American Idols Tour: Houston, TX

Read Erinn’s recap of last night’s Idol show in Houston, TX.   She attended the Tampa show too, and she has written a very thorough recap comparing the two shows:  

Please forgive the length of this, but I am reviewing two shows and I wanted to tackle it in performance order.

I attended the Tampa, Fl show with Sarah, pj, SpenserJ, and mj but I didn’t submit a review. I’ve decided that instead of posting a straight review of the Houston show I will give a review of how I think the tour is progressing so far. Sort of a compare and contrast of the two shows I’ve been to. Admittedly they are only about a week apart, but it will allow me to cover both shows in one review and make up for my omission.

Read more of Erinn’s Houston recap after the jump…

Let me start by give a blatant plug for stubhub.com. Without their impressive service I probably would not have been able to attend the Houston show, and if I had, my seats would not have been the killer 7th row seats that I ended up with. I got them for $20 under face value too. I highly recommend their services for your future concert needs.

I would also like to thank the very magnificent SpencerJ for setting up the marvelous experience that was my visit to Tampa and the Tampa show. I am the envy of all my friends.

This review has also been brought to you by Dictionary.com. Without whom I would not have been able to pepper my review with copious synonyms for amazing (!) and awesome (!).

Has every other reviewer mentioned that anyone on the fence about the show needs to get off their bum and go see the AI Tour when it comes anywhere near your town? Please do. It’s tons of cheesy goodness, and it doesn’t lose anything on second viewing. If you are worried about cost you can use stubhub.com. ;)

In Tampa I was with a very AI friendly group. Your wonderful Team Plaidsters and the equally wonderful SpencerJ and MJ were great company. In Houston I went with an AI fan friend of mine who adores Melinda Doolittle, but was on the fence about the rest of the show. Having already seen the show, I made sure we were on the “Melinda heavy” side of the stage. I will give some of his impressions throughout the review and at the end.

I was lucky enough in both cities to be on the side of the floor with the most visibly active side of the audience. In Houston that meant that almost all the Idols spent a lot of time at the corner of the stage about 10 feet from me. There was a group of teenage girls and boys hugging the rails for the whole show that made sure we got tons of attention. Overall, I felt the Houston audience was more receptive. Several Idols held out their mics for several lines to allow the audience to sing along, and we did. This was a sort of homecoming show for Lakisha. She lived here for several years and her parents were in attendance. The audience showed her a lot of love.

By now most of the fans clued in to the Internet reviews are aware that Blake Lewis is out on stage a few minutes before the show messing around. He then rips off his disguise to open the show. In Houston he was back in the janitor’s costume, but this time with a blond wig with his dark mustache. Surprisingly, the majority of the arena was still not clued in to this deception. There were isolated cheers and a few people taking photos and shouting “Blake, we love you!” but most of the house was completely surprised when the janitor showed up on the big screen and pulled off his wig. The screams were huge!

They are still having serious mic problems. There were almost no vocals during Let’s Get it Started. I’m sorry I missed Phil and Chris R rapping because in Tampa I was pleasantly surprised. I seriously thought that it must have been a plant in Phil’s place because I didn’t believe he could pull it off as well as he did. Overall I think this is the weakest number in the show so no real loss, but I would have liked for my friend to hear Phil. I guess that’s what Youtube is for.

The Motown medley is extraordinary. Melinda and Lakisha really are stars, and I really got a chance to enjoy Chris R this time. I spent so much of the Tampa show being shocked and amazed by the talent on the stage that it was nice to be able to just appreciate it. Sanjaya looked and sounded much stronger in Houston. He really is growing very fast. My friend was amazed that he was able to hold his own with Melinda on Proud Mary. It was much more one-sided in Tampa. I am sure they must have a vocal coach on tour with them. Not just for Sanjaya. I’ll get to that later.

One of the biggest surprises for me this tour has been Phil Stacey. He has a remarkable stage presence to go with his stunning voice. I was more impressed with Blaze of Glory in Tampa, but I blame more mic problems for that. A lot of the Idols sounded like their lower registers were suddenly much weaker in Houston than they had been. The friend I attended with – henceforth known as “J” – has a degree in music and is also a vocal coach. He swore the problems were mic related and not voice related. I believe him, but I do think a few Idols suffered because of it. Gina and Chris S had the same problem. Thnks fr th Mmrs started very weak, but as the notes got higher the performance improved. It’s still a very solid, strong number and it’s nice to hear something off the current charts being covered on the tour.

