MJ’s Cleveland OH Idol Tour Recap

Better late than never right? Early last week I travelled to Cleveland, Toronto and back to Boston to catch the Season 6 crew mid-tour. And here’s my report–finally–with pictures and video!

Family Friendly?I saw the Idols’ second show in Tampa, FL a few weeks ago. The show has tightened up considerably since the beginning of the tour–particularly the group numbers. Unlike Season 4 and 5, where each individual Idol was showcased, this year’s bunch have quite a few duets and group numbers, with plenty of choreography to learn. In comparison to those prior years, they have more to rehearse  together as a group.   I  was impressed when they held it together pretty well  during that early performance in Florida.

Personally, I like–no I LOVE–the cheesetastic group numbers.  Look, it’s flipping American Idol–it’s about good singing, but it’s also about the CHEESE peeps. When these kids are cut loose at the end of the summer, they will potentially have  a lifetime ahead to be “serious” artists, and I look forward to that. But until then, bring on the costumes and the choreography please. In that regard, this year’s big Idol show does not disappoint.   As a matter of fact, I enjoyed this year’s show, as a whole, even more than I did last year or the year before.

I make it to Cleveland intact on Sunday night, after driving past a fiery accident scene, driving 10 miles in the rain with my convertible top down, and my engine light suddenly  blinking on for no good reason. I’m pretty happy to finally be pulling up to my hotel.

I’d only been to Cleveland once, years ago, for a college talent showcase (featuring a very young John Hiatt, who blew everyone away) and I’d forgotten how, uhmm, quiet downtown  is at night. And here’s the other thing. Contrary to conventional wisdom Cleveland does NOT rock. I couldn’t find a decent radio station that played modern music anywhere on the dial. However, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which I visited hours before the Idol show,  actually does rock pretty hard. The Clash exhibit (running there through October)  features set lists, lyrics jotted down on hotel paper, smashed instruments and some meticulously kept scrapbooks of Clash newspaper articles. The Beatles and John Lennon exhibits  are equally cool. If you ever  have the opportunity to go–definitely GO.

Sidenote: Do NOT jaywalk in Cleveland. It pisses people off. Sawry, I know it’s bad, but I live in Boston, where everyone jaywalks without a second thought…

The hall  is so fascinating, I have to drag myself away to get back to the hotel to change. I always manage to make some dumb ass decisions on road trips, and this time  is no exception. The arena  is not far from the hotel, but I decide to drive anyway. I find a lot that costs $15  (a cab would have been less) and park there, even though the attendant warns me that they lock the gates an hour after the concert. I didn’t expect to be going anywhere after the concert. File away this detail. It becomes important later in the recap…

Anyway, as I hand the ticket lady my ticket to scan, I see a sad little pile of fan signs by the door. The ticket takers are confiscating signs as fans enter the arena. Awww, I’m just imagining the little girl who spent hours with the glue and glitter making her “I heart U Sanjaya” sign. Damn, that sucks.

I am such a loser, I’ve got two tickets. Yes, in my quest to sit as close to the stage as possible, I purchased one ticket in the center that was about 7 rows back, and then another in the 4th row on the left side. I spend the first half of the show sitting in the center, but it’s tough to take pictures and videos when fans stand up or wave their arms. Then, as they usually do, the video nazis catch me. This is how the conversation goes:

Video Nazi aka venue security guard: Are you taking video with that camera?

Me: No.

After this exchange,  I go right back to videoing.  Always.  It goes  like that at almost every show.

Some notes on the first half

Blake Lewis opens the show “disguised.” At the beginning of the tour, he was elaborately disguised as a janitor, pushing a broom on stage before the show started. Now, he dresses in a yellow security t-shirt and slaps a fake moustache on–not making that much of an effort to conceal his identity. I think the audience catches on either way.   The whole gang ends up on stage singing “Let’s Get This Party Started.” Jordin is wearing a gray dress with a gigantic train that Blake carries behind her.   He yanks the train off, eventually–a little awkward.   Who knew Chris Sligh and Phil Stacey  could rap? Well, they can.

Melinda Doolittle and Lakisha Jones  perform a girl group medley dressed in white gowns. The idea is a bit hackneyed, but remember what I said about CHEESE?   All in all, it’s pretty fun. Chris Richardson joins them onstage to sing “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”–Chris R gets a ton of stage time. Nasally voice aside, he works the stage very well and has lots of charisma.

Sanjaya’s major contributions are in the first half. He sings a duet with Melinda Doolittle, and then does a Michael Jackson take off (complete with hip thrusts. YIKES!)  singing “The Way You Make Me Feel.” Although he seems a little lost trying to get sections of the audience to participate in a scream-off, he gets right into the spirit of the big  Idol show. Sanjaya brings to the stage what he brought to the TV show–his fun, campy performances make you forget he’s not the best singer up on that stage.

