What the heck am I even doing here? A year and a half ago, I barely knew what American Idol was. Lead vocals are usually the least interesting part of music to me — a fair amount of my favorite music is instrumental. I rarely pay any attention to lyrics. I don’t follow pop music, and thus there are a fair number of songs performed on AI that I don’t know. Heck, the night before the Albany show, we were at a concert by one of my all-time favorite groups, the Allman Brothers Band, who are the polar opposite of AI — loose, unscripted, very little singing, almost no banter, long guitar solos. Yet here I am. Huh?
Well, to quote Adrian Monk, here’s what happened. During Season 7, my wife got bored with TV because of the writers’ strike and decided to give AI a try. She got hooked on Cook & Castro in particular, became a major David Cook fan, and pulled our daughter and me into the vortex. We ended up going to the Albany concert last summer (even our non-AI-fan son went), and we enjoyed it quite a lot.
This season, I wasn’t going to get involved, but since my wife was watching the audition episodes and our daughter was tagging along, I figured it was a fairly easy (if sometimes painful!) way for us to share our passion for music. So I watched along — no big deal — I could keep half an eye/ear on it while doing something on the laptop.
And then it happened. I heard a singer who affected me far more than any singer ever has in my half-century on this planet, the best singer in existence as far as I’m concerned, and that singer’s name is not Adam Lambert. It’s Allison Iraheta.
Still, when it came time for the tour tickets to go on sale, our daughter (a major Adam/Allison fan) and I were having a hard time convincing ourselves that it was worth spending the outrageous amount of money to go see The Abbreviated Adam & Allison Show Plus 8 Other People We Could Do Without Except Maybe Kris. I felt that the talent in this year’s top 10 was far less deep than last year’s — in other words, that almost all the talent was concentrated in Adam, Allison and Kris. But our daughter won me over by saying, “But what if this is the only chance we ever have to see them?” So we sprang for four tickets again. But I felt sick to my stomach after spending all that money.
And so we found ourselves at The Times Union Center, or whatever they’re calling it this week (it was The Knick, then The Pep (Pepsi), and now The TUC). Now, this has been a miserably wet and pretty cool summer here, but in the last week or so we’ve had some brutally hot and humid days — and apparently the arena folks wanted to capture that fleeting summer essence in the building by not air-conditioning the place. So it was HOT! People were fanning themselves. On the upside, I saw one woman fanning herself in time to the music — bonus points!
Hey, did someone say “music”? Well, it’s about time we got to the actual show….
First, the set designer and video producer need to be taken out and shot. Most of us already know that a lot of the video background stuff is very distracting and counterproductive. But the lighting is really horrible too. There’s so much backlighting and so little spotlighting that it was often darn near impossible for fans in certain sections to see the performers at all in the glare. If you’re not in one of those unlucky sections, you’ll probably think the lighting is fine. We were unlucky.
Second, despite my earlier comments about this year’s lack of depth in the top 10, I came in with an open mind, ready to be won over by any of them, because last year we were impressed with how well everyone did, whether or not they were great on the TV show.
I haven’t read many recaps, so if I repeat stuff that others have said, well, I guess those are your universal truths….
I feel for the #10 performer, having very little fanbase and having to come out and try to get the crowd into the show. Last year, Chikezie did a very impressive job of this. This year, Michael Sarver, not so much. Oh, he tried, but he just has no knack for it. The pinnacle was when he tried to get us to stand up and party, and then immediately dropped into the extremely subdued opening to his second song — clueless. As for his singing, he was bland and boring on TV, and the same in concert.
Megan — ohh Megan — let us all just stare longingly at your stunning, slow-motion face for — how long did that stupid video intro last, 30 seconds?? What a waste of half a minute of my life. It just highlighted the entire reason she was in the top 13 — because Simon was thinking with his, um, hormones and wanted the requisite eye candy. As with Michael, I hoped she’d be better than on the show, and maybe she was a little bit better on her first song, but overall, nope. Zero stage presence, and one of only two performers who sounded out of tune to me on occasion. And her voice sounded even thinner than on the show — no body to it at all.