After the duet, Gina stayed out to introduce Haley. She announced that it was her best friend’s birthday and asked us to sing for her. Curiously, we all sang to an empty stage. Haley didn’t come out until the start of her song. She did thank us, but it seemed odd. Haley seems to benefit a great deal from the presence of real life back-up singers. Their vocals were more overpowering in Houston than Tampa – many times to the detriment of the artist – but in the case of Haley it seems to be a good thing. She has a pleasant voice, but it doesn’t really carry an arena. She seems genuine and kind in person, but years of pageantry have taken the edge off of what had the potential to be a much better instrument. Sadly, she’s not very memorable either. It was a cruel irony that late in the Tampa show one of our party leaned over to me and asked if Haley had had a solo. I guess Simon was right.

Next, the familiar notes of Michael Jackson’s Thriller came on, and that could only signal one thing…Sanjaya Malakar was in the building. As he emerged from the lift in the center of the stage the screams of the preteen girls were very loud. The kids who seemed to love him the most were much too young to produce the deafening cries of the Blake and Chris R fans, but they were still legion. As before, his performance and vocals have gotten much stronger. I really felt that he had developed some charisma. In Tampa I felt he had a personality vacuum. I still don’t think he’s on par with most of the other performers, but he definitely went from a “high school talent show performance” to “that guy who always wins the high school talent show.” And no one can tell me that watching him is not fun. Sanjaya is definitely a spectacle.

From Sanjaya, the show moves to one of the more seasoned performers of the bunch. Chris Sligh’s cover of Mute Math’s Typical is our first chance to see an Idol play an instrument. Sligh is one of the more versatile Idols. He plays guitar and bass in the show. This is also one of the strongest solos of the tour. Houston was a much more involved performance. Chris seemed much looser and more relaxed than Tampa, and the performance benefited. I would have said before that he would be a good front man for any band, but I now have no doubts that he could command an arena on his own. At one point in the show J actually leaned over and told me that Chris could “really sing.” That is the highest compliment J can give. I can’t wait to see what he does with his solo career.

From serious, professional musician they transition very easily back into pure cheese. Lakisha emerging on that white chaise lounge for Lady Marmalade is one my highlights of the show. Just for it’s shear audacity. It could have fallen so flat, but really works. Again, Haley benefits from the back-up singers. For me this is the first real chance to hear Gina’s impressive voice. She takes the Christina Aguilera part of this Moulin Rouge version of the song and nails it. The only distraction is the obviously conservative slant on the costumes. They might as well be performing the song in turtlenecks. It’s pretty silly, but when you have very young kids in the audience it’s also necessary. I also wonder how they will handle this number when the lift breaks. At some point in the tour it will.

Then there’s another one of the dialogues they use to fill time while the stage crew set up for the next act. I’m pretty sure it’s the guys’ dialogue here, but it’s my favorite so I’ll review it here. Phil, Sanjaya, and Chris S come out together. In Tampa they made a reference to “Cake, ” but by Houston they’d dropped that and just called themselves “Chriljaya.” They do the opening of BSB’s “I Want it That Way” and then thank everyone for coming and give tips to potential auditioners. There’s a hair joke at Phil’s expense. It’s sounds lame on paper – and I suppose it’s pretty lame in person – but it does show the chemistry and camaraderie that this group has developed. The guys look…well, cute together and it’s nice that they are showing off the Idol’s personalities since they did such a good job of hiding them during the show.

The act they were setting up during this is a duet between Jordin and Chris R. Both play guitars and the Idol band sits out. The Idol band sit out for a lot of the show this tour. It’s kind of interesting to watch them just sitting there in the dark waiting and thinking. I wouldn’t mind the ability to mind read during these numbers. During the Tampa show I’d pretty much decided that What Hurts the Most was a definite bathroom break number. The whole thing was really boring, and it was the only time in the Tampa show that Chris R reminded us that “nasally was a form of singing.” I actually took this number as a chance to go to the bathroom in Houston. Thankfully, the bathrooms were in the back of the floor so I could hear the song throughout. Chris sounded much stronger the second time around. The nasalliness (I’m sure I just made that up) was gone and it was actually engaging. Jordin wasn’t shouty on the high notes. I wish I’d stayed in my seat. At this point Haley is your best bet for a bathroom break during Act I.

