Necessary background: Professionally, I am basically a strategist. I counsel global corporations and artsy non-profits alike on building relationships with their customers. This includes every creative and business aspect of all things marketing.
Watching American Idol has involved professional due diligence for me. With AI being the number one show on, albeit, ever-declining television, gotta keep in touch. Especially with the AI social media case case study potential. (Like their uniquely advantageous Twitterability.) So, every season. I fast-forward through some episodes. Stop for the singers I like. Voted once for Fantasia. Haven’t been personally interested since Daughtry got the surprise boot.
This year, first couple times I finished watching Adam Lambert, I realized that, involuntarily, I had actually been smiling the whole time. By Rock Week, I was thinking that now I fully understood not just Elvis but Dionysus. How could that much multi-octave insanity of talent, that much awareness of how to harness and channel magnetic creative energy, that much apparently, sweet nice guy, be wrapped up in so much sheer, raw sex appeal? That was a question from both the cool marketer and the, now, had to admit it, unrepentant fangirl. Both of us well knew, this doesn’t happen on a regular basis anywhere. But really not on network television. So, move over Slash, I’m watching.
Post season, I was not going to the tour. Really, not going. But so many of you here kept saying: Go. And get the good seats. So I finally clicked on mj’s ticket links until I found a reachable show that would sell me a primo spot single. Cut to Sunday night, left pod, front row, and find me, the intrigued marketing adviser and, gotta admit it, excited fangirl. We both had a great time.
Overall, Hartford ‘ where I had never been before ‘ proved an outstanding audience. (‘HOT tonight!’ ‘ Kris Allen). Knowing it’s a reciprocity ‘ that good audiences feed good performance ‘ I tried to take my front row obligations seriously. The upside of front row seating: I could practically touch them. And no one between me and observing their energy. Downside: the performers can see me, too. And my entire row. And probably the whole pod. And I was next to two sitting lumps waiting for the second half, and some cranky little kids who didn’t really want to be there. Knowing a silent front row could squelch the whole pod, and ripple downer funk across the arena, I partied even when I was not inspired to do so. Smiled, bounced on command to my feet, clapped to the beat, waved my cell-phone and woo-hooed. I like to think it helped.
Here’s my very humbly presented opinion of what followed. Short on repeat details you know by now. And long on what, I hope, is some fresh take. I have so enjoyed reading everyone’s experiences from their personal POV. I offer this in thanks, hoping you find something enjoyable in mine:
Michael ‘ If I was placing a ‘long-shot’ bet on any of the Season 8 bottom six, I’d be tempted to go ‘Sarver as Country Star.’ I said long-shot, but marketing-wise, he’s a Country dream. Handsome (though start hitting the gym, big guy). Former oil rigger, former bad boy, found God, gorgeous family, genuine Texas twang, writes a song a day, and really important: loves to give good fan service. That’s Country. And you can still stir in the soul. Free advice: learn to smile through a whole set. And not urge everyone to ‘get pumped up’ right before the music slows down. The audience enjoyed him. He probably would like to be taught how to engage them better. Get to Nashville, Michael.
Megan – The new, Mr. T level of gold chains, surprisingly, helped tone down the Bordello Barbie Action Figure criminal wardrobe choice. There is a quirk to love somewhere in her voice. But most of her set didn’t showcase it. She smiles big, but there’s no real warmth or reason why, it’s just there. She walks all around the stage like someone told her not to just stand there, with no idea how to push her energy out into an audience. She powers without color. Marketing wise, :Total rethink required. Does she really want to be a singer? If so, she should have fought for a non-Pamela Anderson, seriously hip wardrobe. (And the new DSB empire T-shirt, in traditional Adam Lambert charcoal & white acid wash, was better.) And fought even harder for an engaging, buzz-building, quirkable song that would sell her every night: here’s who I am. She’s bombshell beautiful, which is a dangerous invitation to exploitation in Hollywood. She has to take care. Pod section murmured lots of ‘look at her hair’ about the Shirley-Temple-Gets-A-Rat-Comb Poodle Nest and no ‘gee, she was great.’ Still, I liked her more than I would have considered possible during the season. And it seemed much of the arena felt the same way.
Scott – Tastefully Liberace glittery jacket: interesting and stylish. Rest of set: earnest and boring. Most notes in tune. Others not. Marketing wise: Stick to home studio indie recordings, build your niche for e-delivery.