But there is one great thing about Megan’s set — the video for her second song. What a cheesy, goofy piece of work! I kept wanting to call Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, and ask him if AI stole that video from some Simpsons spoof of the 60s. It also reminds me of Spinal Tap’s Listen To The Flower People. So bad, it’s priceless.
Still, the image that has stuck with me from Megan’s set is the image that *should* have been on the screen:
THIS SPACE RESERVED FOR JESSE LANGSETH
And then, the dramatic rise of Scott McIntyre from the netherworld of the substage. During the early episodes, I really thought Scott had good potential — a good pianist and a decent voice — but the potential went largely unfulfilled once the voting rounds started. Well, he was definitely better in concert — in tune and polished. Nothing to get excited about, but a nice job. I thought his little comedy routine fell kinda flat — which surprised me, because I thought he was very witty during the season.
Lil was someone I always tried really hard to like, but every time she performed on the show I found my mind wandering to other things. I never thought she was awful, as many people apparently did, but I also never heard anything to catch my attention. Same thing in concert — perfectly acceptable, but nothing to hold my interest.
However, again the video screen provided a valuable service. I know that a lot of people think it’s stupid to put the Single Ladies lyrics up on the screen, but I for one can now sleep better knowing that the non-verbal part is spelled “Wuh-oh-oh” rather than “Uh-oh-oh”. Thanks, AI.
NOOOOP! Anoop Dawg! The Noopinator! This is a guy who was a real favorite of mine during the early episodes — I thought he was going to end up being one of my top people of the season. But he seemed to have a hard time finding himself. And I ain’t no fan of ballads, and as the judges stuffed him into the ballad box, so to speak, I got frustrated and lost interest. But in concert, he was the first performer of the night to show some real presence and connection with the music. I would’ve preferred another upbeat song instead of two ballads, but he did a very good job, and I think he deserves a shot at some sort of career in music. Weird sneakers, though — what’s with that silver band at the top? It looked to me like he was wearing a bicyclist’s pant clips.
I felt that Matt got too many chances on the show. It always seemed like maybe he did have good potential, but he just couldn’t deliver on Tuesday nights. Still, it was clear that he could tickle them keys, and I know that people have said good things about his tour set, so I was very hopeful that he would indeed deliver in concert.
Man, did he ever. Among the seven performers that 19 didn’t sign, this is the guy who deserves a real shot. Great connection with the music, great connection with the audience, a real showman, funny, the first performer who got my blood flowing — and he banged the crap out of that piano! Excellent. Hard To Handle was definitely one of the top performances of the night. Georgia was very good as well — and he pulled off the nearly miraculous stunt of actually breathing life into a Fray song! Same kind of piano rocker energy that Billy Joel and Elton John had in their heyday. Well done, young man, and good luck.
Two comments on the bottom 6 medley: Michael actually delivered his lines with some good soul — a surprise there. And Anoop — the glasses? No, no no…. He looked like an IRS auditor.
Intermission. Massive bathroom lines. Not that I had to go, and not that I would have had to wait in line, being a guy and all. But I did accompany my daughter to within half a mile of the bathroom before she gave up and decided to hold it until after the show.
And then it was time for my girl — the greatest singer I’ve ever heard, in case you forgot my introduction from HALF AN HOUR AGO (yes, I know I’m an old windbag). Allison is the only one whose Youtubes I’ve watched, so I knew what to expect. I’d been looking forward to hearing that big voice on the big sound system, and it didn’t disappoint. One or two of the other performers might feel the music as much as she does, but no one feels it more. As my wife likes to say about great musicians, it just flows through her, and in her case, it explodes out of her. I’ve said it before — she owns the stage. And in particular, she owns the WHOLE stage — I don’t think anyone else covered all of that area, giving everyone a good look. Speaking of which, it seemed to me that many of the performers spent a lot of time on stage left, which was kind of annoying.