This goes straight into a Jordin and Melinda duet. Melinda is terrific as always, but Jordin was back to shouting a bit on the high notes. It was still an improvement. She also seems to have benefited from vocal coaching on the tour. During the Tampa show I felt like she was shouting at me the whole time. By Houston it was in and out, but the improvement was noticeable. She still didn’t get high marks from J. At the end is more Idol banter. Melinda and Jordin love each other and were roommates. It all seems so genuine. It’s like this whole season is made up of Elliott Yamins. They all seems that nice and friendly and genuine. How cool is that?

Now for the show pretty much everyone in the arena was waiting for. You hear the opening beatboxing of Time of the Season and the arena goes wild. His performance was stronger on TotS in Houston. He was really pitchy in Tampa, and considering how picky J is about vocals my fingers and toes were crossed in Houston. He was also dressed a bit more casually still in a tie and his favorite grey plaid pants, but no jacket. The blue shirt was very flattering though. For those of you who can take your eyes off Blake for a few seconds near the beginning of his montage, you will be treated to clip off Blake and Ethan from the Chuck Norris Rap. I thought I was seeing things in Tampa, but it was there in Houston too. After TotS he gives his explanation of looping and asks everyone to wave anything they have that lights up. Again I am praying and I have all digits crossed, this time that his pedals will work for She Will Be Loved. They did! Yay!

In Tampa, Blakes pedals were on the fritz so we were treated to just him and his guitar. I’m so glad I got to see both performances. Tampa was remarkable to me because of the hush that seemed to come over the audience. Like they were willing him to finish well after his technical difficulties. Houston was the opposite. The crowd went wild. At one point he stepped back for a sort of guitar solo while his loops of “She will Be Loved” echoed through the hall. People were impressed. It was pretty cool. So then I’m waiting in anticipation, praying he starts the loop of that low note that signals the tag of With or Without You…and he does! He had one bum note at the start of the tag, but it was still marvelous. He then talked to the audience a bit. He likes Houston, he loves the audience, he and the guys went to Guitar Center on their day off yesterday and bought some “toys.” He says he wants to show off some of the toys he bought and goes into the freestyle beatboxing and straight into You Give Love a Bad Name. Again the crowd goes nuts. Anytime he beatboxes the crowd goes especially nuts.

When the guys came out to finish the song he jumped off the front of the stage and started shaking hands. Most of the other guys came down too. I know he went down in Tampa, but I don’t know if he jumped off the stage like that. I do know that the other guys stayed on stage there. He did his Ryan Seacrest (tm someone else) from the rails and they all disappeared into the black curtain under the stage.

During intermission there was a commotion behind us, and we realized that Sanjaya’s mother was nearby. She was wearing an orange tie-dyed shirt that said “YOU Fanjayas are on Fi-Ya!” She sat behind us for the second half of the show. She seemed like a nice, down-to-Earth person. I’m not a huge fan of her son so I saw no reason to bother her.

The second half of the show opens with the band performing a bit of the American Idol theme tune, which is a terrible transition into the next number. On paper, Phil singing America the Beautiful seemed pretty boring to me. I know his patriotism is genuine, but I expected a Lee Greenwood style performance. This was before I knew of his powerful stage presence and before I knew he was doing the Ray Charles arrangement. Phil comes up on the lift in his Naval uniform surrounded by the girls in USO style outfits and the image is very powerful. This is hands down the most surprising number for me. It’s the one I had the least expectations of and yet after two viewings it is still one of my favorites. I can’t emphasize enough how much Phil’s sincerity comes across here. It’s another number that could have easily fallen flat if the performer was not completely confident. It’s a rare instance where the performance makes me feel proud and patriotic…but it’s in an American Idol show. I’m still having trouble reconciling that part. I swear, this is my favorite piece of patriotic music other than Ray’s original and Marvin Gaye’s National Anthem…but it’s in an American Idol show.