Haley Scarnato is gorgeous, and I have no doubt that the husbands and boyfriends dragged to the concerts by their significant others appreciate her performance. However, as a singer, she’s pretty bland. At the end of the Tampa show, I honestly could not remember whether she had a solo or not. I was informed that she sang “When God Fearing Women Get the Blues.” I actually noticed her more in the group numbers, She embraces the choreography–she sure knows how to shake that thang.

The highlights for me in the first half are Chris Sligh, Phil Stacey and Blake Lewis.

I appreciate the fact that Chris Sligh brings an honest-to-goodness indie rock vibe to the big Idol show. The song he performs, Mute Math’s “Typical” is currently being played on indie rock stations. He’a a fine  guitar player,  and as always, his vocals are sweet and strong. I’m afraid the audience might be  thrown off a  bit by the inclusion of an unfamiliar song. “Typical” is probably the only non-mainstream, non-hit song sung the entire evening, and for some it might seem out of place  in the big Idol extravaganza. Well, it  is sorta, but in a really good way.

Phil Stacey’s   job in the Navy is lead singer with a Navy rock band. His live experience is obvious when he takes the stage. While he seemed uncomfortable on camera at times during the TV show, he seems right at home performing in the big arena. Phil’s at his best when he sings big  anthems like Bon Jovi’s “Blaze of Glory”, ’cause he’s got the big voice to match.

Blake describes beatboxing to the audienceBlake Lewis closes the first half of the show. He performs the Zombie’s “Time of the Season” and “You Give Love a Bad Name” and he’s  every bit as  compelling as he was on my TeeVee. My favorite number  is one he couldn’t have performed on Idol, at least not the way he does live. Blake adds his loop pedals when he performs Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved.”   He  had technical difficulties in Tampa with this number, and  unfortunately had  to abandon his pedals. It was a nice performance, but the addition of self-created  beats and layer upon layer of soaring background vocals here,  really make the song something special. A minor quibble is that Blake loops in a bass line that’s too loud and overpowers his vocals. But  overall, the effect is very cool.   Sidenote:   Blake gives Butterscotch, the 12 year old beatboxer from “America’s Got Talent” some props.

OMG, could the intermission be any longer? Could it? If they cut the intermission in half, that’s all the  sooner Mom and Dad can hustle the kids out of the arena and back home to bed. I am sure they would appreciate it.

The second half opens with Phil Stacey singing an absolutely gorgeous, soulful rendition of “America, the Beautiful.” He’s wearing his Navy uniform, and Gina Glocksen, Haley Scarnato, Melinda Doolittle and Lakisha Jones sing background vocals dressed  in WWII WAC uniforms.  I know that 19 had to negotiate with the Navy so Phil could join the tour, and I wonder if one of the stipulations  required Phil to perform a patriotic song in uniform? Just wondering.

Next, the guys perform together on stage as a band–a version of Gnarles Barkley’s “Crazy” that slides into the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” The line-up is  Chris Richardson on drums, Chris Sligh and Blake Lewis on bass and rhythm guitar respectively, Phil Stacey on keyboards and Sanjaya doing his best Davy Jones on tambourine. Actually, at one point he also plays the acoustic guitar. The guys all sing well, particularly Chris Sligh. And although they aren’t going to outplay the Idol band as a unit, it’s fun to see them all jam together on stage. They  are obviously having a blast.

Gina GlocksenI love Gina Glocksen singing Pink’s “Who Knew”. She tried to get the song cleared on the show, but couldn’t because Pink herself planned to perform it during Idol Gives Back. “Who Knew” is one of my favorite Top 40 songs right now. After I hear it, I can’t get it’s infectious hook out of my head. That’s a good thing. I love me some awesome pop hooks. Gina would have lasted longer on the show if she could have sung more  songs like “Who Knew.”

Ahhh, Lakisha Jones. She brings the house down with  her Whitney Houston style version of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You”. When she hits the big glory note (and…I…..will always…love youuuu) the crowd goes completely ape sh*t. She makes the perfect diva entrance from under the stage on a lift, and she leaves the stage the same way. Fitting.

More from the second half

Chris RichardsonOh yeah, when Blake Lewis and Chris Richardson hit the stage for their duet, the girls go mad. Chris starts the performance strong with “Ain’t No Sunshine” then Blake joins him on stage for “Virtual Insanity” and “Geek in Pink.” The performance ends with the two of them beatboxing.

