for fear of missing a moment of it. I have to officially retire “What’s Up” from my roster of karaoke songs, because I will recall Crystal’s rendition whenever I try to sing it and realize I am simply unable to go there. That girl sang and strummed like it was nothing, calm and collected as can be in front of several thousand of her closest friends. Her pinnacle moment was “Up To The Mountain”, by far. She shut it down with those careworn vocals, to the point where they could have just put up the house lights and we could have called it a night when she finished the song. When it came down to it, Crystal’s vocals, Siobhan’s showmanship and Casey’s virtuosity were the highlights of my concert experience. But I promised to maintain an open mind and enjoy ALL the Idols, which brings me to Lee.
“Lee changing up melodies considerably. Unsure about that.”
Another admission: Lee’s appeal was an enigma to me. And I say “was” because it took seeing him live and in person for me to piece it all together. Lee elicited the most shrieks from the audience, cornering the young girl fanbase by far. He definitely seemed like he had finally become at ease with his situation, and wasn’t afraid to belt it all out. Although he describes his sound as folk rock, his voice has a harder edge to my ears, and he was pushing it to the nth on that stage. Perhaps he was trying to match the volume level of the band, but the way he pushed out those notes left no variation in his vocal interpretation. Nevertheless, that’s what the crowd wanted, so Lee pressed on. For me, there’s a fine line between making a song your own and rendering it unrecognizable. Lee was tiptoeing this line for me, as he changed melodies dramatically on “Beautiful Day” and “Rocket Man”. That’s when my BF turned to me and said, “This is kind of like Dave Matthews Band for me.” I asked, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”. She said, “For me, it’s bad, but lots of people LOVE Dave Matthews. That’s probably why Lee won.” It took that succinct reasoning for me to realize what I didn’t get about Lee. He’s not my bag (neither is Dave Matthews), but there’s something about his sound, his style, that people respond to. I hear a pushed voice; others hear a passionate voice. Okay, that’s fine. I may not appreciate Lee, but I respect the fact that other people do.
So there you have it. I must admit, I snuck out after Lee sang “Treat Her Like A Lady” to do the whole barricades thing, so I missed the final group sing. But, I think my long-ass descriptions of everything else during the concert should make up for that, hehe. Both BF and I agreed that this concert was more fulfilling than last year’s. Maybe it was our proximity to the stage. Maybe it was knowing what we were getting into ahead of time. But I honestly think it was the Idols themselves. They were seriously underrated, and, for me, they exceeded my expectations in concert. I may never settle for less than front row ever again.