Lil – Apparently her hair grew a foot overnight. And in scratchy, brambley ways. Why? Her hair looked lovely before. When Lil hits the right spots of a song, she’s wonderful. But it feels like this happens by random chance. There is no phrasing intelligence. So many words just run together. She scooters all over the stage like she’s chasing something. So much energy going out, but not enough understanding of how to entice the audience in. We pod people were polite, but bored in many sections. (But I still beamed up the big smile. Yeah, Lil.) Marketing-wise: Please go listen to every Gladys Knight and Carla Thomas record and figure out how to live inside a song and how and why phrasing matters.
Anoop – There are many people of taste who like Anoop. But he still feels like the very best voice in the very best glee club IMVHO. Some round beautiful tones. Some lovely technique. All waiting for passion and risk-taking. There he is, ‘spreading his love around’ in what is supposed to be his Bobby Brown thrust-o-rama moment, right above me, and all I can think is maybe he wants to go to law school. (But, still on front row duty, hooting and clapping.) The arena liked saying his “Nooooop” nick name. But he doesn’t grab that advantage and reciprocate the familiarity. Would he ever reveal his raw soul in a song? Marketing wise: Not sure he wants to be marketed. Those Mr. Magoo glasses and his completely ignoring whatever was tossed on stage didn’t say: I’m on fire for this business, it’s all I want, let me in. Gotta have that to even try. Maybe it wasn’t his hottest night.
Matt – This was the first singer whose applause felt like it was more explicitly in reaction to his performance. And not just because it was fun to be there, seeing someone from the show. Especially when he played the piano. His piano is more alive and distinct then his singing. And he’s mightily enjoyable. But, still, I have no more idea after his set who he is, artistically, than before. Free marketing advice: Start using this golden opportunity more wisely, Mattie. Define yourself. What do you have they can’t get any where else? And why aren’t you breaking all the rules and bubble-tweeting some musical clues to that uniqueness instead of generic ‘Yo, ya’ll’ jokes. Sneak leak some links to places where even the non-dedicated fan can find something enticing and build your buzz. Same to every possible biz contact you’ve been granted. Be relentless. Be clear. Do something.
The group number was like the first half, fun, but not spectacular. And why Lil and Megan sang their career-ending duet more than twice without fixing ‘ or killing it it by refusing to do it again ‘ is a mystery.
Before second half, have to insert just a little further background disclosure. To help you understand my unbridled enthusiasm when it appears.
Back when television mattered, I made many commercials. (And recorded many a jingle.) Auditioning thousands of people. Often needing to see hundreds for a certain role Finding remarkable talent of any kind is rare. Genetically-endowed super ability ‘ like singing and sports prowess ‘ rarer still. The reason so many actors and models go from commercials to stardom is because of this rarity. It’s easy to spot that ‘golden something’ in an instant. And almost impossible to find. Ten thousand people in Hartford ‘ likely to have little marketing background ‘ seemed to spot a whole lotta bigtime “something” during the second half.
Allison – I viewed ‘So What’ as I descended from the top-of-the-arena bathroom break. Bandzilla was brutal up there. Back in the pod, earplugs replaced (which strangely makes the voices clearer, and Bandzilla defanged) Allison did not fail to impress. And happily, her rich voice did not feel in imminent danger of ruining her vocal cords, which was something I had felt during the season. Marketing-wise: Rock on. But find appropriate material. (Not ‘Barracuda’ .) Young, sassy, independent, loving life lyrics. That will allow believable emotional connection. And please show your face more. Whirlwind hair is not long-term brand identity. I’m five feet away and I never saw her eyes.
Danny ‘ More than any other idol, to me, Danny looks exactly like he did on TV. But immensely more likable. Has interesting moments in a song. He soars on particular phrases – ‘What hurts the most’ for example. But didn’t feel like he had precisely planned his true course all the way each tune. And he’s getting hoarse. And pitchy in places. Marketing-wise: Got to be Inspirational. Doesn’t have to be explicitly Christian, but he likes, and needs, a message. He is not a pop star. He is a praise leader. But the songs have to put the message in the hook and be foolproof in their unfolding, unless he’s willing to be trained. In that genre, he could be a star. If he takes care of his voice.
Adam ‘ When Adam’s countdown starts, pretty much nine-tenths of the stadium is rolling their anticipation into individual, eager, ‘please be fabulous’ loops. Adam strides out, grabs the mic, and threads his mastery through each loop, gathering them, commandingly, but oh so respectfully, all into him. And then he sings.
Literally, the air changes. There is a molecular change to the fabric of the stadium. This tired old basketball hall shimmers like a new shiny night club. It’s smaller, almost intimate. The audience is his. But more importantly, he is ours. Unlike old, stud muffin Rock’n Roll, Adam is not trolling for the cute one in the third row to come service the man later. He’s going to serve our desires. He’s called himself an entertainer, often, in interviews. And that’s what he is. A voice of incredulous ability with one goal: Give each of us, personally, a joyously great time.