Then the girls take over and make it into a bad amusement park performance. I wish they could cut that part, but they need the filler to cover while Phil changes and they set up the stage for the “Idol Band.”

Technically, yes this is the first time any group of Idols have played as a band without the other band filling in. It is not, however the first time Idols have played instruments. Last year Chris D, Bucky, and Taylor all played rhythm guitar. I don’t know about previous years since I didn’t attend the shows. The first time I heard this I thought there might be a backing track to fill out the instruments. I’m still not entirely convinced that isn’t the case. Nonetheless, this is another highlight for me. Chris Sligh really carries the vocals on Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, but Blake gets the sarcastic laugh. He nails it a bit too well, too. When I saw a video of the Tampa performance I noticed that Blake forgot most of lyrics. I didn’t catch it live. I can’t wait to see some video of Houston. Hey Jude got a huge reaction from the crowd. Everyone sang along. Phil still ran around pumping the audience up, but it wasn’t necessary.

Next is Gina Glocksen doing Pink’s Who Knew. I thought it was passable in Tampa, but her Houston performance was spectacular. J really felt she could give Pink a run for her money, and I agree. I think she’s another one that’s getting more comfortable. I got a chance to talk to her a bit at the Tampa meet and greet, and she mentioned wanting to put together an all girl rock band. I hope she does, and I can’t wait to hear it. I really can’t say enough how much I think the talent this year has been underestimated. In the long run I think that this year’s crop will turn out several successful artists. Maybe not the way of Kelly or Carrie, but full-time touring musicians with loyal followings, absolutely.

The Chris R and Blake medley is next. I’m not calling it Cake because of the implications that come with it. I just don’t buy that they are in a relationship, sorry. Chris R starts Ain’t No Sunshine on the stage alone. Chris R was another big surprise for me. When I first saw the spoilers from the Sunrise show I was shocked at how much he was in the show. It really seemed like “The Chris Richardson Show.” A little more than halfway through the Tampa show I was talking with one of the group and we were both astounded by the fact that it really kinda was “The Chris Richardson Show”…and that wasn’t a bad thing! He is a very charismatic performer and he also seems to have benefited from the vocal coaching. The nasally singing is almost completely gone. It it’s place is a really nice tone actually. Very soulful. He’s also not hard on the eyes. He and Blake play off each other well. I was disappointed that the backup singers seemed to overpower them both in Houston. It’s not necessary at all. The backup singers even overpowered Melinda at one point.

During Geek in the Pink I can’t help but remember the night he performed it on the show. I thought he ran over the song. I’d seen Jason Mraz perform it live, and seemed to remember being able to hear the words. My mother – who until then had been allergic to AI and for some reason chose that night to watch it – declared that he was the only performer she felt had any stage presence. She said he was the only one who “made sense” as a performer. Coming from an old beatnik (her words) who’s been to some pretty historical concerts and seen some pretty well known acts in her day, that was a real compliment. Any other performer from any other year had been dismissed in the few seconds it took to change the channel. Including Taylor. I was so focused that night on my preconceived notions of how that song should be performed that I hadn’t paid attention to the performance. On the tour stage I could see it. I love Blake, and I think he will be a superstar. I love his style and music and I have high hopes for his first album. Given that, I have a great deal of respect for Chris Richardson as a performer. He truly owns the stage any time he is on it. I have yet to hear the result of his highly touted songwriting ability so I can’t say how I feel about him as an artist, but I anxiously await the opportunity.

After the Blake/ Chris medley the audience is already on a high. Enter Lakisha Jones to blow the roof off. This is another performance I had a low expectation of that blew me away. Lakisha covering Whitney seemed like a forgone conclusion to me. What didn’t was the fact that it would be the hands down highlight of the show. She gave me goosebumps. Both times. She truly gets the biggest reaction from the audience. This is watching a diva be born before your eyes. Well..a shy diva. At the end of the Houston show when she thanked the audience – who were screaming like mad – she did so quitely and with her head down. Off stage she was one the most humble of all the Idols. She was so unasuming that I was looking for her and didn’t realize that she five feet in front of me. I was facing the back of her head, but still. I absolutely adore Lakisha and I hope that she gets good direction with her career. She deserves it.

And now, a moment of silence for the performance that should have been. Killing Me Softly went well before it’s time and will be sorely missed….