Cry Baby is definitely Allison’s best song, followed closely by Barracuda. Many of us fans have noticed that she’s been leaving out a lot of words on So What lately, which can be disconcerting, and some think it’s to help save her voice for recording. She did seem tired during her banter section. My wife recalls Cook and Archie being very tired by this time last year too. This recording-and-touring thing that AI does is just crazy. On the other hand, one of the Allison faithful has pointed out to me that Pink herself leaves a lot of the words to the backup singers during her concerts, and sure enough, Youtube confirms that, so maybe it’s just the way Allison feels like doing it these days.
Those of you who’ve seen an AI concert know that your favorite’s set goes by in the blink of an eye. And so, on to Danny we went. I was one of those who were sucked in by the editing job of the early episodes. Not his backstory — I couldn’t care less about that — but his singing. They did a good enough job of choosing good singing clips that I thought I was going to like him a lot. But during the voting rounds, I found him to be fairly reliably out of tune, out of breath, and out of good voice, not to mention singing annoying songs, so he ended up being very near the bottom of my list. Unfortunately, the same problems were there in Albany. He didn’t reach some of his notes, and his voice was raw on some high ones. PYT was fun enough despite the vocal problems, but the rest was just kinda there. And it was tiresome to hear him keep telling us over and over to “make some noise”. I’ll make noise when I’m really into the show, thank
you very much. And shut the hell up with Preachfest ’09! On the upside, though, I thought (shockingly) that he actually did a passable job on his little Latin-flavored dance. I can’t believe I just said that.
AND THEN…. IT WAS TIME FOR…. THE GREATEST BEING EVER CREATED IN THE HISTORY OF THIS OR ANY UNIVERSE…. otherwise known as Adam. Well, personally I wasn’t peeing in my pants or anything. But yeah, the guy is a great performer and is certainly in control of the stage. Whole Lotta Love was a real home run — and I never even liked that song. Did get a little OTT at the end, but it was really rockin. We were surprised at how little he moved around the stage during his set — maybe that had something to do with the local newspaper blogger calling him “subdued”. We actually thought that was a fairly accurate description, at least in comparison to the huge, bold persona that has built up. But his voice does plenty of moving, even if his feet don’t.
On Starlight, and a little bit on Mad World, there was something strange that I haven’t figured out — his voice sounded strangely thin, with no bottom end at all, almost as though he was breathing a hint of helium. Maybe it was the hot air in the building! Anyway, I really wonder what caused that, because I didn’t notice it in WLL, Slow Ride, or the Bowie medley. Arena sound can be pretty weird sometimes, and very location-dependent. Unfortunate, because it distracted from my enjoyment of Starlight.
I said it 30 years ago, and it’s still true — Slow Ride is a mind-numbingly boring song. But Adam and Allison made it work on Rock Night — it was the moment of the season in my book — and they made it work again in Albany. Both of them really came alive when they had each other to play off, and it was one of the best performances of the night.
I have to say, I liked Kris’ intro, with the letters of his name smacking into place and then exploding — that was fun! And the guy delivers. He sneaked up on me over the course of the season, and by the end I realized what a talented guy he is. As with Allison and Matt, you can see that the music really flows through him. It should have been obvious to everyone by the end of the season that he’s more than “just a folkie with an acoustic guitar”, but he really puts that notion to bed in concert, from song choice to delivery. I had heard that he switched to guitar during Bright Lights, but I had no idea that he played lead — that was very cool. He’s not a guitar god, of course, but he did a good job playing lead, and it turned the last section of that song into a rockin time. I really like his rendition of Heartless, and I was pleasantly surprised by Hey Jude — another very boring song, but one that he managed to bring to life. He
also worked the stage well. A good, varied, energetic set to close the evening.
So, for the most part, the night turned out as we expected, with the Big Three delivering the goods and a few being just kinda there, but it was very nice to see Anoop and especially Matt do so well.
Oh yes, one last thing, as if this isn’t five times too long already — Danny, and everyone else — it’s not “AL buhny” or “ALE buhny” — it’s “ALL buhny”. OK? Thanks!