Chris Richardson is all over the second half. He comes back a little later to perform Maroon 5’s “This Love” as a solo, and joins Haley Scarnato, Sanjaya Malakar, with Chris Sligh on guitar for “Life is a Highway.” Back in the first half of the show he  performs  Rascal Flatt’s “What Hurts the Most” with Jordin Sparks.

A total highlight of the second half is Melinda Doolittle performing an impeccable version of Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman.” As always her phrasing is exquisite. Her vocal chops never fail to impress me.

Jordin Sparks ends the show with a mini-concert. She sings favorites from the show, “I Who Have Nothing” and “Broken Wing, “ reveals what “rawk” means to her  as she sings  Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker, ” and shows us a different side with Jewel’s “You Were Made for Me, ”  accompanying herself on guitar. She ends her set with “Living on a Prayer” (one of her worst Idol performances) as the others join her on stage. She comes back for an encore to sing the dire “This is My Now.”  Oh how I hate the treacly Idol coronation songs…

The final number has all the Idols back on stage to sing a little reprise of their solo numbers. This does not work very well. The kids have a lot to rehearse, but it would have been much better to end the show with some sort of cheesetastic medley, or a song that fit the theme of the show.

Fun stuff at the end: Chris Richardson has a camera and takes pictures of the audience. Phil Stacey jumps over the guard rail to shake hands with people in the audience. All the Idols work the front rows. The fans love it, of course.

Backstage Notes

After the show, I get backstage (thankyouthankyouthankyou-you-know-who!). All the Idols  are back stage to greet their friends and family tonight. At mid-point, they  are all still digging the tour. I  am expecting the kids’ energy to be a little deflated at this point. Not at all. Despite not getting much sleep, they  are all as enthusiastic as the day I met them in Tampa.

Chris Richardson’s parents  are there. I spot them when the group  is gathered in the stands before we  go backstage.  I know where they belong, because the resemblance is definitely strong. Gina Glockson’s #1 fans–her mom and aunt–are also there.

I finally meet Lakisha Jones and Jordin Sparks. Lakisha is very sweet and funny. Jordin  is the effervescent kid she  was on TV.

Melinda Doolittle  says there are no pillow fights on the girls bus. When they get back after a show, they are so tired, they go right to sleep. She’s working on some songs for  the album she hopes to make in Nashville as soon as  the tour wraps up.

I talk to Chris Sligh for a long time. He’s got some deals in the works that  I’m sure we’ll hear about soon.  Chris heard cuts from Blake Lewis’s  album–at this point I think he has 8 songs recorded–and  is very enthusiastic about what he’s  heard. As for his own music, he’s been working backstage on his computer while waiting to perform, and has had the chance to do quite a bit of writing on tour.

Phil Stacey has read every super-mean thing I’ve ever written about him on the blog.   EEP!   Despite this, he is still super-friendly and super-nice to me.   We talk about missing his family, and how hard it is to sleep on the bus. The Idols check into a hotel room every night, but not until they reach their next destination, sometime in the early morning hours.   If  they don’t catch some sleep on the bus,   sleep deprivation sets in pretty quickly.   Phil  isn’t  getting enough sleep, and  he says it  makes him a bit cranky at times, but I don’t see that at all.   What makes him completely non-cranky–re-uniting with his family, which he’s  planning to do soon.

Gina Glocksen  shows me her engagement ring. It’s a really pretty, sparkly, diamond. Very nice. Gina had just gotten engaged to her boyfriend Joe a few days before, on-stage at the Chicago concert,  and she  is still flying high. She says her boyfriend totally surprised her on stage.

Blake Lewis  is friendly, but tight-lipped about an article that had just been posted about his upcoming album  on Billboard magazine’s website. Drat. Although he has no specific details to share, he seems to be  very excited to  get on with his music career once the tour is over.   We talk about his loop pedals, and he directs me to his My Space to listen to some pre-Idol music, which is very ambient and groovy.  

Sanjaya  is floating through the room and I get a sweet smile and a shy hello, but don’t get the chance to talk to him. Also, I do not get the chance to talk to Haley Scarnato.

By the way, the Idol security team  is lovely. They make a point of going out of their way to help.

The after party ends, and I leave the arena to get my car. Yep, the lot is locked. Errrgh. So I walk back to the hotel, completely defeating the purpose of driving in the first place.  As I stroll  by the Idol bus across the street, I hear a scream go up from the waiting crowd. The Idols  are leaving too.

Man, I  am tired  when I get back to the hotel.

The next morning, I take a cab to the parking lot to retrieve my car. I  am  relieved to see it  is still there. I pack up and hit the road. I  figure in plenty of extra time for the 5 hour drive to Toronto, in case there  is traffic, or long lines at the border crossing in Buffalo…

To Be Continued…

About mj santilli 32503 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!