Adam was everything I expected. With a few surprises. The lightness and radiant joy was unexpected. His physicality is incompletely conveyed in the tour videos. All that pelvic stroking to the beat of the bassline, back and forth, never missing the groove, is certainly compelling. But live, it’s actually just like a good bass: Anchoring, essential, but not the main focus. His face and magnetic expressions are much more prominent. And the voice is spell-binding, even when he’s ramping up the potenetcy of one of Rock’s stud muffinest throbbers. His voice paints the crevices of the arena and penetrates every rapt member of the audience.
He’s tall, and grounded as a dancer, forcefully present in his entire body, using all of it. His physicality is head to toe, most especially in his artful feet. He’s not just hips and belt buckles. He’s a storyteller. Every note choice, every hand gesture, every sway of his strong shoulders, every twinkling tap of his fancy feet has a purpose. He knows that performance is completely about energy exchange. He’s said it many times in interviews. His radiant pleasure of being there with you, giving his clever, open, and unchecked all, shrinks the space down to a cocoon of performer and personal audience. There is no empty space on the stage no matter where he’s standing.
People all around me are delerious with joy. Fortunately, most of the pod screamers hold off until between songs. Which cannot be said for the rest of the arena. My main reaction is quite familiar: I just can’t stop smiling.
Maybe it’s the Elvis hair, maybe it’s the new wailing and intricacies and pockets of expression he’s gifting tonight, maybe it was the all new footwork, maybe it was the fabulous ‘I wanna be your back door man’ , but I am surprised at his robust masculinity for every song, not just WLL. Even prancing with the boa. He stalked, grinned, shook the swaggering jacket like it had tail feathers. And mostly, thoroughly and continually, he was so happy. The lightness and excitement of his sheer delight in being with us was perhaps the biggest surprise of all.
Marketing-wise: If 19 and RCA screw this up, they need to go into shoe sales. Just make sure his album is original, not imitative, and you can hear him sing.
Kris ‘ Many of you may have become aware, post season, that Kristopher Allen is a sly dog. If this were the Wild West, and he sweethearted his way newly into town, all shy glances and wide-open preacher boy smile, he would ‘ probably ‘ not steal your horses and ride your women. But it would not be because he didn’t know how.
Kris astonished me in performance. Didn’t matter that I had already been clued to the potential complexities under those interchangable plaid shirts by his just-behind-the-back-beat answers in interviews. Watch him get questioned. There is a nano lick before he answers. It’s not taking a breath, it’s leaving an almost imperceptible space in the expected rhythm of reply. Forcing you, the listener, to lean forward. Watch Brad Pitt and George Clooney together and you’ll feel the same pacing, luring you in. All calm, dry awareness. Like a pilot announcing massive turbulence wrapped around a rapier sense of humor.
It doesn’t matter that Kris isn’t performing his own songs during his set, he makes it his own music. And apparently he takes music very seriously. It tears out of him. Like the only time he’s willing to reveal himself, his eyes closed it’s so personal. Just like his interview answers, you lean in as close as you can, listening for every word.
The man can sing. Really sing. Lower register heaven. His unedited, ever-moving face a non-stop commitment to his belief in the power of music. Off stage, he may look like a boy band dreamboat. Onstage he’s a grown man, all passion and slow-burning fire. And I was totally unprepared for the sexy. Especially ten feet away. Kris has a much more complete relationship with that piano bench than Adam does with the mic stand. Loved every song. He can completely control an arena. The crowd was with him all the way. Everyone sang on Hey Jude. And what a panther rock god growl, Mr. Allen. Hard to believe he just turned 24.
Marketing-wise: Will weep if they la-la him up and take the power and edge off his music. Or tart him into over-produced white-boy-wall-of-fuzz sound. If they don’t, then long, long success ahead of him. Maybe not for everyone, but to a much wider audience than power-voting tweens.
Had a fabulous time. Want to see Adam and Kris singing right in front of me as often as possible. Feel lucky to have had the experience. It was just one night. And while it’s true if you’ve haven’t been really wrong, you haven’t been trying, in no way can my humble opinion, or anyone’s, be spot on in assessing 10 out of 10. And, of course, as always, YMMV. One of the best things about blogs, especially mj’s, is celebrating the diversity of perspective and opinion. Who knows what the future will bring for this first Twitter Generation season of Idol. It’s completely up to each of them to create their own professional lives. So good luck to all of them. And most of all, thanks to mj, and all of you for all the blogging fun.