So, just as the audience is catching it’s breath and the roof is putting itself firmly back in place, Chris R hits the stage for his solo. By this time Chris has already been a part of seven numbers. Also, by this time he has the entire audience eating out of the palm of his hand. The effect was more noticeable in Houston, but present in both shows. Almost the entire place was on it’s feet and singing along thoughout This Love. I prefered Tampa if only for the fact that the backing vocals weren’t as loud.

Another moment of silence for the pimp suit that is gathering dust on a rack now that Another One Bites the Dust has been cut….

In keeping with forward momentum of the show, Phil and Gina come out and kill Faith and Tim’s It’s Your Love. I prefered Houston here. They are more relaxed and vocals are clear and strong. After several very strong performances the show turns back towards its inner cheese with Life is Highway. The number is good and fun, but the bar has been raised pretty high at this point. For Jordin fans, this is your last chance for a bathroom break. For those who are ambivalent about Jordin, watch this. It’s fun, and you have plenty of time during one of Jordin’s ballads to take a break.

It’s kind of odd to me that they would transition with such a syrupy number right before Melinda’s solo. She is so consisitent, so it’s no surprise that she kills Natural Woman every time she performs it. It just seems like a disservice to her to surround her solo with two cheesy group numbers. Ain’t No Other Man is only of note to me because it highlights the girls’ ability to follow choreography. Haley, in a short frilly skirt, is very pageanty in her moves. Melinda is understated like the former backup singer that is she. Gina and Lakisha could use some work. I understand that they hired Wade Robson to choreograph the tour. Given the simplistic moves he gave them, I’m not sure they needed anyone with his experience. They pretty much do knee lifts and wAlk in synch. On the other hand, Blake seems to have expanded his dance move reportoir. So maybe that wasn’t a bad thing after all.

The girls end their number with the line “ain’t no other girl but you.” as Jordin comes up on the lift. Oddly, at both shows she seemed to get little response from the audience. She is the winning Idol so just anticipated that she would get the big cheers for her big entrance. I don’t know if it’s ambivilance or the fact that this wasn’t her first number. Her other number didn’t get huge cheers either, but who knows. I went into both shows with an open mind, butleft wondering why she won. J felt the same. All the people I attended both shows with agreed that it wasn’t a good idea to put Lakisha’s and Melinda’s solo numbers so close in the show to Jordin’s set. After the stupendous performances by those ladies she just falls flat. At least by Houston I didn’t feel like she was screaming at me. I want to say a lot of it has to do with her age (not gonna say it), but I’ve seen people her age who can grab your heart and tear it apart. Her Jewel cover is passable, but nowhere near Jewel’s original. Other than that it’s pretty much a bust.

One other thing that puzzles me. The way the stage is designed the Idols can grab hands and interact with the audience when they are in the wings and a bit in the front. All the other Idols reach out for any fans in their vicinity and go down on the floor to interact if they can. She seems to be the only one who won’t reach out. She keeps a safe distance between her and her fans. She seemed to try to break out some in Houston, so I think it might be more fear than restraint, but she really needs to open up more. She could learn from Sanjaya in that respect.

After This is My Now there is probably the strangest, cheesiest part of the show. The review of the Idols’ solo performances seems to be getting better, but that may be that I was willing to embrace it by Houston. It’s certainly a way to allow for each Idol to get one last cheer, but it also serves to highlight the lack of support for the Idol. Jordin did wear a different dress in Houston. Black and sparkly this time.

So, J is always impressed by Melinda, but he was also very impressed by Lakisha, Phil, Gina and Chris Sligh. He hears the tween screams and he can’t see, or hear, straight when Chris R and Blake hit the stage. He was certainly more impressed by them than he was on the show, but they are not his style. He was underwhelmed by Jordin and didn’t expect much from Sanjaya so he was surprised he enjoyed him at all. He did say he’d have rather seen more Sanjaya than that much Jordin. I know I’m forgetting someone, but she never came up. Ah, well. On to Seattle…

About mj santilli 30834 Articles
Founder and editor of mjsbigblog.com, home of the awesomest fan community on the net. I love cheesy singing shows of all kinds, whether reality or scripted. I adore American Idol, but also love The Voice, Glee, X Factor and more!